NBA Finals Preview

Jude Magnotti ’26
EE Sports Columnist

Well that’s it, we officially have our NBA Finals matchup! A week after the Nuggets claimed the Western Conference title, the Miami Heat have officially defeated the Boston Celtics to become the second ever 8th seed to reach the finals. Game 1 tip-off is set for Thursday June 1st in Denver.

Now, looking at these teams, this matchup seems completely one-sided. A 1 seed against an 8th seed? MVP Nikola Jokic and superstar Jamal Murrary against Jimmy Butler and a team of role players? It’s easy to wonder how the Heat were even able to get this far in the first place especially with their third best player Tyler Herro being out the entire playoffs.

However, despite the Nuggets being clear favorites, I believe that this series could be closer than people give the Heat credit for. The Nuggets may have Nikola Jokic, but the Heat have undeniable X-factors in Jimmy Butler and undrafted role player Caleb Martin (who, may I mention, just outperformed Jaylen Brown in the ECF).

First, let’s break down these teams on paper. The Nuggets team consists of MVP Jokic, playoff performer Jamal Murray, bucket-getter Michael Porter Jr, along with a collection of strong role players such as Aaron Gordan, Bruce Brown, and “Uncle” Jeff Green. Denver has been the best offensive team throughout the playoffs and, while their defense was shaky in the regular season, Jokic has turned into prime Anthony Davis these past few weeks.

However, the Heat’s supporting cast is not to be frowned upon either. In action for Jimmy Butler, the Heat have before-mentioned Caleb Martin, sharpshooter Duncan Robinson, defensive monster Bam Adebayo, and veteran point guard Kyle Lowry.

Looking at these teams, Denver has a clear edge in talent. The offensive brilliance of Murray and Jokic is tough to handle and a lot of pressure will be placed on Bam Adebayo to shut down Jokic. But once again, do not count the Heat out! They would not be in this position if they were not having a good time and I believe Heat coach Erick Spolstra can come out and surprise Denver both offensively and defensively.

Unfortunately for Miami though, the Nuggets commander has had his share of battles as well. Mike Malone has been in the league upwards of 20 years and is no stranger to playoff success. This, though, is his first time on the biggest stage of basketball which I believe gives Spoelstra an edge. He has proven that he can work with anyone from LeBron James to Jimmy Butler and I believe that his coaching genius will be on display throughout this series. That being said there are several major swing factors that I believe could turn the tide of the series in one teams favor, here’s a few:

1: Jimmy Butler. It is not a secret that Jimmy Butler is easily one of the most competitive players in the NBA. He is one of the best playoff performers every year and despite being 33, is also one of the best defenders in the playoffs every year. Butler alone can heavily influence the outcome of the series and it will be interesting to see who the Nuggets turn to in order to guard Butler.

2: Nikola Jokic. Throughout the playoffs, Nikola Jokic has firmly cemented his spot as the best player in the league. He took the league’s blunder of making Embiid MVP personal and is steamrolling his way through every team he meets averaging 33, 16, and 10. Bam Adebayo is the only possible person on the Heat that can potentially limit Jokic. If they allow Jokic to keep playing the way he has then the Heat have no chance of winning the series. Even if the Heat shut down Jokic (which is unlikely), it still leads into my next swing factor…

3: Jamal Murray. Even if the Heat are able to somewhat contain Jokic, they have a whole other can of worms to open with Jamal Murray. Like Butler, Murray has been known as one of the playoffs best performers in recent years and is currently averaging 28, 5, and 6 on 40% from deep. Even when Jokic is having an off night offensively Murray is right there to pick up the slack. None of Miami’s guards have the ability to guard Murray, which only gives the Heat one option: Put Jimmy Butler on Jamal Murray. Two of the best in the game going head to head, Butler is the only other person that I believe can shut down Murray in this series. Stopping both Jokic and Murray will be key for them in this series, but were forgetting about the other side of the ball:

4: The Heat’s Offense. Jimmy Butler has been fantastic on the offensive end, but he will need some more help if the Heat want to go all the way. Adebayo has been horribly inconsistent on offense in this series so he will need to step it up. However, even if he does not I believe the Heat have one saving grace, and his name is…

5: Caleb Martin. Martin is easily the worst kept secret in the NBA. He has been a massive X-factor for the Heat and his 20 points a game and elite three point shooting have helped the Heat get through the eastern conference. If Bam is once again inconsistent on offense it is possible that Martin will be able to pick up the slack, but they will need more than 20 points for him if the Heat want a chance.

Now, let’s summarize what each team needs to do in order to be crowned on top of the NBA world:

Nuggets: Get Jokic and Murry going offensively, keep Jokic and Gordans defense consistent, overwhelm the Heat with their talent, and out-coach Erick Spolostra.

Heat: Shut down Jokic and Murrary, get Bam going offensively, utilize Caleb Martin in every way they can, stay consistent overall from beyond the arc, don’t let Jokic destroy you on the boards, Jimmy Butler needs to have the best finals series from any player ever.

As you can see, the Heat are massive underdogs in this series. 8 vs 1, it is a classic David vs Goliath story…and just what the NBA needs! If the Heat can pull off the improbable, this could go down as the greatest playoff run by a team in NBA history. They already have experience beating one seed in the playoffs, they just have to do it one more time.

If the Nuggets win, Jokic will have finally proved his doubters wrong and shown that he can lead a team to the title (too bad Embiid will never do that). As much as I would love to see Jimmy Butler complete the impossible, we saw from the Celtics series that it just is not. I still firmly believe that the Nuggets will decisively win this series. My prediction: The Denver Nuggets will be NBA Champions in five games. Long live Jokic!

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