Heat vs Nuggets: matchups, players to watch in the NBA Finals | Nikola Jokic, Jimmy Butler...
The Miami Heat have made an improbable run to the NBA Finals as the 8 seed in the East, and will square off with the 1 seed in the West, the Denver Nuggets.
The Denver Nuggets are in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, and they will take on the Miami Heat who are looking for their fourth title in the last two decades. The top seed in the Western Conference are heavy favorites according to the odds makers, but Playoff Jimmy and the Heat have surprised more than a few people around the world with this improbably run. Here’s how the matchup looks on paper.
Jokic vs. Bam
We’d be remiss if we started the start watch portion of this article with anyone other than Nikola Jokic. The Serbian has proved for the last few seasons that he is one of, if not the best player in the league. The two time MVP who just missed out on a third straight award this year, now has his sights set on the ultimate prize, the Larry O’Brien trophy, and he has his team just four wins away from Denver’s first ever NBA Title.
What he has done this year is nothing short of remarkable. The big-bodied Balkan genius came a fraction of an assist away from averaging a triple double for the season, but it seems as he was saving the best for last. In the postseason he is averaging 29.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists, and hasn’t missed a game for the Nuggets during their run to the Finals.
Bam Adebayo on the other hand had a series to forget in the Conference Finals against Boston. He scored over 20 a game in the regular season for Miami, but he is more known for his defensive abilities than a top option scorer. He had a brilliant 22, 17 and 9 assist game in Game 1 against the Celtics, but he averaged less than 13 points in the final five games of the series.
With the role players recently stepping up Bam doesn’t need to make as much of an impact on the offensive end. He and Eric Spoelstra will be much more concerned with stopping the Serbian. No one has figured out how to stop Jokic during the playoffs but it will be up to Bam and the rest of the Heat to limit his production if they are going to have any chance of winning this series.
Jimmy vs. Jamal
While much of the attention is centered around Jokic, Jamal Murray is just as capable of putting the team on his shoulders and carrying them to victory. The Nuggets oversized PG is finally healthy during the postseason and that has been a big reason why Denver is in the Finals for the first time ever.
He scored 30+ in three of four games during the Nuggets sweep over the Lakers, and shot over 50% from the field. His scoring average has bumped up from 20 ppg to 27.7 in the postseason, and he is grabbing 6.5 rebounds a game, 1.5 more than he was during the regular season.
Jimmy Butler has had an incredible postseason, and this run has only reaffirmed his nickname “Playoff Jimmy.” He too has bumped his statistical averages up across the board. He is getting 28.5 points, 7 rebounds and 5.7 assists a game, which is 5.4 ppg, 1.1 reg and 0.4 assists more than in the regular season.
He averaged almost 40 points in opening round against the Milwaukee Bucks, scoring 56 and 42 in the final two games to close out the top seed in the East. He battled through an ankle injury to lead the Heat past the Knicks in the next round and had a brilliant first two games against the Celtics to put them up 2-0 after the first two games in Boston. After a couple of subpar games, he came back and led his team to a Game 7 win in Boston to send his side back to the Final for the second time in the last four years.
Gabe and Martin
While Playoff Jimmy has been sensational, Miami doesn’t get to where they are without their two role players who have risen to the occasion and have played like superstars. Gabe Vincent set a career high in Game 3 against the Celtics with 29 points and Caleb Martin may have deserved the Eastern Conference MVP more than Jimmy Butler after averaging. Martin averaged 19.3 ppg against the Celtics and there were times where he looked like the primary scorer for the Heat, especially in the all important Game 7.
Gordon and Porter Jr.
One of the most intimidating things about this Denver Nuggets team is their size. They create mismatch nightmares for opposing defenses. All we have to do is look at the four games against the Lakers. They had no one to guard the oversized Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. was shooting over defenders who couldn’t even put a hand in his face on jump shots and Aaron Gordon played that slasher role that kept LA off balance in the four game sweep.
Between the two of them they are averaging 27.6 points and 10 rebounds a game, but even more than what they do on the stat sheet it’s the matchup nightmares they create for defenses that already have enough to worry about with Jokic and Murray.