The last (and only) time a No. 8 seed reached the NBA Finals, the New York Knicks averaged 79.8 points per game and were eliminated in five games — a gentleman’s sweep — by the Western Conference’s top seed, the San Antonio Spurs.
But it’s not like the Spurs knocked it out of the park. Led by Tim Duncan and David Robinson, San Antonio scored just 84.8 points per game during the zenith of the NBA’s Greco Roman hand-checking era.
The Knicks’ path to the Finals in that strike-shortened 1998-1999 season began with a first-round series against the Miami Heat. New York prevailed 3-2 in a best-of-five series, winning the deciding game by a score of 78-77. The perpetual ugliness of the matchups between these two teams, be it in the regular season or playoffs, effectively triggered the shift in officiating that freed up offenses to the point where the balls whip around and the nets ripple with astonishing regularity — especially in Denver, home of the Western Conference champion Nuggets.
On Thursday, Michael Malone’s Nuggets will host Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed, the Miami Heat, with the former franchise looking for its very first league championship. And America’s mobile sportsbooks unanimously expect Denver to do just that without breaking much of a sweat.
When the brooms loomed
A week ago, it looked like the Nuggets and Heat might each earn a long layoff by sweeping their way into the Finals. Denver did just that, but Miami proceeded to cough up three straight games to the Boston Celtics after taking a 3-0 lead.
The Heat’s dominant victory in Boston in Game 7 spoke to the road-warrior mentality of Erik Spoelstra’s charges. Their difficulty in closing out the Celtics, however, effectively fattened their Finals odds from what looked like a 2/1 series moneyline to +330 at FanDuel, where the Nuggets are -480 favorites to win it all.
Nuggets in five is considered the most likely series result, with the juiciest price for that offering being PointsBet’s +250. Denver prevailing in seven games (+375 at PointsBet) is next, with every single Nuggets win scenario priced shorter than the Heat’s likeliest path to victory, which is a 4-2 series upset (9/1 at FanDuel).
Despite the fact that the Nuggets have yet to lose at home this postseason, two factors might make Miami in seven (10/1 at FanDuel) a savvy play. For starters, the Nuggets will have enjoyed more than a week off by the time the first whistle blows on Thursday, and long layoffs occasionally lead to Game 1 letdowns — especially against a team as tenacious as the Heat. Secondly, Miami’s sterling postseason road record indicates that the Heat don’t seem to care if they’re playing in South Beach or the South Pole.
If any team can win a Game 7 (or Game 1) on the road, it’s Miami. Just ask Butterfingers Brown and the Celtics.
Jaylen Brown had 8 Turnovers last night.
2 Offensive fouls
1 Bad pass
5 live Dribble turnovers. All of his dribble turnovers occurred after the ball was in his left hand. pic.twitter.com/Q1k0OaWba5
— DJ (@ACE_ZULLO) May 30, 2023
Joker vs. Jimmy
Denver has yet to have a close series this postseason, losing a total of just three games to Minnesota, Phoenix, and the L.A. Lakers en route to the Finals. Do-it-all center Nikola Jokic has indisputably been the best player in the playoffs, and he’s at least a -300 favorite (at BetMGM and PointsBet) to be voted Finals MVP.
The unrelenting Jimmy Butler (+330 at Betfred and FanDuel) is the only Heat player with odds shorter than 40/1 to be named series MVP. But if Miami center Bam Adebayo can put up numbers resembling a poor man’s Jokic while playing lockdown defense on the man himself, the 55/1 that FanDuel is offering on his MVP prospects seems like a real steal for those who think the Heat have a chance.
Jokic, a triple-double machine, is the consensus favorite to lead all players in points, rebounds, and assists, with the first of those markets the only one where he can be grabbed (narrowly) at plus money. For Thursday’s Game 1 in Denver, the Nuggets are 9-point favorites at FanDuel, with the Heat +310 on the moneyline and the over/under set at 219.5.
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