In-depth analysis Year III: Denver vs Miami NBA Finals breakdown     

By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña

Hoops fans, NBA enthusiasts, to the whole basketball community, I am back for another edition of my yearly in-depth analysis of the NBA finals.

Please, please, please, read thoroughly as I present my own take and angles of what can happen and how these teams can win the ultimate chip in the NBA.

For all the marbles, the grand and final stage has been set.

After an estimated 84 games in the NBA playoffs, only one team will emerge to be crowned as the kings of the league.

Right after a tale of two opposite teams last year when the battle-tested Golden State Warriors overcame the youth and size of the Boston Celtics for the championship, this Miami Heat-Denver Nuggets matchup is a completely different storyline.

Who got the better alpha journey? Nikola Jokic and Denver’s finally healthy season or Jimmy Butler’s quest to cement his legacy as a member of an eighth-seed squad that can possibly win the NBA title?

Questions like this make this finals series more interesting. Both teams are coming off impressive playoff runs as Denver was able to overcome the star-studded Phoenix Suns and the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers.

Meanwhile, Miami made headlines after only acquiring a minimal chance of percentage to advance to the NBA finals when they were slated against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and against one of the most talented teams in the league in the Boston Celtics during the Eastern Conference finals.

But guess what? Miami eliminated them all.

Before I start with all the analytics and tendencies, hoops fans, who do you got? The Denver Nuggets or the Miami Heat?

That’s a tough call to make. But with the help of this in-depth analysis I will be sharing, I think your decision can come out in an instant.

Brave task to do, but I’m taking full responsibility for all the facts and observations I made through covering all of the games in the postseason.

This year, I will be presenting this differently than the way I did during the last two editions of my in-depth articles.

Instead of tackling more about both teams’ tendencies, schemes, strengths, and weaknesses, I will be focusing more on how Denver and Miami can win the seven-game series.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

So how will Denver win their first-ever NBA title?

Firstly, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray must be consistent against the tough Miami defense.

We can’t deny that the superb Denver duo’s two-man play was unstoppable since their first-round matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves up to the conference finals where they swept the Lakers.

If Jokic and Murray will stay healthy and dominant, I think the Nuggets will be winning the rest of the way.

Next weapon that the Nuggets have and is surely an advantage over the Heat is their constant off-the-ball movement that can get them wide-open shots anywhere from the floor.

This has always been one of their keys to draining their opponents in a seven-game series. Can Miami keep up with the fast-paced offensive approach that Denver runs? Will they be able to stay the course and have enough gas left in the tank to cover the floor for 48 minutes?

This next point became one of my boldest observations during their semifinal series against the Suns and probably several games against the Lakers.

If two or three of Denver’s starters will be forced to pull out early in the game due to foul trouble, their usual rhythm will always not be as fluid as their starting five.

Take a look at Denver’s Game 2 win against the Lakers. In the first quarter, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got subbed out with still nine minutes left in the opening quarter while Michael Porter Jr. sat down at the seventh-minute mark.

During that stretch, the Lakers were able to hunt mismatches and were more comfortable in their defense because Pope and Porter Jr. are two great shooters that complement Jokic’s game.

So the point is, how will Denver keep their starters out of foul trouble to remain consistent with their high-octane approach? This is something we have to keep an eye on.

On to the next one, can Bruce Brown sustain his sixth-man role and can he do it against a team that’s more perimeter-defense oriented?

Brown is Denver’s top bench scorer and has proved time and time again that he can provide an instant spark if Murray and Jokic sit down.

The electric guard must tighten up his screws and average double-digits in scoring in order for Denver to grab this series.

Going into the defensive side of the game, Denver will be having a tough task on how to handle Miami’s zone that worked out perfectly during their stellar 2023 NBA Playoff run.

If head coach Michael Malone will improvise a way to attack the Heat’s zone defense, good things will await the Denver franchise for sure.

Last but not the least, the duo of Aaron Gordon and Pope must bring their defensive A-game against a caliber like Jimmy Butler.

Yes, they were able to handle Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Anthony Edwards, and LeBron James but man oh man, Butler is on a mission and is currently a top 3 performer in the postseason right now.

We’re done with Denver’s keys. Now is the time to reveal what the Heat needs to win.

Frankly speaking, nobody expected this team to be here, in the final stage of the NBA playoffs where the two best teams will vie for the Larry O’Brien trophy.

But boy did Miami prove them all wrong. From surviving the play-in tournament to eliminating the top dogs in the conference, you have to give them a lot of credit.

So how can this organization win against the Western Conference kings?

To kick off, it all comes down to Butler.

How healthy will he be? How laser-focused and consistent can he be against this Denver team? Can he still bring that fire inside like how he helped the Heat defy the odds and achieve the unthinkable?

I know that he has been putting in the work to get to this stage but this Denver team is no joke and he must be in his best shape to perform his two-way duties for Miami in order to win.

The name Caleb Martin must be inserted in this picture.

Man, he was close to winning the Eastern Conference finals trophy after becoming Miami’s most consistent scorer during that grueling seven-game series against the Celtics.

This is a challenge for you, Mr. Martin. Go give your all and steal the limelight. If you will underperform, you have no chance of raising that golden trophy.

Next is Miami must remain their three-point percentage to go toe-to-toe against the Nuggets. Fact check, Miami had a bad shooting percentage of only 34.4% during the regular season.

However, the Erik Spoelstra-led team turned it up in the playoffs and skyrocketed its percentage to 39%, one of the departments that the Heat improved that helped them overcome adversity on their difficult path to the NBA finals.

If Miami will be able to continue shooting like this, they will have a high chance of outscoring the Nuggets in a seven-game series.

Next important key for Miami is their big men rotation. The trio of Bam Adebayo, Kevin Love, and Cody Zeller.

These three centers must prepare and give all of their effort to slow down Jokic. Although the likes of Rudy Gobert, Karl Anthony-Towns, Deandre Ayton, and Anthony Davis did all they could to stand their ground but still failed, Adebayo, Love, and Zeller must ignite their fire inside and be physical with Denver’s franchise player.

Going back to Adebayo, I think coach Spoelstra should try focusing him in some of their offensive sets when matched up against Jokic.

The former Team USA starting center got an improved scoring arsenal and can now knockdown face-up perimeter jumpers and can use his speed for a drive-by when he goes to the rim for an easy slam dunk.

Will coach Spoelstra lay down that Adebayo card in an attempt to put Jokic in foul trouble? Let’s see. Maybe, or maybe not.

Last thing about the Heat that I want to emphasize is their execution during drop coverages. Going back to Denver’s Western Conference playoff run, teams attempted to involve Jokic in the drop to negate his presence and take the open three or long perimeter jump shot.

Miami had a great time abusing Boston’s drop coverage whenever Horford is inside the paint. With the shooting prowess of Gabe Vincent, Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Martin, and Butler, I think the Heat should execute this more and let it fly if the available trey is up for grabs.

Just a little rundown of what transpired during the Miami-Denver regular season games:

Denver won all two of their meetings, 124-119, 112-108.

Despite the inconsistencies in their lineup rotation both games, the two Denver wins were close and were a nip-and-tuck affair.

Jokic went off both of those games and averaged a triple-double. Meanwhile, despite the tight coverage given by the Denver defenders against Butler, the star still averaged 20.5 points, 8.5 assists, and eight rebounds.

Jokic had an easy time working against Adebayo during isolations. The Serbian star had a 60% shooting percentage against him.

Ex factors I got in this series? I have Gordon and Pope’s defensive role against Butler and Porter Jr.’s ways to remain efficient even without scoring the ball for the Nuggets.

For the Heat’s side? I got Lowry, if he unleashes his NBA championship form, Haywood Highsmith’s two-way approach, and of course, Martin’s scoring consistency.

As much as I want to discuss all my thoughts in this one, I think one thing would most likely happen in the series.

Both teams will fight hard.

Who will get the better of the other? Who will adjust quicker? Who will play with more heart and who wants it more?

Will Denver win their first-ever NBA championship title or will Miami make history as the first-ever eight-seed team to raise the Larry O’ Brien trophy?