The NBA Finals are set with the Miami Heat facing the Denver Nuggets. This year’s improbable matchup features Miami, a No. 8 seed that you couldn’t stop believing in despite knowing deep down inside that they probably didn’t belong. The Denver Nuggets gave us the exact opposite feeling. Despite having the best record in the Western Conference, there was little faith that two-time MVP Nikola Jokic could lead Denver to the promised land in a conference packed with all-time greats such as Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James.
Both are great stories, each will have a chance to write itself into the history books of the NBA. Will Jokic deliver Denver its first NBA title? Or will Jimmy Butler make Miami the first team to win an NBA championship as a No. 8 seed?
Miami enters the series as a massive +300 underdog to nobody’s surprise. I’m sure the Heat wouldn’t want it any other way, but Denver is going to be their greatest mountain to climb. The Nuggets are -400 favorites at BetMGM, with the moneyline odds for Thursday night’s Game 1 being similarly priced (-375/+290). The steep price tag will have Nuggets backers gravitating toward more granular markets, wagering on how quickly the Nuggets can capture their first NBA crown. Let’s take a look at the early bets that I grabbed before the series gets started on Thursday night.
Denver Nuggets to win Game 1 and Denver Nuggets to win series -225
Betting into -225 odds may not be for everyone, but I will eat the chalk in this situation. This is my go-to wager when a team is coming off a seven-game series. I hit this same bet for +900 in the Heat-Celtics series, and it also cashed in the Lakers-Warriors series. Stock was never higher on the Warriors after Steph Curry dropped 50 to advance past Sacramento in seven games, but they followed it up with a Game 1 home loss to Los Angeles and never recovered in the series. It's not easy to recover from a seven-game series, it's been a kiss of death in some respects.
There is a little more added risk when considering Spoelstra’s success in postseason series openers over the past two seasons. Miami is a perfect 6-0 in Game 1s, but none have followed a seven-game series. The Heat’s battle with Boston was both physically and emotionally grueling, and I will gladly fade them playing at altitude against a well-rested Denver team. Once I got comfortable that the Nuggets will take the first game, this bet felt a discount at -225, considering the Nuggets are -400 to win the title.
Series Spread: Denver Nuggets -2.5 +120
If I had to lay out exactly how the series would go, I’d say a gentleman’s sweep is the most likely outcome. I don’t think Miami can win in Denver. The Heat looked gassed at the end of the Boston series, and Denver is a really tough place to play when you're in peak condition, much less limping into the NBA Finals. The Nuggets have been an absolute buzzsaw at Ball Arena, including an 8-0 run in the playoffs. Denver has now won 90% of its home games (39-4) when the two-time MVP Nikola Jokic is on the floor.
As brilliant as Spoelstra has been, I don’t know what he can do to keep this series competitive. The Lakers' inability to deal with Denver’s physicality really stuck out in the Western Conference finals, and now the Nuggets draw a much smaller opponent in Miami. Bam Adebayo having to deal with Jokic defensively is going to impact his game on the other end of the floor, and without some level of presence in the paint, Miami's offense struggles with long scoring droughts. The Heat can’t afford that level of inconsistency against Denver. The Nuggets' ball movement is going to produce open looks against Miami’s zone, and they have the size on the perimeter to shoot over the top of the Heat’s defenders. Without finding a way to win in Denver, which I expect to be extremely difficult, the Heat will have to win both Games 3 and 4 at Miami to extend this series to six games. At +120, I am willing to bet Denver gets a split in South Beach, potentially putting them up 3-1 heading back home to Game 5. A sweep isn’t out of the question, but I will take the plus money that this ends in five or fewer.
Finals MVP: Nikola Jokic -300
Once the Nuggets and Heat went up 3-0 in the conference finals, I recommended betting Jokic to win this award at -135. I didn’t see a way where the price would get any better with the Heat almost certain to advance. It did, as Boston became more of a threat to make history and crash the NBA finals, but once Miami punched its ticket, the price ballooned to -300. If Denver wins, Jokic wins. Or at least that’s how I see it. Jamal Murray has been outstanding during Denver’s run to the NBA Finals and I expect him to be nothing less than spectacular against the Heat. I think there is value in Murray being the Finals top point scorer, which you can bet at +200 at BetMGM.
All that can happen, and the award will still likely go to Jokic. He is the best player on the team and has a real chance of averaging a triple-double when the postseason is all said and done. If you needed any evidence of how hard it is for someone outside of the team’s best player to get the votes, just take a look at Caleb Martin’s performance in the Eastern Conference finals. Even if Jamal Murray goes off for multiple 30- or 40-point games, the voters will attribute that success to Nikola Jokic’s presence on the floor. This is another circumstance where the price is steep, but it’s still a bargain compared to the Nuggets series price. Since I consider the two outcomes to be heavily correlated, I'd rather recommend betting Jokic for Finals MVP at the shorter number.