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NBA Finals betting preview: Nuggets ready for their coronation

Mark Blinch / National Basketball Association / Getty

Ideally, you'd carefully read through the reasoning before getting to the bottom of an article such as this, but you won't need to this time around. The Nuggets are winning the NBA title. You can pick whichever way you want to bet it depending on your appetite for risk - Nuggets series (-425), Nuggets -1.5 games (-160), Nuggets -2.5 (+140), Nuggets via sweep (+500).

NBA Finals: Heat (+320) vs. Nuggets (-425)

Fortunately, if you've been looking here for answers about the NBA playoffs, you probably don't have to make any more bets since you'd already have a ticket on the Nuggets (+800) to win the title.

Strangely, a championship game or series can be anti-climactic for betting if you do it right. Back in April, before the first play-in tournament game, we bet the Nuggets at 8-to-1 odds to win the NBA championship. It's not life-changing cash if it wins, but we passed over bigger favorites - the Celtics, Bucks, and Suns - and hotter long shots down the board.

Of course, Denver takes on one such underdog in the Heat, who entered the playoffs at 66-1 and had longer odds at various other points before and after. Having a ticket on Miami is great, but this has been a long journey going from a 1.5% implied win probability (at +6600) to the 23.8% implied win probability of +320 odds.

By comparison, the Nuggets' implied championship probability was 11.1% when they were +800. But at -425, they're up to 81%. You tell me which was the better bet.

Game 1: Heat @ Nuggets (-8.5, 219.5)

Thursday, June 1, 8:30 p.m. EST

As we've done with every other series - either beforehand or midway through - it starts with evaluating the point spread based on how the betting markets feel about each team, with a rating system out of 100. Each rating point is worth a quarter to the point spread, and home-court advantage (HCA) is estimated based on how lines have shifted within each team's previous three series.

NBA team ratings

Nuggets 77 75 5
Heat 62 52 3.5

Denver's rating has remained largely unchanged throughout the playoffs - starting with an estimation of 75/100 - behind Phoenix, Boston, and Milwaukee. The Nuggets are 12-3 straight up and 11-4 against the spread, depending on when you bet on them in Game 1 against the Lakers. A 73.3% cover rate suggests they've been consistently underrated and should have perhaps gotten more of a rating boost.

Miami's rating has gone from that of an average team (around 50/100) who needed two win a play-in tournament game just to get the No. 8 seed to that of a more respected squad. This a reminder that a championship berth doesn't necessarily equate to a team being rated atop the league. Essentially, the Heat have been given credit for their 14-6 playoff record ATS, while the Nuggets haven't been afforded as much.

With a Game 1 point spread sitting at -8.5 (-115) and Denver's 5-point home-court advantage, that suggests a difference of 15 rating points between the two teams. However, that doesn't reflect a significant rest advantage for Denver. Much was made of the Heat booking their flight to Denver before Game 7 with the Celtics, but what were they supposed to do? They knew they had to plan for the looming prospect of this quick turnaround.

You'll note the records for each team add up differently. On top of having nine days of rest to Miami's two, the Nuggets have played five fewer playoff games. We've bought into the idea that oddsmakers have been assigning a half-point for a rest advantage. However, in this case, I'd argue for at least a full point. As a result, -8.5 might be short. I wouldn't be surprised if the Game 1 line closed near -10.

Series handicap

The Heat avoided facing a prominent post player in their matchups with the Bucks, Knicks, and Celtics. But Nikola Jokic has averaged 22.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in games against Bam Adebayo. Given that Jokic is averaging a triple-double this postseason while facing the likes of Rudy Gobert, Deandre Ayton, and Anthony Davis, this is a bad core matchup for Miami.

The Celtics fought their way back into the Eastern Conference finals thanks to hot 3-point shooting. With Jokic rightfully commanding the Heat's focus, Denver's shooters - Jamal Murray, Michael Porter, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - should have ample opportunity to light up the scoreboard. And Miami won't be able to keep up.

An alternative way to play the Nuggets is a bet on Jokic to win NBA Finals MVP at -300. But if we think this could be a short series - Denver in five games or fewer - a small sample size increases Murray's chances of stealing the award with a couple of big showings.

We were happy to back the Heat to get this far when they were +400 or longer to beat the Celtics, who had shown vulnerability earlier in the playoffs. But the Nuggets have proven they're more capable than Boston despite shorter pre-series odds. Taking Denver in six games or fewer is the conservative play here.

Pick: Nuggets -1.5 (-160)

Matt Russell is the lead betting analyst for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

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