NBA finals predictions: Nuggets or Heat? Our writers share their picks

The Nuggets are here because …

A lot has been made of the importance of a balanced roster with continuity, but, somehow, still not enough. The Nuggets are the prime example of this: their core has been together for years, they’ve had the same coach the entire time, their role players know their roles and execute them brilliantly, and they have arguably the best player in the league in Nikola Jokić to tie it all together. CDL

Denver’s depth, balance and consistency helped them to 53 regular-season wins and the No 1 seed in the West. But they’ve been even better during a largely stress-free run to the finals thanks to Michael Malone’s tweaks to their already hardy eight-man rotation, giving their best players more minutes and using them in different, more effective combinations than before the playoffs. BAG

They have established a team identity. All postseason long, Denver have avoided being swept up in playoff drama, quietly demolishing flashier opponents with effective ball movement and solid defense. This is the franchise’s first ever NBA finals, but trust the Nuggets will look like the team who have been here before. HF

They have [checks notes]: the league’s best player (Jokić), the league’s most underrated player (Jamal Murray), the best one-two punch game (see previous), two more guys who could be standalone stars (Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr), a bench that could have clinched a playoff spot by themselves, a brilliant coaching staff … the list goes on. AL


Best-of-seven series. All times Eastern. 

Thu 1 Jun Game 1: Nuggets 104, Heat 93

Sun 4 Jun Game 2: Heat at Nuggets, 8pm (ABC)

Wed 7 Jun Game 3: Nuggets at Heat, 8.30pm (ABC)

Fri 9 Jun Game 4: Nuggets at Heat, 8.30pm (ABC)

Mon 12 Jun Game 5: Heat at Nuggets, 8.30pm (ABC) *

Thu 15 Jun Game 6: Nuggets at Heat, 8.30pm (ABC) *

Sun 18 Jun Game 7: Heat at Nuggets, 8pm (ABC) *

* if necessary

The Heat are here because …

Heat Culture has proven itself to be more than a trope. They are the best-coached team in the league and have fostered an environment where nothing less than 100% effort will do. Jimmy Butler, for all his struggles in Games 4-6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics, has also proven to be a capital-S Superstar in this playoff run. CDL

Three-point shooting. The Heat were the NBA’s fourth-worst shooting team from three during the regular season (34.4%), but no team has shot it better from beyond the arc since the playoffs began (39.0%). Nearly everyone in Miami’s rotation has made leaps forward from deep in the postseason, most of all Robinson (from 32.8% to 44.6%), Martin (35.6% to 43.8%), Vincent (33.4% to 39.0%) and Love (29.7% to 36.8%). BAG

I’m not entirely sure! It’s partly thanks to Playoff Jimmy. It’s partly because Erik Spoelstra has created a system in Miami that allows the team to punch above their weight. It’s partly because all the teams in the East had fatal flaws the Heat could exploit. Do the Nuggets? HF

They won’t be denied. Not by the injuries that hampered them throughout the season. Or their obvious star-power shortage. Or the prospect of having to play their way into the dance. They survived questionable officiating calls, the No 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks and a Celtics comeback in the conference finals. The cliché of one team wanting it more definitely applies here. AL

Nikola Jokić, left, has recorded eight triple-doubles during this year’s postseason, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s previous mark of seven from the 1967 playoffs.
Nikola Jokić, left, has recorded eight triple-doubles during this year’s postseason, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s previous mark of seven from 1967. Photograph: Harry How/Getty Images

Is Jokić the best current European player?

Not only is Jokić the NBA’s best current European player, there’s a solid argument to be made that he’s the best player, period. The unique point-center not only has a tremendous command of the game, but he makes everyone around him better by proxy. He’s changing the game of basketball in real time. CDL

The critics who clamored that Jokić was denied a third straight MVP award due to the oft-challenged but well-documented phenomenon of voter fatigue have been validated over the past month and a half. The Nuggets star has racked up a preposterous eight triple-doubles in the playoffs to break Wilt Chamberlain’s 56-year-old record while Joel Embiid’s dismal postseason flickered out weeks ago. That he’s the best player in the NBA at the moment is beyond dispute; it won’t be much longer before the conversation turns to where he ranks historically. BAG

It pains me to say this as a Luka Dončić supporter, but at this point in time Jokić’s preeminence is less a topic of debate and more a statement of fact. A bigger question: when does the conversation become: “Is Jokic the best NBA player, period?” HF

No. He’s the entire NBA’s best current player. AL

The coaching advantage goes to …

It’s one of the great travesties in NBA history that Spoelstra has never won a Coach of the Year award (really – he hasn’t!). As the career of his greatest competition for Best Coach Today, Gregg Popovich, winds down, Spoelstra has ascended to the present-day throne. Malone is no slouch, but this isn’t close: Spo will coach circles around him. CDL

Too close to call. On the broader body of work it’s Spoelstra by some distance. But Malone’s shrewd tweaks to Denver’s rotation since the start of the playoffs have made the Nuggets far less vulnerable when Jokić is off the court than during the regular season, which has made things far more complicated for their opponents. BAG

The obvious answer would be to hand this one to Spoelstra for taking a team with a haul of undrafted free agents to the NBA finals. It’s easy to praise the guy doing more with less, but it feels like we underrate coaches who turn contenders into heavy title favorites. I’ll cast my vote for Malone. HF

Spoelstra and Michael (don’t call me Mike) Malone are chips off the same block – Pat Riley. Spoelstra was Riley’s handpicked sideline successor, while Malone learned the ropes from Riley disciple Jeff Van Gundy. Hence why this series will be a battle of wits between the league leaders in selfless play. Malone has the personnel edge. But Spoelstra’s been there, won twice – and still has Riley on side. AL

Unheralded player to watch …

The ascension of Miami’s Caleb Martin in the Eastern Conference finals was a marvel. But keep your eyes on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for the Nuggets – he was an X-factor in the sweep of his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, in the Western Conference finals. CDL

Caleb Martin. Unheralded is a bit a stretch for the Charlotte Hornets castoff turned emerging star, who really should have been named MVP of the Eastern Conference finals after connecting on 60.2% from the floor and 48.9% from three against the Celtics. The versatile 27-year-old wing’s ability to create shots for himself and his teammates while pitching in with the dirty work elsewhere will be crucial for Miami’s upset hopes. BAG

Max Strus. We’ve already given credit to Caleb Martin, but he isn’t the only undrafted free agent who has yielded big dividends for the Heat. After getting his revenge on a Celtics team that cut him for Javonte Green, look for Strus to make an impact with timely three-pointers off the bench for Miami. HF

At this point, Miami’s undrafteds aren’t sneaking up on anyone. But that doesn’t make Gabe Vincent, the UC Santa Barbara product whose scoring average jumped to 13.1 points this postseason (from a regular-season 9.4) any less impressive. AL

Miami’s Jimmy Butler has led the Heat to their second NBA finals appearance in four years.
Miami’s Jimmy Butler has led the Heat to their second NBA finals appearance in four years. Photograph: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Your NBA finals MVP will be …

Jokić is the best player in this series, and probably the best player in the world, and he will hoist the MVP trophy. All things in the Nuggets’ world hinge on Jokić’s brilliant basketball acumen and he will be the key to bringing the city of Denver its first NBA championship. CDL

Jimmy Butler. There’s a whole alphabet soup of advanced stats that flesh out the Miami talisman’s uncanny ability to raise his level when the stakes are highest. But at the foundation of it all is a defiance and taste for the fight that can’t be quantified, the sort of unmeasurables that will be necessary to resolve the gap in class between the Heat and the Nuggets. BAG

Jamal Murray. If the Heat manage to pull off a huge upset, it will be because Butler has a monster series, so he will be MVP. If the Nuggets win, there’s a good chance it won’t be the team MVP providing the highlight-reel material. If Murray’s shot is falling, it won’t matter what plans the Heat have cooked up to slow Denver down. HF

The comically unstoppable Jokić. AL

The winner will be …

Denver Nuggets 4-2 Miami Heat. The Nuggets are the team of destiny. Every year, it feels like the stars align for the team that lifts the Larry O: The Lakers won the year Kobe passed; the Warriors won the year Stephen Curry broke the three-point record; Giannis had been the MVP for two years running before he struck paydirt with the Bucks. This is the No 1 seed Nuggets’ year, and it’s only become more apparent day after day that they will be the last team standing. CDL

Denver Nuggets 3-4 Miami Heat. Abandon all logic ye who enter here. Denver in four is entirely in play; the Nuggets are that good. Only once in more than five decades has a longer shot in an NBA finals bucked the odds and won the title: when the Pistons toppled the Lakers in 2004. Like that Detroit team, everything seems to be clicking at the right time for Miami, who were 60-1 underdogs back in the first round to make it even this far. Three years after he was denied at the final hurdle in the bubble, look for Playoff Jimmy to cement his legend in a heart-stopping seven-game thriller. BAG

Denver Nuggets 4-2 Miami Heat. I want to believe the Heat can keep this up. However, the Celtics did the Nuggets a huge favor in extending the Eastern Conference finals to seven games, giving Denver time to rest as well as a game plan to exploit Miami’s weaknesses. My head says Nuggets in five, but I feel that Spoelstra and the Heat will figure out a way to win a game they have no business winning. HF

Denver Nuggets 4-1 Miami Heat. Has to be. They’ve been knocking on the door since 2020, when Murray emerged as a Curry clone alongside Jokic in the Covid bubble. They just swept a Lakers team that was much better than the championship-winning outfit that dismissed them at Disney back then. And Jokic is a 7ft cheat code who doesn’t have to do it all by himself but doesn’t hesitate to step in when the moment requires. Miami, as ever, will put up a valiant fight but not enough of one to keep Joker & Co from Denver’s first-ever NBA coronation. AL