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    Thursday, June 1, 2023

    2023 NBA Finals Storylines: No. 1 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 8 Miami Heat

    The Nuggets have reached the NBA Finals for the first time – which comes on the heels of earning the top playoff seed in the Western Conference for the first time.

    New Matchup: Denver and Miami will meet in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals for the first time. This is the fourth first-time NBA Finals matchup in the last five years, coming after Raptors-Warriors (2019), Lakers-Heat (2020) and Bucks-Suns (2021).

    Finals First: The Nuggets have reached the NBA Finals for the first time – which comes on the heels of earning the top playoff seed in the Western Conference for the first time. This is their 47th NBA season after joining the league in 1976 – a stretch of 3,787 regular-season games played before their first NBA Finals game. Denver is looking to become the third team in the last eight seasons to win its first NBA championship, potentially following Cleveland (2016) and Toronto (2019).

    Great Eight: Miami can become the first No. 8 playoff seed to win an NBA championship. (The 16-team playoff format, with eight teams in each conference, began in the 1983-84 season.) The Heat has joined the 1998-99 Knicks as the only eighth seeds to reach the NBA Finals. (New York did it in a season with 50 games per team.)

    Sensational Serb: Denver center Nikola Jokić is four victories away from winning his first NBA championship and punctuating a three-year stretch in which he earned back-to-back MVP awards in 2020-21 and 2021-22 and finished second in the voting this season. He is averaging 29.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists in the playoffs. Jokić is the third player to enter the NBA Finals averaging a playoff triple-double, joining Wilt Chamberlain (1967) and Magic Johnson (1982). And Jokić’s eight triple-doubles in these playoffs are the most ever in a single postseason.

    Best of Butler: Miami forward Jimmy Butler has reaffirmed his status as a clutch big-game performer with another scintillating postseason run, putting him in position to win an NBA championship for the first time. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra calls the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals MVP “a generational competitor.” In his one previous NBA Finals appearance, Butler averaged 26.2 points, 9.8 assists and 8.3 rebounds and recorded two triple-doubles for the Heat against the Lakers in 2020.

    Improbable Stardom: Six-time All-Star Jimmy Butler of Miami and five-time All-Star Nikola Jokić of Denver have developed into two of the greatest players in today’s game after being selected 30th and 41st in the NBA Draft, respectively. Among all NBA players who began their careers in 1980 or later, Butler and Jokić are the only two selected 30th or lower in the NBA Draft to make five or more All-Star teams. Butler began his college career at a junior college and averaged 2.6 points as an NBA rookie. Jokić was famously drafted while ESPN’s coverage showed a Taco Bell commercial, and he stayed in Europe for one season after being drafted to continue honing his game.

    Marquee Matchup: 2023 NBA All-Stars Nikola Jokić of Denver and Bam Adebayo of Miami go head-to-head at center. Adebayo views himself as the best defender in the NBA – his four consecutive All-Defensive Team selections attest to his impact – and Jokić is a unique offensive force. While Jokić is the 2022-23 NBA leader in triple-doubles in both the regular season and the postseason, Adebayo is also a triple-double threat thanks to his development as a passer and scorer.

    Dynamic Duos: Two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokić and scoring sensation Jamal Murray of Denver and six-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and two-time All-Star Bam Adebayo of Miami form the longstanding foundation of their respective teams. This is the sixth season on the court together for Jokić and Murray and the fourth for Butler and Adebayo.

    Undrafted Gems: Miami has become synonymous with success for undrafted players, thanks to the franchise’s top-notch player-development program and effective use of the NBA G League. The starting backcourt of Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, Eastern Conference Finals star Caleb Martin and ace shooter Duncan Robinson are four of the seven undrafted players who have appeared in the 2023 postseason for the Heat. Strus and Robinson started their college careers at Division II and Division III schools, respectively. Vincent and Martin have been breakout players in the 2023 postseason. 

    South Beach Success: Miami is seeking its fourth NBA championship – all of which would be won in the last 18 seasons. A series victory would make the Heat the sixth franchise to win four or more NBA championships, joining the Celtics (17), Lakers (17), Warriors (seven), Bulls (six) and Spurs (five). 

    Coaching Constants: Two of the league’s longest-tenured head coaches will match wits in the NBA Finals. Erik Spoelstra is completing his 15th season as Miami’s head coach and Michael Malone his eighth as Denver’s head coach; those are the second- and fourth-longest active tenures with one team, respectively, with Gregg Popovich (27 seasons with the Spurs) at No. 1 and Steve Kerr (nine seasons with the Warriors) at No. 3. This is the first time in 25 years that both head coaches in the NBA Finals have been in their position for eight or more seasons.

    Life of Riley: Miami President Pat Riley is looking to win his 10th NBA championship across more than 50 years in the league. Riley has won titles as a player, head coach, assistant coach and team executive. This is his 19th NBA Finals appearance in one of those roles – nearly 25% of all NBA Finals.

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