NBA scout, coach and executive all have Denver Nuggets beating Miami Heat in 6 games

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The Miami Heat have answered every challenge in the NBA Playoffs so far, but now up against the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals, some league personnel are predicting that the Heat might not be up to the ultimate task.

The Athletic asked an NBA scout, coach and executive to predict the outcome of the Finals, and they all came up with the same conclusion: The Heat will lose the series in six games.

Scout’s pick: Nuggets in six

Coach’s pick: Nuggets in six

Executive’s pick: Nuggets in six

Unanimous pick: Nuggets

Perhaps it is because Miami is only the second No. 8 seed to ever reach the NBA Finals, duplicating the accomplishment of the 1999 New York Knicks. Maybe it’s because Miami almost didn’t make it out of the Eastern Conference Finals after winning the first three games of that series. Or it could be because the Nuggets got to the championship round by sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

The Heat avoided a collapse for the ages when they defeated the Celtics 103-84 in Game 7 on Monday to avoid becoming the first NBA team to lose a best-of-seven series after taking a 3-0 lead.

Miami has been doubted throughout the playoffs, and previous predictions by The Athletic panels had them losing to the New York Knicks in the second round and then not getting past the Celtics in the conference finals.

The scout said the advantage the Heat have built with its role players could be countered by the Nuggets’ similar strength in that area. The expert also said the coaching of Denver’s Michael Malone is good enough to counter that of Miami’s Erik Spoelstra. ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy this week said Spoelstra is the best head coach in Heat history.

“But another reason I would lean Denver is it’s not going to be a giant coaching mismatch like it was this past series with Boston and Miami,” the scout said. “Spo (Miami’s Erik Spoelstra) will still do his thing. But Michael Malone has got a little more savvy to him. He’s got a little more adjustments and a little more he has seen and things he can do to counteract, in the zone, especially.”

The coach said Nuggets star Nikola Jokic might just be too much for the Heat to handle.

“Every team has tried to (slow Jokic),” the coach said. “I think it’s just a matter of how much you allow him to score or if you decide to let him facilitate.”

Denver has home-court advantage and will be hosting Game 1 of the series on Thursday and Game 2 on Sunday. The executive said that is an important edge, with the Nuggets 8-0 during the playoffs at Ball Arena. But the Heat cannot be ruled out, as they have proven at every turn so far.

“Now if you say, ‘How can Miami win?’ I think Miami only wins because it’s their time,” the executive said. “They are playing their very best basketball at the exact right time. How do they win? They have to be a team of destiny. Miami’s got to have that hope that they’re just that good right now.”

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Mike is a veteran journalist who has covered the NBA for almost three decades. His introduction to the business included the legendary Heat-Knicks rivalry from the 1990s.