NBA Finals: Heat X-Factors to Win Championship


Jun 5, 2023

The NBA Finals is tied at a game piece heading back to Miami for Game 3 on Wednesday night. To recap, Game 1 was pure domination by Denver, picking up where they left off after sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 2 reversed that, as the Heat made the necessary adjustments to find victory with help from a solid fourth quarter.

The Heat remain the underdogs to win this series at +220 on the FanDuel Sportsbook, but despite being the eight-seed on paper, they hold home-court advantage after stealing Game 2. Throughout this postseason, the Heat have continually run through the underdog label and are well-positioned, heading back to Miami to become the first eight-seed to win an NBA championship.

With two games gone, here are three x-factors for the Heat to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

  • Keep Jokic a Scorer

Nikola Jokic’s excellence has been on full display this postseason, but his 41-point performance in Game 2 didn’t truly impact the game. The Heat didn’t care if Jokic scored; they wanted him to. Often playing him defensively with single coverage, they focused on clogging up the passing lanes that he exposed. The Nuggets shine when Jokic can do anything he wants on the floor. Everyone gets involved, the shooters are wide open on the perimeter, and the off-ball movement allows for easy buckets near the rim.

Michael Malone is a talented coach, and Jokic is an intelligent player, but the Nuggets are not nearly as good of a team when Jokic is primarily a scorer. Game 3 will likely see a ton of off-ball scheming from Denver to allow Jokic to dish the rock like normal. Still, with Jokic only having four assists in Game 2, we will need to see a substantial schematic shift from Denver to throw off Miami’s defensive game plan.

  • Kevin Love’s Continued Presence

After not appearing in Game 1, Kevin Love started in Game 2 and logged an effective 22 minutes. His length defensively was pivotal in the paint, often acting as a roamer to close up the passing lanes while performing well on-ball when called upon. Offensively, he could stretch the floor and be a threat in the interior, something Caleb Martin struggled with as a de facto power forward in Game 1. Keeping Kevin Love in the starting lineup for the remainder of this series looks likely after the Game 2 success, with his veteran IQ being key as Denver’s Game 3 offensive plan must be altered.

  • Suring Up Rotations

Two things need to be set straight. Cody Zeller stinks, and Caleb Martin has been a liability these first two games. Watching Zeller try to defend Jokic in single coverage was painful and shouldn’t exist in the NBA Finals. He only played eight minutes in Game 2 but managed to register a -14 quickly. With Kevin Love only playing 22 minutes, I’d give Love those eight minutes or try out Haywood Highsmith, as his athleticism and length could be a better option than Zeller. 

Martin’s Game 7 heroics against Boston will be remembered for a while, but through two games this series, it’s clear why he was cut by the Hornets two years ago. He was a combined 2-for-10 from the field and -10 and -7 in each game, respectively. His defense has been welcomed and needed, but seeing less of him going forward needs to happen. The Heat should give Duncan Robinson more run after his fourth-quarter shooting or even extend Kyle Lowry’s minutes as a replacement.

Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

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