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NBA Finals preview capsule: Breaking down Nuggets vs. Heat

NBA Finals preview capsule: Breaking down Nuggets vs. Heat

The 2023 NBA Finals start Thursday in Denver. Here's a preview of the series:

8TH SEED MIAMI HEAT (44-38, 12-6) vs. 1ST SEED DENVER NUGGETS (53-29, 12-3)

How they got here: Heat — beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1, beat No. 5 New York 4-2, beat No. 2 Boston 4-3. Nuggets — beat No. 8 Minnesota 4-1; beat No. 4 Phoenix 4-2; beat No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers 4-0.

Season series: Nuggets, 2-0. Denver’s two victories came by a combined nine points, with a 124-119 home win on Dec. 30 and a 112-108 victory in Miami on Feb. 13.

Schedule: Thursday and Sunday at Denver, June 7 and 9 at Miami, June 12 at Denver if necessary, June 15 at Miami if necessary, June 18 at Denver if necessary.

Starters: Heat — F Jimmy Butler, F Caleb Martin, C Bam Adebayo, G Max Strus, G Gabe Vincent. Nuggets — F Michael Porter Jr., F Aaron Gordon, C Nikola Jokic, G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G Jamal Murray.

Key reserves: Heat — F Kevin Love, F Haywood Highsmith, F Duncan Robinson, C Cody Zeller, G Kyle Lowry. Nuggets — F Bruce Brown, F Jeff Green, F Christian Braun.

Storyline: The Nuggets have cruised to the first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history behind Jokic, the two-time NBA MVP who is averaging 29.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists in the postseason. The Heat are here for the seventh time, though this is their most surprising trip. Minutes away from missing the playoffs entirely, they went on to become the second No. 8 seed to reach the finals, joining the New York Knicks in 1999.

Injury watch: Miami’s Tyler Herro, out since breaking his hand in the postseason opener against Milwaukee, has been working out in hopes of playing in this series.

Numbers of note: The Heat haven’t won in Denver since Nov. 30, 2016. ... Denver is 8-0 at home in the postseason and has won six straight overall since being tied 2-2 with the Suns. ... The Heat have won Game 1 on the road in all three series thus far. ... In Jokic and Murray (27.7 ppg), the Nuggets have two of the top nine scorers in this postseason. Butler (28.5) is seventh. ... Miami’s bench has outscored its opponents by 213 points in the postseason. ... The Heat lost their past two home games after winning their first six of the postseason.

Prediction: Denver is a nine-point favorite in Game 1, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. But with the Nuggets perhaps rusty since finishing off the Lakers on May 22, the Heat may have another chance to open with a road win. Even if they do, this time it won’t matter. Jokic and Murray are on too much of a roll to be stopped now. It took Denver a long time to get to the NBA Finals, but it will be worth the wait. Nuggets in 6.

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