Denver vs. Miami: Nuggets and Heat Face Off in NBA Finals | Miami New Times


Smack Talk: Dueling Writers' Guide to the Heat, Nuggets NBA Finals Showdown

You know what they say about Miami: If you can’t handle the Heat, get out of the NBA Finals.
The Miami Heat pose with the Bob Cousy Trophy after defeating the Boston Celtics 103-84 in the Eastern Conference Finals on May 29, 2023, in Boston.
The Miami Heat pose with the Bob Cousy Trophy after defeating the Boston Celtics 103-84 in the Eastern Conference Finals on May 29, 2023, in Boston. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
Share this:
Either the Denver Nuggets or the Miami Heat will be crowned champions after the teams face off in an NBA Finals matchup filled with sizzle, star power, and enough backstory to pack a telenovela.

This is Denver's first appearance in the finals, and the team has breezed past some of the league's best, including Kevin Durant and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns and Lebron James, who helms the legendary Lakers. (The Nuggets also crushed the Minnesota Timberwolves, never for a moment looking like they were in jeopardy.)

Though the Heat may have won three championships, their last NBA Finals victory is a decade in the rearview after they fell short in their 2014 and 2020 finals appearances. This year's team is Cinderella-esque, having clawed its way up through the Play-In Tournament and making the finals as an eight-seed.

But as Nuggets coach Michael Malone told the media on May 30, "You get to the NBA finals, it's not about seeding anymore. For those that are thinking that this is going to be an easy series, I don't even know what to say to you."

If Malone is right, the on-the-court battle will be hot — and so will the rivalry between two cities with thriving sports cultures. Denver and Miami are also home to sister alt-weeklies in Westword and Miami New Times, and we've paired up for some trash talk and to break down the series that starts June 1, with Westword's Catie Cheshire and New Times' Ryan Yousefi mincing no words as they serve as your NBA Finals guides.

No Hard Times on the Hardwood

Everything you need to know about the actual games.

Good things come to those who wait
After sweeping the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets will have had almost ten days off before the best-of-seven series tips off. The team has used that rest to lock in and prepare for the finals, including what could be the biggest challenge yet: slowing down Jimmy Butler, who has provided an explosion of offense for the Heat.

The two teams have an explosive history, too: most memorably when Markieff Morris, who was then on the Heat, got into a physical altercation with Denver's Nikola Jokic during a regular season game in November 2021. Afterwards, Butler was caught on camera taunting and threatening a Nuggets player who was initially thought to be Jokic. But the Heat phenom told reporters on Wednesday, May 31, that it was actually another "individual" whom he declined to name.

"That wasn't my beef," Butler said in reference to Jokic. "The individual who I was talking to definitely knew who I was talking to."

Though Markieff isn't on the Heat anymore, this competition will still be heated.

But there's no question which team will come out on top. It's the Nuggets all the way, and the Heat will be lucky to take a game. We'll give Miami one, but Denver will take the tournament in five, starting with a win in the opener: The Nuggets have been untouchable at home, and even Butler's heroics can't change that.

Jokic has already set a record for the most triple-doubles in a single postseason with eight; no defensive strategy has thwarted the two-time MVP and the Heat will need a miracle if they want to be the first to do so. Then there's Jamal Murray, who's averaging 27.7 points per game in the playoffs run and who historically thrives in Florida, as he did during the COVID-19 "bubble" postseason.

Aaron Gordon is a defensive king who has as good a shot as anyone at limiting Butler, and Bruce Brown — who comes off the bench for the Nuggets — is Denver's secret weapon.

Miami might try to convince itself that its NBA Finals experience gives it the upper hand, but living in the past won't win the Heat a title this year. — Cheshire
click to enlarge
Jimmy Butler is ready to bring the Heat to Denver.
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Miami's been there, done that, and is ready to do it again
You know when you’re just about to finish entering your password using the TV remote and you screw up and need to start all over again? That’s what the Heat did in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. They dropped the remote just as they were about to hit "enter," and had one last chance to get it right before the NBA locked them out of their account.

Being the first team to blow a 3-0 lead in an NBA playoff series would be one thing, but the manner in which the Heat lost Game 6 — a Derrick White tip-in winner at the buzzer — had all of Miami prepared for months of therapy.

Thankfully, Miami went up to Boston and beat the Celtics so badly in Game 7 that Ben Affleck didn’t even feel like having his usual Dunkies the next morning.

We have a saying in Miami: Heat in 5. We’re legally obligated to say this. It’s on our car registration. Police south of Mar-a-Lago ask for proof of "Heat in 5" when we get pulled over.

You’re laughing right now. It’s funny, isn’t it?

Milwaukee, New York, and Boston thought it was funny, too.

In the words of Hall of Fame Miami Heat team president Pat Riley, the Heat and the infamous premise of #HeatCulture stand for “the hardest-working, best-conditioned, most professional, unselfish, toughest, nastiest team in the league."

Bluntly put, other NBA teams want to be the Miami Heat, and most players want to play for the Miami Heat. It’s that plain and simple: Miami is where you come to get the best out of yourself while competing for NBA crown jewelry in the process.

The Heat enter these NBA Finals as America’s Team, not because everyone in America is rooting for them — they absolutely are not — but because Miami’s roster is full of players who’ve had to work their way up the ladder for respect just like the rest of us.

Of the fifteen players on the Miami playoff roster, seven (Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, Haywood Highsmith, and Udonis Haslem) watched NBA drafts go by without being selected.

Haslem, for one, has been with the Heat for each of their seven NBA Finals appearances and three championships since 2006. And the team is determined to give him a going-away present in the form of one more championship trophy.

We hear this is the Denver Nuggets’ first appearance in the NBA Finals. That’s so cute! We remember our first beer. — Yousefi
click to enlarge
Teamwork makes the dream work: Udonis Haslem and Erik Spoelstra at a 2022 charity event.
World Red Eye

Mile High City Vs. Miami Vice

How will these cities turn out for their teams?

Denver's finally getting in on the joy of the Nuggets
Denver is high on Nuggets mania, with watch parties, food deals, new public art and people selling T-shirts on the side of the road. There's a sense in the city that our next major sports champions are about to be crowned. While the Nuggets often take a backseat to Broncos and the Colorado Avalanche, they're in the driver's seat right now.

When the Avs prevailed in the Stanley Cup last year, the win helped reignite downtown Denver, which had lagged after the pandemic. People were in the streets but didn't destroy them. And the championship parade was a highly-attended celebration that united the city at least for an afternoon.

Consider that a test run for this year, as more local businesses gear up and Nuggets fans who've waited a lifetime for an NBA Finals berth turn out. The Fillmore Auditorium, one of Denver's historic venues, has lovingly dubbed itself the "Four-more Auditorium" for the remainder of the championship run.

A few blocks further along Colfax Avenue, artist Thomas "Detour" Evans — who'd already painted a Jokic mural in Five Points — has created one of Jokic and Murray looking like badasses across a pastel rainbow background. The artist has promised to add more when the team wins.
And local politicos are also getting involved, with Colorado governor Jared Polis calling out Florida governor Ron DeSantis on Twitter.

"If the @nuggets win the finals against the @MiamiHEAT, Disney World will move to Colorado, the ACTUAL happiest place on earth to do business, have fun, and be free!" Polis wrote.

The choice between the Centennial State and the Sunshine State is no choice at all. There's a reason Taylor Swift is coming here and not to Miami; the Mile High City is already outpacing a city that should be more worried about sinking into the ocean than about a sports team going down. — Cheshire

Miami is too hot to handle
Listen, we can all agree on one thing: Miami isn’t for everyone.

Unless everyone puts their phones in a basket and we check your account. Then your recent vacation searches will likely indicate Miami is, in fact, for you.

If you see a Miami Heat fan on Twitter, let them be. You don’t want those problems. These people have been through hell and back in fandom. It’s Miami vs. the World.

If you see a Miami Heat fan in person, they’ll be your best friend by halftime, when they’ll likely invite you for a quick visit to the restroom to do something the law frowns upon.

At the end of the day, Heat fans have enjoyed more success in thirty years than most fanbases — without naming any names — ever have. And most of the time they act like it. File under: Sorry, not sorry.

Miami is like a shot of Cuban cafecito (coffee, Denver, that’s coffee) — hot, bold, in your face and technically not cocaine, but at times you need to check the label to be sure. Folks realize what they're getting into when they come to Miami, and that is semi-controlled chaos.

In the end, you know what they say about Miami: If you can’t handle the Heat, get out of the NBA Finals.
click to enlarge
Rocky is in the Mascot Hall of Fame
Evan Semón Photography

Mascot Madness

Rocky and Burnie provide a star-powered showdown.

There's no one better than Rocky
Kenn Solomon has been donning the Rocky suit since 1990, and he's back behind the fur for this Finals run. It's only fitting that a person who's been with the team through thick and thin gets to engage with the fans who love him (or at least his Rocky persona) so much.

Rocky whips the Ball Arena crowd into a frenzy with his backward, half-court shot, and he's known to get in on the trash talk by playfully poking fun at opposing players and fans.

Burnie has a better chance of giving children nightmares than topping Rocky in a battle of the mascots. — Cheshire

Burnie sparks fan fun
Burnie, the Miami Heat mascot, is an adorable, furry red fireball with a basketball for a nose. If that doesn’t get you fired up, check your pulse, Kendall Roy.

It’s not all kids’ hugs and Disney pictures for Burnie, though. He once attempted to break a mascot world record for jumping over other mascots (yup — that exists), but instead ended up only breaking other mascots, namely Stanley C. Panther, the Florida Panthers’ furry friend.

(Note from Miami: Stanley and his skatemates are about to contest the NHL Stanley Cup Finals. How’d the Denver Snowflakes do on the ice this year?)

Just know if Rocky comes for Burnie with his manufactured muscles, he’d better be ready for all the Burnie smoke. — Yousefi
click to enlarge
Erik Spoelstra's father lasted ninety days as president of the Nuggets.
Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Masterminds at the Helm

The coaches and owners involved in this matchup provide plenty of fun.

Kroenke's on a winning streak
Stan Kroenke is gobbling up championships, with three of the franchises he owns winning titles in the past two seasons: the Los Angeles Rams, the Colorado Avalanche and the Colorado Mammoth, currently vying for another championship. Now it's the Nuggets' turn to get in on the success.

Denver residents aren't sold on the idea that Kroenke is a great sports owner, since Altitude TV's ongoing dispute with Comcast restricts fans from watching the teams during most of the regular season. It's also hard to root for someone with that much money. But whether they consider Kroenke a hero or a zero, fans won't say no to another ring.

Malone and Erik Spoelstra are two of the longest-tenured coaches in the league — but before that, Erik's father was president of the Nuggets for just ninety days when he was disappeared by the owners.

The Heat's tenure as competition for the Nuggets should be even shorter.  — Cheshire
click to enlarge
Blue Arrow is a new cannabis strain named after Denver Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray.
Sarah Stier / Getty Images
Arison isn't your average Florida man
Miami Heat owner Micky Arison made his billions owning Carnival Cruise Line. If that’s not the most Miami way to make it into the “tres commas” club, we don’t know what is. (Okay, investing in cryptocurrency is a more Miami way to become a billionaire, but Arison was around before that became a thing.)

On any given day, Arison can dress down to resemble a guy you’d find at a Margaritaville bar, or wear an expensive Italian suit worth more than your car. Again, Florida Man Level: Expert unlocked.

If there’s one thing you need to take away from this, it’s that once upon a time in the early 1990s, Micky Arison stole Pat Riley from the New York Knicks, and the rest has been history.

Put it this way: Whatever's the best strain of marijuana offered in a Denver dispensary, that’s Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. He’s as if the drug in the movie Limitless jumped out of its gelcap, slicked back its hair, and decided to coach basketball.

Spoelstra — who, this town has just learned from its Westword counterparts, was once given a video editor job with the Nuggets after his dad and former Nuggets executive Jon Spoelstra called in a favor — recently earned a spot in a list of top 15 all-time NBA coaches for a reason: He rules.

Six NBA Finals appearances later, it turns out the Spoelstras did the Miami Heat the favor. — Yousefi
KEEP NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls. Make a one-time donation today for as little as $1.