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The Denver Nuggets are in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, and they arrived there in style. Losing only three games en route to winning the Western Conference, this team is firing on all cylinders.
Standing in the way of their first title is the Miami Heat, an eighth seed coming off of an improbable playoff run. This Heat team has toughness and experience on their side. Here’s what Denver needs to do to overcome that.
Keys To The Series:
Denver is well rested, while Miami just finished off a grueling seven game series on Monday night. Game one will be in Denver, so the Nuggets should use their rest and their acclimation to the altitude to their benefit and push the pace hard in the first two games to maintain home court advantage.
The Heat showed two main looks against the Celtics defensively: a zone and switching every pick and roll. Eric Spoelstra is probably smart enough to know a zone is going to be a non-option against Denver: Nikola Jokic is basically designed to destroy it from the foul line with his passing and soft touch. That leaves the switching every pick and roll option. Miami will look to use that to try and neutralize the impact of Jamal Murray, so Denver should just run it with the most favorable matchup: whether it’s Michael Porter Jr. or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, its a recipe for wide open threes.
Another option for Miami to play straight up man-to-man defense, in which case it all comes down to the Joker. He needs to know when to be a facilitator and when to dominate. The only knock on him against the Lakers was there were (brief) periods where he was too passive. If Miami tries to play him with Bam Adebayo in single coverage, Jokic needs to stop being democratic and take over until the Heat have no choice but to double team him.
Jimmy Butler has been excellent this postseason, but the real key to Miami’s success has been the others. Denver should not overreact to a an aggressive Butler and stick to their principles. Although Butler is capable of very big offensive outings, you can live with him having to try to go for 40 to beat you. What the Nuggets can’t allow is for Butler to create open looks for Miami’s legions of shooters.
Aaron Gordon has become a stellar defensive player. His size and athleticism help, but he’s also incredibly disciplined. He squares his body and doesn’t leave his feet often – a skill he showcased in round two against Kevin Durant. Butler should expect to see a lot of Gordon over the next two weeks. If Gordon can hold up and not bite on those pump-fakes, it will allow Denver’s other players to stick to the shooters. Miami will need to score a lot of points to keep back this Denver team. Gordon can be the key to stopping that.