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).
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).
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.
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.