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The betting value is on the underdog in Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets and I can prove it.
Denver beat Miami in both meetings during the regular season by an average score of 118.0-113.5. The Nuggets were -4.5 home favorites for the 1st Heat-Nuggets meeting this season on Dec. 30, 2022.
Miami started backup SG Haywood Highsmith and postseason breakout star, F Caleb Martin, didn’t play in that game. Denver was at full strength, tied for 1st place in the West and 10 games above .500.
Heat PG Kyle Lowry started over combo guard Gabe Vincent who played just 16 minutes to Lowry’s 32 minutes. Vincent has flourished in his expanded role this postseason. Lowry has been bad this whole season.
How has this gap between these two teams grown from Denver as 4.5-point favorites in December to 8.5-point favorites at DraftKings Sportsbook for Game 1?
Heat vs. Nuggets Game 1 NBA Finals odds (DraftKings)
- Tip-off: Thursday, June 1st at 8:30 p.m. ET.
- Venue: Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado.
The reason Denver is -8.5 in Game 1 is the market is overrating situational factors. The Nuggets have a rest edge, home teams historically perform in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and Denver’s high altitude. Is that really worth 4 points to the spread?
I get the Heat just won a grueling conference final in Game 7 Monday. Home teams are 17-3 overall and 16-4 against the spread (ATS) in Game 1 of the last 20 NBA Finals. Miami is 1-5 ATS in its last five visits to the Mile High City.
However, home favorites of -8 or more in Game 1 of the NBA Finals are 0-2 ATS with a -11.0 ATS margin since 2004. One of these teams was the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors with Kevin Durant.
The other was the 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers with four Hall of Famers (Shaq, Kobe, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton) that lost to the Detroit Pistons.
This Denver team doesn’t have four future Hall of Famers and the Nuggets would get swept if they time-traveled to play that aforementioned Warriors squad.
Furthermore, we’ve seen Miami’s 3-point shooting improve this postseason. I actually have an explanation for this that no one has come up with.
The theory behind the Heat’s playoff improvement
Basically, it’s a fit thing with Caleb Martin. Like I said in my 2023 NBA Finals preview:
“The Heat out-performed the Nuggets in three of the ‘four factors’ in their two meetings this season. But, Denver had a 65.1% effective field goal rate (eFG%) in the 1st game vs. Miami and 70.4% eFG% in the 2nd.”
Yet the Heat won the battle of possessions comfortably. Miami had 11 more field goal attempts in both Heat-Nuggets games during the regular season.
Miami has been an elite 3-point shooting team in the league every other year over the last four seasons. But, in the even-number years, the Heat are bad.
Their recent good 3-point shooting squads had forwards Jae Crowder and PJ Tucker who are floor-spacing, 3-and-D guys that can defend multiple positions.
Neither Crowder nor Tucker played for the Heat in 2020-21 when they were 19th in 3-point shooting. Crowder and Tucker aren’t on this Miami team either.
In these playoffs, who has stepped up the most for the Heat? Caleb Martin, that’s who. Martin is another good 3-and-D forward that can defend multiple positions.
He adds a 3-point shooter to the Heat’s starting 5 while retaining their defensive identity. It’s not being properly priced into Miami’s NBA Finals series odds.
Instead, NBA talking heads are writing off the Heat’s improved 3-point shooting as “luck”. This Miami team has been together for years though. This is the same Heat that were a great 3-point shooting team last season.
Finally, we are …
Fading the market for Game 1 of the NBA Finals
The market still views the Heat as a lucky 8-seed and refuses to increase their power rating. Miami is 3-0 this postseason in Game 1s and all were road games.
The Heat were +9 at the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1st round and +8.5 vs. the Celtics last round. Both the Bucks and Celtics had better odds than the Nuggets to win the NBA Finals entering the playoffs.
Oddsmakers adjusted Miami’s power rating. Heat-Nuggets Game 1 opened up with Denver at -5.5 or -6. The market immediately bet the Nuggets up to the current odds.
Game 1 is turning into a Pros vs. Joes game in the betting market. As of Wednesday evening, more cash at DraftKings is on Miami whereas more bets have been placed on Denver, according to VSIN.
BET: Miami Heat +9 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals
Gambling strategy: Always shop around for the best number. As much as I’d love for you to bet with OutKick’s partner, DraftKings, there are Miami +9 spreads at other shops.
Listen to the ‘OutKick Bets with Geoff Clark’ podcast HERE.