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7 Compelling Reasons You Should Watch the NBA Finals

Even if you’re not a Miami Heat or Denver Nuggets fan, this series is sure to delight

spinner image Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo guards Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic during the first quarter at Ball Arena in Denver
Bam Adebayo #13 (right) of the Miami Heat defends Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets during a game at Ball Arena on Dec. 30, 2022 in Denver.
C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images

​​If the television executives had their way, the NBA Finals probably would have played out differently.

​To maximize TV and streaming viewership, the finals would have featured the Los Angeles Lakers against the Boston Celtics, two historic franchises that had hoped to break their tie for the most championships in NBA history (17). Instead, the finals will feature a dominant smaller-market team (the Denver Nuggets) and an overachieving eighth seed (the Miami Heat).

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​It seems inevitable that fewer people will watch an NBA Finals that lacks a glamorous franchise, an iconic superstar (Lakers forward LeBron James) or a rising young star (Celtics forward-guard Jayson Tatum). Nonetheless, there are many compelling reasons to watch this series, which begins on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

spinner image Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone lifts the trophy in front of his team after they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals in Los Angeles
The Denver Nuggets celebrate after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals at Arena on May 22, 2023 in Los Angeles.
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

​1. The Denver Nuggets are playing in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

The Nuggets feel disrespected over their lack of attention. Denver appeared in the 2020 Western Conference finals after overcoming 3-1 series deficits against both the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Nuggets have made five consecutive playoff appearances. And Denver dominated throughout the 2022-23 regular season to secure the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.

The lack of attention might be partly the result of the Nuggets’ lack of history. The team has not played in an NBA Finals since joining the league in 1976. Incidentally, the Nuggets appeared in the American Basketball Association’s final league championship series (1976), losing to the New York Nets in six games. The two leagues merged the following season.

​Since then, Denver has made 29 playoff appearances in 47 seasons, including five Western Conference finals. The Nuggets currently have one of the NBA’s best rosters, so the question is whether they can turn this season into an NBA title.

spinner image The Miami Heat celebrate after defeating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Boston
Members of the Miami Heat pose for a photo after winning Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics on May 29, 2023 at the TD Garden in Boston.
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

​2. The Miami Heat could win their first NBA title in more than a decade without superstar LeBron James.

Miami has become comfortable on this stage after making 24 playoff appearances and winning three NBA titles in the franchise’s 35-year history. Yet this possible NBA title would hold different significance.

​The Heat collected their first NBA championship (2006) two seasons after acquiring a dominant big man (Shaquille O’Neal) from the Lakers in a trade. Miami won two NBA titles (2012, 2013) in four consecutive finals appearances with James (2011-2014) after teaming him up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The current Heat have a chance to win their first NBA title without a generational superstar.

​Granted, the Heat have plenty of talent. They have two all-stars (Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo). They have past all-stars who have accepted reduced roles (Kyle Lowry, Kevin Love). And they have a collection of emerging young players (Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson).

The Heat may not spark the adulation and animosity of their past championship teams. After all, Miami gained respect by pushing James and the Lakers to six games in the 2020 NBA Finals. With Miami becoming only the second eighth seed in NBA history to advance to the finals, however, the current Heat could draw fans who want to root for an underdog.

spinner image Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic dribbling the ball during Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals in Los Angeles
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic dribbles the ball during Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers on May 22, 2023 at Arena in Los Angeles.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

​3. You can watch Nikola Jokic, one of the three best basketball players in the world.

Internally, the Nuggets chuckle at Jokic’s trajectory. They selected him with the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA Draft after becoming intrigued with the Serbian’s fundamentals while he played professionally in Europe (Mega Basket) and for his national team. Denver would have drafted Jokic much higher had it known he would become a two-time regular-season MVP (2021, 2022) and one of the league’s best passers.



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Jokic has done well by mastering a few areas. He developed exceptional footwork, court vision and shooting mechanics. That has allowed him to become a versatile scorer both close to the basket and from 3-point range, while still elevating his teammates with timely passes. Jokic has also improved his conditioning significantly by revamping his diet and becoming disciplined with post-game and off-season workouts.

​Jokic has largely avoided the spotlight, thanks to his unassuming personality and playing for a smaller-market team. Some critics have also downplayed his MVP awards because of the Nuggets’ lack of playoff success. Jokic has gained more notoriety, however, for his international appeal and elite skills. Should he win his first NBA championship, Jokic could gain more respect and evoke comparisons to the league’s top big men of all time.

spinner image Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra and Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone each on the sidelines coaching their respective teams
(Left to right) Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra and Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone
C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images; Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

​4. The Nuggets and the Heat have two of the league’s more experienced head coaches.

Many NBA coaches get hired only to be fired. The Nuggets and Heat, however, value stability and loyalty. Miami features the NBA’s current second-longest-tenured head coach (Erik Spoelstra, 52), who has overseen his staff and players for the past 15 seasons after serving as an assistant coach and video coordinator. Denver boasts the league’s fourth-longest-serving head coach (Michael Malone, 51), who has manned the sidelines for the past eight seasons following a head coaching stint in Sacramento (2013-15) and numerous NBA assistant coaching gigs.

Under Spoelstra, the Heat have made the playoffs in 12 of the past 15 seasons. Under Malone, the Nuggets have made the playoffs for five consecutive seasons after missing the postseason in his first three years. Professional sports franchises often prioritize bottom-line results. Spoelstra and Malone have maintained longevity because they have helped their respective teams meet those objectives. Still, both franchises have resisted any pressure to replace coaches after missed championship runs.

spinner image Miami Heat president Pat Riley looks at the audience during a news conference
Miami Heat president Pat Riley
Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

​5. At 78 years old, Heat president Pat Riley remains driven.

Riley could have enjoyed many years of retirement by now. He has won multiple NBA championships as a Lakers player (1972), Lakers assistant coach (1980), Lakers head coach (1982, 1985, 1987, 1988), Heat head coach (2006) and Heat president (2012, 2013). He’s already enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2008). What else could Riley want?

​Simple: Riley still wants to win. In his 28th season as the Heat’s president, he has overseen a franchise that embodies the discipline, work ethic and resiliency that he valued as both an NBA player and head coach. He possessed the charisma to lure star players to join the franchise (O’Neal, James, Bosh). He maintained the resourcefulness to avoid rebuilding by staying disciplined on payroll, valuing strong coaching, and holding players accountable for their conditioning and effort levels.

​Riley presumably felt additional emotions when the Heat could not beat his former team in the 2020 NBA Finals (Lakers) and fell short against a hated rival in the 2022 Eastern Conference finals (Boston). Riley presumably feels both happy and relieved that Miami won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics after nearly squandering a 3-0 series lead. It’s safe to say Riley would like to add more jewelry to his championship ring count.

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spinner image Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray look at each other while walking on the court during a game against the Indiana Pacers in Denver
Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. #1 talks with his teammate Jamal Murray #27 during their game against the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 20, 2023 at Ball Arena in Denver.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

​6. Two of Denver’s core players overcame serious injuries.

Denver guard Jamal Murray missed the final month of the 2020-21 regular season, the 2021 playoffs and the entire 2021-22 campaign after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Denver forward Michael Porter Jr. missed 73 regular season games and the entire postseason last year while recovering from spinal surgery. Since then, both Murray and Porter have become crucial to the Nuggets’ playoff run.

​Murray has impressed the Nuggets with his scoring, playmaking and athleticism. Porter has pleased the team with his 3-point shooting and his defense. That has validated the Nuggets’ patience with both players after selecting Murray (No. 7 in 2016) and Porter (No. 14 in 2018) high in the NBA Draft.

​Before his injury, Porter had intrigued the Nuggets with his versatility and upside, but he struggled with an inconsistent role, embracing defense and handling tough coaching. Before his injury, Murray had dazzled the Nuggets with his point-guard instincts, but Malone often called on him to show more consistency with his playmaking and defense.

As Murray and Porter nursed injuries, the Nuggets stayed patient with their recovery and return. During the NBA playoffs, however, both players have shown their full potential. This should resonate with a general public that usually appreciates an inspiring comeback story.

spinner image Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem holds the ball during a game against the Houston Rockets in Houston
Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem with the basketball during a game against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 15, 2022 at Toyota Center in Houston.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

7. The Heat features the NBA’s oldest active player.

During the final moments of Miami’s blowout Game 3 win over Boston, Heat fans began an impromptu chant: “We want Haslem!”

Heat fans clamoring for Udonis Haslem to play in the final moments was about more than just a fan base hoping to see a seldom-used player performing mop-up duty. At age 42, Haslem is the NBA’s oldest active player, and he has spent all of his 20 seasons with the franchise. Haslem, who has played limited minutes in the past eight seasons, plans to retire following the 2023 NBA Finals.

But Haslem has remained a valued member within the Heat organization. Miami’s coaching staff and players praise him for his mentorship, practice work habits, and experience as a key contributor to the Heat’s three championship teams (2006, 2012, 2013).

Haslem has become the Heat’s all-time leader in total rebounds and ranks among franchise leaders in games played (second), starts (second), minutes (second), blocks (ninth), steals (10th) and assists (16th). Because of that résumé, Adebayo, the team’s current center, has formally dedicated this season to Haslem.

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