Welcome to June, Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and the official beginnings of summer. We’re going deep into the Heat-Nuggets matchup with a five-pack for today’s NBA Finals Primer. It all starts tonight.
While we’re in the welcoming spirit… The Sportsletter officially welcomed a new team member to help improve our social media game. Be sure to follow us as we take our content offerings beyond the newsletter and help us share the news about your favorite morning sports beat by sharing with family and friends.
NBA Finals Primer: Starting 5
The 5 Things You Need to Know for the 2023 NBA Finals (Game 1: Tonight, 8:30 pm ET)
It all comes down to this. Two teams from very different paths converge at the summit for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The underdog 8-seed Miami Heat have one more giant to slay to pull off the unthinkable, but two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets are trying to make history of their own. The matchups breed intrigue, and the off-court storylines do, too. Let’s get ready for two weeks (or more) of all-or-nothing ball. Here are five of the most important stats and storylines you need to know for the Finals.
1. The Nuggets Are Huge Favorites
The Nuggets (-360) are gigantic odds-on favorites, and understandably so. They’re the 1-seed from a loaded Western Conference that required them to go through the Timberwolves, Suns and Lakers, and no team really challenged them. Denver went 12-3 through three series, surrendering one game to Minnesota and two games to Phoenix before sweeping Los Angeles. The Heat are the 8-seed from the East, and their underdog moniker will certainly follow them into the Finals. The Nuggets are the third-largest Finals favorite in the last 20 seasons.
Largest NBA Finals Favorites (Last 20 Years)
2018: Warriors (-1075) vs. Cavaliers (+688) | Winner: Warriors
2007: Spurs (-450) vs. Cavaliers (+360) | Winner: Spurs
2023: Nuggets (-360) vs. Heat (+290) | Winner: TBD
2020: Lakers (-350) vs. Heat (+290) | Winner: Lakers
2. The History & Construction of Each Team
While the Heat boast a better historical claim to success with three championships (2006, 2012 & 2013), they’ll look to make history as the first 8-seed to ever win a title. In fact, no 7-seed has won the NBA Finals either. The problem? The Nuggets have never won a title, let alone reached the Finals, and they surely won’t go without a fight. The Heat are looking for their fourth in 17 years, and the Nuggets are gunning for their first. There’s a lot on the line. Additionally, both teams reached the Finals through very different paths of roster construction. The Nuggets have added contributing pieces like Aaron Gordon and rode the waves of triple-double-laiden MVP seasons from Nikola Jokic while Jamal Murray battled back from a major knee injury. The Heat, on the other hand, brought in Jimmy Butler three seasons ago to a cast of mostly undrafted dawgs who play with a chip on their shoulder.
Nuggets Starting Lineup: 5 1st-Round Draft Picks
Heat Starting Lineup: 3 Undrafted Players
Editor’s Note: If Tyler Herro returns to Miami’s starting lineup, he’ll be the third starter who was actually drafted. Jimmy Butler (Rd 1, Pick 30, 2011) and Bam Adebayo (Rd 1, Pick 17, 2017) are the only two Heat starters who were selected in the draft. Caleb Martin, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Duncan Robinson all went undrafted.
3. The Stars & X-Factors
We all know about Jimmy Butler’s ridiculous playoff run, especially in the opening-round upset of the 1-seed Bucks. Butler had a 56-point night and a 42-point outburst in back-to-back games. He’s cooled down since, but he’s still been clutch. On the other hand, Nikola Jokic also had a 40-ball and a 50-piece in these playoffs. Jamal Murray has also had a 40-burger and a number of high-30s nights. Those three stars are the focal points, but some x-factors will definitely need to bring a spark. Here’s a breakdown of the star stats and the x-factors we’ll be watching:
Star Players (Playoff Averages)
Nikola Jokic (DEN): 29.9 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 10.3 apg
Jamal Murray (DEN): 27.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 6.1 apg
Jimmy Butler (MIA): 28.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 5.7 apg
Bam Adebayo (MIA): 16.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.8 apg
*Jimmy Butler’s 2.1 steals per game leads all players
The Nuggets have three key x-factors that’ll determine how far Jokic and Murray can roll. We expect the star duo to get 50-60 a night, but they’ll need Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Porter Jr. to not just contribute, but excel. For the Heat, they’ll go as far as their shooting allows. That defense can stall any good offensive team, but they need points on offense, too. Butler can explode at any moment, but the trio of undrafted sharpshooters will play an important role in providing offense — Duncan Robinson, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent.
4. Team Identity: Offense vs. Defense
We looked at stats from all 16 playoff teams to see where the Heat and Nuggets have been particularly dominant this postseason, and we found some interesting info. Miami leads all playoff teams in 3-point shooting (39%), but the Nuggets are second in that category (38.6%). The Nuggets are the playoff leaders in fewest turnovers per game (10.3) while Miami sits in the middle of the pack (11.6). Overall, the Nuggets are the leaders in offensive efficiency while the defensive categories belong to the Heat. It’s a high-powered offense that runs through Jokic and Murray against Miami’s tough-noised defensive strategy spearheaded by Erik Spoelstra.
5. The Mile-High Altitude Advantage
If you put the crazy analytics to rest and use common sense for a second, this series can be simplified to one big, mountainous advantage — altitude. The Nuggets earned the right to the No. 1 seed in the West, and the result has been home-court advantage throughout the postseason. The altitude in Denver is something visiting teams have continued to mention in the playoffs, and it’s no joke. The Nuggets are 12-3 in the postseason, but they’re 8-0 at home. Miami is a tough place to play, too, but the Heat are just 6-2 in home games during these playoffs.
From the Rocky Mountains to Miami Beach, let’s tip the series to decide them all.
NBA Finals Schedule
Game 1: Heat at Nuggets (Tonight, 8:30 pm ET)
Game 2: Heat at Nuggets (Sun. June 4, 8:00 pm ET)
Game 3: Nuggets at Heat (Wed. June 7, 8:30 pm ET)
Game 4: Nuggets at Heat (Fri. June 9, 8:30 pm ET)
Game 5: Heat at Nuggets (Mon. June 12, 8:30 pm ET)
Game 6: Nuggets at Heat (Thurs. June 15, 8:30 pm ET)
Game 7: Heat at Nuggets (Sun. June 18, 8:00 pm ET)
French Favorite Falls
#5 Caroline Garcia Takes 1st Top-5 Tumble in Women’s Draw as Anna Blinkova Pulls Upset
The next top seed has fallen at Roland-Garros, this time in the women’s draw. The No. 5 seed and French darling Carolina Garcia was ousted by Anna Blinkova. Blinkova rallied after dropping the first set to storm Garcia in three sets (4-6, 6-3, 7-5) and knock off the hometown hero. Other top seeds survived, and Round 2 continues this morning.
Women’s Singles Highlights
Men’s Singles Highlights
Today’s Schedule (See Must-Watch List)
Sho-Time, 2 Times
Shohei Ohtani (2 HRs) & Mike Trout (1 HR) Put Baseballs in Orbit in Angels-White Sox Series Finale
Say it ain’t Sho! It had been a few weeks since our last Shohei Ohtani highlight. He usually makes sure we don’t wait long. Wednesday night’s series finale between the Angels and White Sox was one to remember. Ohtani belted two homers beyond 420 feet, including a 450-footer. Mike Trout also went yard with a 461-foot stripe. When the Halos’ two superstars are swinging like this, they’re hard to beat. Ohtani is now 6th in the HR race with 14 and 15 on Wednesday, and Trout (13) is now in the top-10. The Angels routed the White Sox (12-5) to get back on track after losing four of their last five. The win also got L.A. to 30 wins on the season (30-27), and they’re in the thick of things in the AL West.
Mookie Mashes 2: Mookie Betts hit two homers for the Dodgers in a losing effort against the Nationals (10-6).
Mariners Walk-Off: Cal Raleigh ripped an RBI single in the 10th inning of a scoreless game between the Mariners and Yankees for a walk-off win (1-0) that help Seattle avoid a series sweep.
Marlins Walk-Off: George Kirby tossed eight shutout innings for the Marlins before the Padres took a 1-0 lead. But it wasn’t safe. The Marlins got hot in the 9th before Nick Fortes hit a walk-off single (2-1).
Who are the best players at each position right now? That’s the question we set out to answer with our position-by-position player rankings, casting aside previous production and future expectations to focus solely on the current season of play. (Bleacher Report)
Either the Vegas Golden Knights or the Florida Panthers will win the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history to end this remarkable NHL postseason. But which one of their players will be crowned as the most valuable player? (ESPN+)
If ‘Ted Lasso’ really is coming to an end, its Season 3 finale returned to form for a fitting farewell. Richmond’s final match of the season waves goodbye to one of the best feel-good sports shows of a generation on Apple TV. (The Ringer)
Today’s Must-Watch List
Gm 1: Heat at Nuggets (8:30 pm ET)
French Open (2nd Round)
M: #4 C. Ruud vs. G. Zeppieri (5:45 am ET)
M: #8 J. Sinner vs. D. Altmaier (6:15 am ET)
M: #12 F. Tiafoe vs. A. Karatsev (7:30 am ET)
M: #6 H. Rune vs. G. Monfils (2:15 pm ET)
W: #4 E. Rybakina vs. L. Noskova (5:00 am ET)
W: #1 I. Swiatek vs. C. Liu (7:45 am ET)
W: #6 C. Gauff vs. J. Grabher (8:15 am ET)
W: #7 O. Jabeur vs. O. Dodin (9:00 am ET)
College Softball World Series
#4 Tennessee vs. #5 Alabama (12:00 pm ET)
#1 Oklahoma vs. #9 Stanford (2:30 pm ET)
#3 Florida State vs. #6 Oklahoma State (7:00 pm ET)
#7 Washington vs. #15 Utah (9:30 pm ET)
Brewers at Blue Jays (1:07 pm ET)
Phillies at Mets (1:10 pm ET)
Angels at Astros (8:10 pm ET)
The Memorial Tournament, Round 1 (All Day)
Sun at Lynx (8:00 pm ET)
Question of the Day
It’s time for the 2023 NBA Finals. We know the massive favorites will win the overall vote, but we want to see how many Heat believers we have. So who you got winning it all? (click to vote)
Yesterday, we asked: Which team do you think is the best in baseball? The results are in…
1. Rays — 23%
2. Rangers — 14%
3. Dodgers — 13%
4. Yankees — 12%
5. Braves — 11%
6. Astros — 9%
7. Orioles —9%
8. Other — 9%