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Everything You Need To Know To Be Ready For The NBA Finals

Garrett Ellwood. Getty Images.

And then there were 2.

Welcome to the NBA Finals everybody. While it may not be a matchup many expected when the season kicked off in October, it's hard to deny that at the end of the day, we don't have two extremely worthy teams. Throughout the season, I often talked about Phil Jackson's 40/20 rule. The TLDR version is basically that if you want to win an NBA title, NBA history says you need to win your 40th game before your 20th loss. You can go back decades and outside of the lockout years where there were fewer games and the weird covid season, there's only been 1 or 2 champs that didn't hit that mark.

This season, 3 teams were able to pull this off

1. Milwaukee Bucks

2. Boston Celtics

3. Denver Nuggets

So seeing one of those teams in the Finals tracks with NBA history. They were the best team in the West all season, they've been the best team in the playoffs since they started, and they are well-deserved favorites in these Finals.

Then in the other corner, we have the Heat. I'm not going to sit here and tell you their run has been a fluke. How could anyone? You go through the Bucks, Knicks, and Celtics all as a lower seed, you've earned every bit of this Finals appearance. Their shooting has been proven to not be a fluke, and even if they are still overachieving to some degree, so what? They just need to do it 4 more times. Those who may not be giving them a shot in these Finals is certainly nothing new to that locker room, and if they are still able to produce at the level that we've seen these last three rounds, they can absolutely win the title. 

With Game 1 set to kick off tonight (sigh), let's talk about everything you should know

Miami Heat (8) vs Denver Nuggets (1)

Head to head: DEN won 2-0

While there's been some chatter that this is an awful Finals matchup and nobody will watch, I don't really understand that. The Nuggets are awesome and have the best player on the planet. The Heat have the potential to make NBA history as the only 8 seed to ever win a title. Not only that, but there's obviously some bad blood between these two teams

That alone should be enough juice for a great Finals, but there are also some really intriguing basketball angles that while the casual fan might not care about, basketball fans certainly should. 

One of the biggest issues the Heat are going to face as they try and stop this Nuggets team, is that in their previous series, those teams were fairly one dimensional. The Bucks formula is simply to take a lot of 3PA (2nd int he NBA at 41.2 3PA) and then give the ball to Giannis and let him run through people. The Heat were able to figure out how to stop that relatively quickly, and with Giannis getting hurt that obviously made an impact. The point is, that is not a team filled with shot creators and they generally play the same way.

The Knicks were certainly more of a slugfest, where things slowed down, and defensive intensity went up, but really with how hit or miss their shooters were, really all you had to do was worry about Jalen Brunson. Going to the zone against the Knicks wasn't that much of an issue because they couldn't make the Heat pay from the outside.

The Celtics series was pretty much the same thing. Like the Bucks, the Celts take a fuck ton of 3PA, and now through 3 different coaches still never really consistently found a way to break that MIA zone because of how they attacked it. Possession after possession of trying to attack it with wing drives was the kiss of death, especially with the turnover issues of their two best players. You could say their offense was just as one dimensional as the Bucks, which made them easier to defend and look what happened.

This is now the biggest problem the Heat will face while going up against the Nuggets. A huge part of their success on defense is tied to their matchup 2-3 zone. It can suffocate you if you aren't ready for it and don't attack it the right way. The thing is, the Nuggets are basically built to take that defense away. 

If you watch that zone, everyone can see the biggest hole in it is right around the FT/elbow. Teams that choose to operate on the perimeter against the Heat zone usually get destroyed. The Nuggets thanks to Nikola Jokic essentially do the opposite.

In these playoffs, Jokic leads all players with 144 elbow touches. During the regular season, he led the entire NBA with 674 elbow touches. This is where the Nuggets so often initiate the offense from. That alone makes them way more prepared to handle any sort of zone, because every one of their possessions basically starts with Jokic getting a touch in the middle of the floor. Think of how that plays out. He gets a touch there, turns and faces, and what do the Heat do? If you collapse on him, Jokic is going to easily pick that apart to a cutter along the baseline, probably Aaron Gordon. If you don't collapse on Jokic, you're giving one of the most efficient and dominant offensive players clean looks in the paint. I'm not sure how you solve that problem.

If they instead decide to go with more man to man defense, that's asking a whole lot of Bam Adebayo when it comes to handling Jokic by himself. 

So far in their playoff run, the Heat haven't really faced a team that has taken advantage of their size issues. The Denver Nuggets are built to do just that. This is not a team that lives and dies by the 3PA, but when they do take them they shoot 38% as a team. That's the Jokic impact. He draws the defense and he kicks to open shooters, especially in the corners. Bam is an incredible post defender, but we're not talking about Al Horford or Robert Williams here. We're talking about a player in Jokic that had his way with Anthony Davis, who might be the best post defender on the planet. 

On the flip side, the Nuggets haven't really had to deal with a team during their playoff run that has this type of outside shooting. The Lakers shot just 33% and made 10 3PM a night in that sweep. The Wolves shot 34% as a team and made 11. The Suns were better at 36%, but they made just 9 3PM. 

As a team, the Heat these playoffs are making 13.1 3PM a game while shooting 39%. That percentage leads the playoff field, and they are coming off a series in which they just shot 43.4% as a team. During the season, the Nuggets ranked in just the 51st percentile at defending players off screens, which is a huge way the Heat get their guys open. When it came to defending handoffs, the Nuggets ranked in the 44th percentile defensively. To me, this is going to be the biggest factor for the Nuggets to win this series. Can they do what the previous three teams could not and consistently lock down the MIA shooters for an entire series? How will their perimeter guys handle getting over Bam screens? We've seen if you play under them, the Heat shooters are going to bury you. 

For the Heat to pull off this upset, they have to continue to find a way to cause turnovers. With their halfcourt offense at times limited, being able to get out in transition and beat teams on the break is huge for them. They are one of the best teams in these playoffs at scoring off turnovers, with their 19.3 average being the best in the playoff field. This is going to be important because the Nuggets just so happen to be the #1 team in limiting opponent's TOs (13.5). As a team, the Nuggets have the fewest TO average of just 11.4 a game. That number is going to have to be much higher if the Heat want to win this series, which means they probably have to gamble a bit. That's dangerous because Nikola Jokic just so happens to be the best passer on the planet. That's not exactly someone you want to gamble against.

We also can't forget that the Denver Nuggets are also the best team in these playoffs in terms of P&R offense with the ball handler, aka Jamal Murray. They rank in the 100th percentile this postseason averaging 1.15 ppp while shooting 53.2% off those sets. The Heat defense ranks in the 53rd percentile at stopping that set, so you can see why things might be tough for them. They are going up against a team build to break a zone, is a handful in man to man, and then also has the best two man game going right now

What exactly do you do when you have a locked in Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic running P&R? Who do you guard? 

I know there's going to be a lot of talk about the ratings of this series, and how it's a disaster for the NBA and blah blah blah. I just don't agree. Between the talent on both sides, the storylines, and the prior history between the two, things are lining up for this to be a very entertaining Finals. It'll be tough for me personally given how close my favorite team was to playing in this series, but that's a me problem. In terms of the basketball we're about to see, it should be pretty fun.