NBA Finals X-Factors For The Nuggets And Heat

These factors will likely decide the entire series

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Denver's Ability to Dismantle a Zone

The Heat are certainly going to have their work cut out for them on the defensive end. The Nuggets have multiple weapons at different positions that can go nuclear at any time. However, that was also the case for the Bucks, Knicks and Celtics, and Miami did a great job of slowing them down.

One of the biggest factors in doing so was its zone defense. In the ECF, Boston was a team that lived and died by the three. During the regular season, it ranked second in three-pointers made and sixth in three-point percentage. Against Miami's zone, however, the Celtics struggled to shoot, which ultimately cost them a few games. In Monday's Game 7, the Heat only gave up 19 points to the Celtics in the 34 zone possessions they played, according to Synergy. That equated to just 0.56 points per possession for Boston. Over the course of the entire series, the Celtics averaged just 0.76 points per possession against Miami's zone, compared to 1.05 points when the Heat played in man-to-man.

While Denver took significantly fewer threes per game than the Celtics during the regular season, they had a slightly better shooting percentage at 37.9% from deep. With Michael Porter Jr., Jamal Murray and KCP on the perimeter, the Nuggets have the personnel to do quite a bit of damage even when facing a zone. More importantly, Nikola Jokic's ability to pass out of a zone is also going to make the Nuggets significantly harder for Miami to defend. This season, Denver scored 1.21 points per possession against zone defenses, according to Second Spectrum.

They have the perfect roster for derailing a zone with a big man in the middle and shooting threats sprayed across the perimeter. Because of this, there is a good chance that we don't see the Heat playing a ton of this type of defense. If that's the case, that's going to force Bam Adebayo to guard Jokic straight up and if I had to bet who would win that matchup, I'd put all my money on Jokic.

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Intangibles For The Heat

The Heat are just the second team to advance to the NBA finals as a No. 8 seed with the first being the New York Knicks in 1999. They were almost ousted by the Chicago Bulls in the Play-In Tournament before coming back to win in the final minutes. From there, Miami went on to beat the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks, the New York Knicks and the Celtics.

According to Vegas, the Heat are under-matched in this series with the Nuggets. Denver has the best player on the floor in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray is arguably the third-best player among the two teams. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone, while not quite at the level of Erik Spoelstra, is a very good coach and much better than what the Heat just saw in Celtics head coach Joe Mazzula. But what the Heat have that the Nuggets don't is experience. Although this particular group hasn't won a title, they've been in this situation before and they know what it's like to play in the NBA Finals. Despite losing in the Finals to the Lakers in 2020, knowing what to expect this time around is going to be extremely valuable, especially going up against a team like Denver that is in this situation for the first time in franchise history. That's not to say that the Nuggets are going to get lost in the moment, but having experience on your side is never a bad thing.

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