The Denver Nuggets are certainly feeling the pressure as the NBA Finals head to South Beach for Game 3 on Wednesday night. All square at one apiece, the Miami Heat's dominance and efficiency in the fourth quarter played a considerable role in their escape from Denver with a victory in Game 2. Their unique defensive schemes continue to frazzle the Nuggets, so what adjustments can be made by Denver to regain control of the series? We'll find out in a matter of hours, but here are three of my best bets for Game 3.
Nikola Jokić over 38.5 points + assists (-115)
Nikola Jokić's points plus assists line stayed firm at 38.5 despite him going off for 41 points in Game 2. Sure, he only had four assists in that game, but I'm anticipating a bounce-back opportunity for his assists.
He's gone over 38.5 P+A in both games in this series, with an average of 43. The Heat's zone defense continues to stifle the Nuggets offense, but Jokić remains unfazed. Whether he has to be the primary scorer or facilitator, he's willing and able to do either. However, it'll be critical for him and Jamal Murray to play off one another more frequently than they did in Game 2. The role players will have to attempt and knock down shots as well.
Nikola Jokic made 68 passes in Game 2. But only 13 of them led to a shot attempt—his lowest amount of the entire playoffs, per @SecondSpectrum.
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) June 5, 2023
Jokić had 17 potential assists in Game 1 and only 11 in Game 2. I'd anticipate that number to climb to at least 15 as the Nuggets had a couple of days to watch film and strategize how to get more synergy within an offense still playing through Jokić. From a scoring perspective, he's doing just fine, averaging over 30 points in the postseason and 32.3 points over his last 10 games. And in the previous 10 games, his mean for points and assists is 44, with a median of 43.5.
He's been no slouch on the road in the playoffs either, exceeding 38.5 points and assists in 5 of his 7 games this postseason (71%).
It will take a village to stop him, and with Denver motivated to regain momentum in this series, Jokić will be at the center of all of the action. If you like his rebounds, his PRA at 50.5 is also an appealing angle, but I'll stick with his points and assists in this spot.
Bruce Brown over 14.5 points + rebounds (-110)
Bruce Brown will make his presence felt in Game 3. The Denver Nuggets were out-hustled in Game 2, and the culmination of poor communication and defensive breakdowns resulted in Sunday's loss. One player who can get them back on track with pure energy and disruption is Brown.
I like his combo market ahead of Game 3 because he was active in Game 2 (and for much of the postseason). One could argue he's been the most impactful player off the bench throughout the playoffs. And this specific market is one that he's been crushing all postseason, going over in seven of his last eight games.
Bruce Brown among bench players this postseason:
— 2nd in points
— 3rd in rebounds
— 3rd in assists
— 2nd in steals
— 2nd in +/-
Top __ bench player in the NBA. pic.twitter.com/Er56Ff3jO6
— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 7, 2023
Michael Malone stressed the need for Denver to play at a faster pace and get out in transition — two areas that fit Brown's skillset well. He's already their primary offensive weapon off the bench, averaging 12 points per game in the playoffs.
"Sets, fires, and hits!"
Bruce Brown for three as Denver leads late in Q3... Game 1 LIVE on ABC 🍿 pic.twitter.com/0RnzYFKHb9
— NBA (@NBA) June 2, 2023
But oftentimes, it's his hustle and defense that fuels momentum for the Nuggets. Here's Brown forcing a steal that leads to a transition three by Murray:
— Joel Rush (@JoelRushNBA) June 5, 2023
According to Second Spectrum, Brown had seven deflections and held his opponents to 2-of-9 shooting from the field in Game 2. He spent most of his time matched up against Kyle Lowry and Gabe Vincent, two players who have done their fair share in keeping the Heat alive in this series. With those assignments on deck, he'll play at least 25 minutes, which he'll need to clear this line.
Through the first two games of the NBA Finals, Brown is averaging the third-highest usage rate for the Nuggets. While his potential assists are low, he's still actively involved in the pick-and-roll as a handler (81 percentile) and he drives to the lane over five times per game (the fifth-highest rate in the series). All of this is to say, when the ball is not in Jokić's or Murray's hands, Brown's got it.
He's also been a reliable rebounder, grabbing five of his seven rebound chances per game. He's averaging 4 rebounds for the postseason with 2.1 assists per contest. His assists have been more volatile than his rebounds, so it's best to target his points and rebounds here.
Since joining the Nuggets, Brown has hit over 14.5 points plus rebounds in each of their four matchups with the Heat with an average of 16.5. Per props.cash, he's gone over 14.5 P+R in 71% of games in this postseason (12-of-17) and 57% (4-of-7) of road games.
Brown said after Game 2 that the Nuggets needed a wake-up call, and I think he's going to rise to the occasion and go over his combo market line of 14.5. If that's too aggressive, I will lean the over on his points prop at 10.5 as well.
Kevin Love over 6.5 rebounds + assists (+100)
A significant adjustment Erik Spoelstra made ahead of Game 2 was replacing Caleb Martin with Kevin Love in the starting lineup. Love hadn't played in the previous three contests for the Heat, but he brought physicality and a solid defensive effort to the Heat's otherwise undersized frontcourt.
With the Heat electing to move Jimmy Butler onto Murray, that left Love to handle Aaron Gordon, a guy who's been playing well in his own right but who doesn't intimidate opponents. Love guarded Gordon 72% of the time, and Gordon went 1-for-3 on his FG attempts. Not bad at all.
Love grabbed 10 rebounds in 22 minutes in Game 2, and before that outburst and in postseason games where he's played at least 13 minutes, he's exceeded 6.5 R+A in 13 of his last 14 games. So for this bet, I'm banking on Love to play at least 13 minutes. And given his impact in Game 2, that's a no-brainer.
The Nuggets would be wise to attack Love defensively by getting him into pick-and-roll action to set up mismatches with other guards or forwards. Love was essentially played off the court in the Eastern Conference finals because once Robert Williams left the starting lineup, Boston became too versatile for Miami to play Love considerable minutes. However, Love was effective in the Heat's first two series because the Bucks and Knicks had sizable frontcourts — similar to the Nuggets.
Love is the preferred option, with the Heat needing to slow the pace and clean the glass. He could clear 6.5 on rebounds alone but don't be surprised if he connects on one of his infamous full-court passes to get an easy transition bucket. He's been over 6.5 R+A in 58% of games this postseason and both matchups against Denver this season. Love is here to stay, and I'll grab the over while the line remains low despite his recent uptick in minutes and involvement in Miami's rotation.