Jimmy Butler and the eighth-seeded Miami Heat face Nikola Jokic and the top-seeded Denver Nuggets in the 2023 NBA Finals. The Nuggets are making their first Finals appearance, while the Heat will make their seventh franchise appearance and their first since the 2020 bubble season.
The Heat had just one off day following a thrilling seven-game series win over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals before taking the court in Denver tonight in Game 1. Meanwhile, the Nuggets have enjoyed more than a week of rest since sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
USA TODAY Sports will bring you the latest news, updates, analysis and more throughout Game 1. Follow along.
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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the results of the NBA’s investigation into Ja Morant for allegedly displaying a handgun on Instagram for the second time will be released after the Finals.
“We’ve uncovered a fair amount of additional information,” Silver said when asked by USA TODAY Sports how close the league was to wrapping up the investigation. “We probably could have brought it to a head now, but we’ve made the decision that it would be unfair to these players and these teams to announce that decision in the middle of this series.”
The Grizzlies suspended Morant two weeks ago after a recording of Morant on Instagram Live appeared to show him holding a handgun – almost two months after the league suspended him eight games for a similar incident in a Denver-area strip club.
Jeff Zillgitt’s full story here.
It’s an age-old debate.
The Denver Nuggets, who swept the Los Angeles Lakers on May 22, are going into Game 1 with seven days more rest than the Miami Heat, who advanced following a Game 7 win over the Boston Celtics on May 29.
“It’s gonna be one of two things, (the Heat) have tremendous rhythm… We’ve had 10 days off,” Denver coach Mike Malone said ahead of Game 1. “You can’t replicate game rhythm without playing a game. We’ve tried doing the best job we can do, but we’re gonna find out.”
Shaquille O’Neal went straight to the source.
The “Inside the NBA” analyst asked Tyler Herro if he was playing in Game 1 while passing each other in the hallways of Denver’s Ball Arena. Herro was ruled out by Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra earlier this week, but apparently O’Neal didn’t get the memo.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Herro can return to the lineup as soon as Game 2 on Sunday.
If the average NBA fan didn’t know who Miami Heat guard Caleb Martin was before Monday’s Eastern Conference final Game 7 against the Boston Celtics, they certainly know now. Especially Celtics fans.
Martin started for the first time in the series, played 45 minutes and scored 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting, while also grabbing 10 rebounds as the Heat avoided a monumental collapse and beat the Celtics 103-84 to advance to the NBA Finals where they will take on the Denver Nuggets starting Thursday night.
— Scooby Axson
Twelve NBA teams have never won a championship. A few who haven’t − such as the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder − have been close, reaching the NBA Finals at least once.
The Denver Nuggets, who have never won an NBA championship, are in the Finals for the first time with a great chance of capturing their first title. The Nuggets have been the best team in the postseason with a 12-3 record, and they have the best playoff performer in two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.
— Jeff Zillgitt
The Nuggets are one of six teams who have never won an NBA title. This is their first championship series appearance since losing to Julius Erving and the New York Nets in 1976, after which the wonderful and wacky ABA was disbanded.
— Arnie Stapleton, Associated Press
Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic averaged a triple-double against both the Suns and the Lakers, and enters these finals averaging 29.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game. One of his signature moves of late has been pointing to his ring finger while looking at his family; he’s now four wins away from the piece of jewelry he wants most.
— Tim Reynolds, Associated Press
No. Before the 6-foot-11 two-time MVP was drafted in 2014, he played three seasons for Mega Basket in the Adriatic League in Serbia.
The six-time All-Star has not won an NBA championship, but he’s led his team to the Finals once previously, in the 2020 bubble season, where the Heat lost to the Lakers.
In 17 games this postseason, Butler averaged 28.5 points on 48.3% shooting, including 35.6% from 3. He’s also grabbing 7 rebounds, dishing out 5.7 assists and snagging 2.1 steals per game.
Over 64 regular-season games, Butler averaged 22.9 points on 53.9% shooting (35% from 3), 5.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
Austin Pawelka turned heads when, at nine years old, he announced LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony at the 2004 NBA Rising Stars game during All-Star weekend. He wasn’t new to announcing as he had been introducing Denver Nuggets players for a year at the then-Pepsi Center.
Now, he’s the official DJ of the Nuggets and will orchestrate Ball Arena in his first NBA Finals. “It doesn’t really feel like it’s real,” Pawelka, who goes by the DJ name “Paws the Music” told USA TODAY Sports.
He found a calling toward music at a young age as his father, Shawn “Tribal Touch” Martinez, has been a DJ for 33 years. Martinez is now the Senior Director of Live Presentation for the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury.
— Victoria Hernandez
FULL STORY: Nuggets DJ Austin Pawelka speaks on NBA Finals
“It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s The Larry O’Brien Trophy skydiving.”
Yes, you read that correctly. The Larry O’Brien Trophy took a page out of Tom Cruise’s book and skydived its way into downtown Denver for Game 1 of the NBA Finals. ESPN host Malika Andrews greeted the trophy after its flight and safely transported it to Ball Arena, complete with a police escort.
“Welcome to Denver, Larry,” Andrews said.
— Cydney Henderson
Fanduel Sportsbook favors the Nuggets to win their first NBA championship over the Heat.
— Arnie Stapleton, Associated Press
Tyler Herro has been ruled out for Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
On Wednesday, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra confirmed that the 2022 Sixth Man of the Year will not be ready to suit up when the Heat head to Denver to take on the Nuggets in the first game of the championship series.
“He will not play tomorrow,” Spoelstra said during the NBA Finals Media Day. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves right now. He’s still just starting this (ramp-up) process. We do have a few days here just to continuous work. I can’t even make any kind of proclamation until he takes these next important steps, and that’s with contact and doing things more on the court live.”
— Cydney Henderson
Over 15 games this postseason, the Nuggets guard averaged 27.7 points on 48% shooting (39.8% from 3), 5.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. In 65 regular-season games this season, the 26-year-old averaged 20 points on 45.4% shooting (39.8% from 3), 4 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game.
One year ago, Jimmy Butler spoke after losing to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Solemn and measured, he told reporters, “We had enough. Next year, we will have enough and we’re going to be right back in the same situation, and we’re going to get it done.”
With most players, it’s bloviating. Not with Butler. With him, it’s prophetic. You can’t dismiss what he says.
One year to the date, Miami was in the same situation − Game 7 against the Celtics in the conference finals − and Butler and the Heat got it done, defeating Boston 103-84 on Monday in almost an unimaginable way.
“You have to have a guy that you can hold on to, particularly in those moments of truth,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler. “I’ve said this before, there’s no way to quantify the confidence that he can instill in everybody.”
— Jeff Zillgitt
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray were reserves for the Denver Nuggets early in the 2016-17 season. It was Murray’s rookie season and Jokic’s second season.
Those with a discerning eye saw the start of what is now apparent to everyone. Jokic and Murray had the skills to become one of the best 1-2 combos in the NBA.
“They’re both dynamic,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said ahead of the NBA Finals, which start Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC). “They both can do it on their own, but they also both really complement each other. That’s hard to find in this league, when your two best players just absolutely complement each other. They both have scored 50 in a playoff game, and they both can be facilitators.
“I don’t think either one of them care how many points they score. It’s just about getting the most efficient shot for the offense.”
How Heat were built: Stars like Jimmy Butler, finding hidden gems have Miami in NBA Finals
The Miami Heat like their stars, no question about that.
Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Jimmy Butler.
But the Heat’s front office led by Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg and Adam Simon also like their hidden gems and finding players who fit their system − players that other teams may have overlooked, players like Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent. They were all undrafted, and it’s not unusual to get those kind of players into their system and develop them.
“Quite frankly, we’ve needed more guys like Gabe and Caleb to show how much they have improved with their player development,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
— Jeff Zillgitt
The Nuggets are at the door, making their first Finals appearance in franchise history. Injuries slowed the Nuggets for a couple of seasons, but they’ve been headed in this direction since they reached the conference finals and lost to the Lakers in the 2020 Orlando bubble.
Best finish: Lost in the conference finals five times, most recently to the Lakers in 2020.
— Jeff Zillgitt
The Miami Heat are the second No. 8 seed to make it to the NBA Finals. The other? The New York Knicks in the 1998-99 season. They lost to the San Antonio Spurs in five games.
Marc Davis, David Guthrie and Ed Malloy will officiate Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals.
Here are all the officials who are assigned to work the Finals: Tony Brothers (12th Finals), Courtney Kirkland (third), Marc Davis (12th), Ed Malloy (eighth), Scott Foster (16th), Kevin Scott (first), John Goble (seventh), Josh Tiven (fourth), David Guthrie (sixth), James Williams (third), Bill Kennedy (fifth) and Zach Zarba (10th).
Notably missing from the group is 19-year veteran referee Eric Lewis, who is currently under investigation for the potential use of a burner Twitter account to defend himself and other officials. Based on previous experience and playoff grades, Lewis would have otherwise made the cut, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports.
Jimmy Butler says there isn’t any bad blood between the Heat and Nuggets. “I don’t think that’s a rivalry. It sounds good. But I don’t even want to get into it. (Jokic) is a hell of a player,” Butler told Complex in February 2022.
But the Nuggets and Heat were involved in an altercation on Nov. 8, 2021, that resulted in a suspension for Jokic and a fine for Butler. Jokic shoved Markieff Morris (who’s now on the Dallas Mavericks) from behind following a hard foul from Morris. Heat players were upset at what they perceived to be a cheap shot from Jokic and Butler could be seen telling Jokic to “bring your (expletive) to the back.” A viral photo showed Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo lined up outside the Nuggets locker room postgame.
Jokic was ejected from the game and received a one-game suspension. Morris received a flagrant foul, $50,000 fine for his role and subsequently missed 58 games with whiplash. Butler received a technical foul and $30,000 fine “for attempting to escalate the altercation and failing to comply with an NBA Security interview as part of the review process pertaining to an on-court matter,” the league said. But it appears to be water under the bridge.
“I don’t think it has too much to do with anything, this thing in the past,” Butler said Wednesday. “It’s high-level competition. But I will say I wasn’t talking to Jokic. That wasn’t my beef. Make sure you write that.”
Said Denver coach Michael Malone: “It hasn’t come up in any of my thoughts, discussions, narratives. That’s a question probably more suited for the Miami Heat. For us, all we’re worried about is winning Game 1. That’s our sole focus. None of the storylines that accompany this series are going to distract us from that focus.”
— Cydney Henderson and Jeff Zillgitt
Here is which uniform each team will wear for each game, via the NBA’s LockerVision:
The Nuggets won both matchups against the Heat during the regular season, once at home in Denver’s Ball Arena and on the road in Miami’s Kaseya Center.
On Dec. 30, Denver defeated Miami 124-119. Jokic recorded a triple-double (19 points, 12 rebounds, 12 assists) while Butler scored 17 points, dished out eight assists and nabbed four steals. Their second meeting was on Feb. 13, when the Nuggets won 112-108. Jokic put up a double-double (27 points, 12 rebounds) while tallying eight assists. Butler recorded his own double-double (24 points, 10 rebounds) and neared a triple-double with nine assists.
Miami hasn’t won a game in Denver since 2016 — which is also the last season Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray were Nuggets reserves. Denver is 11-3 against Miami in the past seven seasons, including a six-game winning streak over the past three seasons.
NBA Finals schedule 2023
- Game 1: Heat at Nuggets | Thursday, June 1 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
- Game 2: Heat at Nuggets | Sunday, June 4 | 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
- Game 3: Nuggets at Heat | Wednesday, June 7 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
- Game 4: Nuggets at Heat | Friday, June 9 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
- Game 5: Heat at Nuggets | Monday, June 12 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC) *
- Game 6: Nuggets at Heat | Thursday, June 15 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC) *
- Game 7: Heat at Nuggets | Sunday, June 18 | 8 p.m. ET (ABC) *
- *if necessary
Miami vs. Denver: Game 1 odds
Tipico Sportsbook has the spread favoring Denver by 8.5 points over Miami. They have the moneyline for Miami set at +310 and for Denver set at –380. They have the over/under for total points set at 218.5.
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Here are the NBA champions of the last 25 years:
- 2022: Golden State Warriors
- 2021: Milwaukee Bucks
- 2020: Los Angeles Lakers
- 2019: Toronto Raptors
- 2018: Golden State Warriors
- 2017: Golden State Warriors
- 2016: Cleveland Cavaliers
- 2015: Golden State Warriors
- 2014: San Antonio Spurs
- 2013: Miami Heat
- 2012: Miami Heat
- 2011: Dallas Mavericks
- 2010: Los Angeles Lakers
- 2009: Los Angeles Lakers
- 2008: Boston Celtics
- 2007: San Antonio Spurs
- 2006: Miami Heat
- 2005: San Antonio Spurs
- 2004: Detroit Pistons
- 2003: San Antonio Spurs
- 2002: Los Angeles Lakers
- 2001: Los Angeles Lakers
- 2000: Los Angeles Lakers
- 1999: San Antonio Spurs
- 1998: Chicago Bulls