NBA Power Rankings: Jazz win streak vaults them back into top spot


Utah has looked dominant winning six in a row, which vaults them back on top of NBC Sports’ NBA Power Rankings this week. Denver is up to fifth and feels like a team worth watching.

Jazz small icon 1. Jazz (35-11, Last Week No. 5). During its current six-game win streak, the Jazz have the best defense in the NBA, the second-best offense, and a +23 net rating (although it has come against a soft part of the schedule, including beating Brooklyn but without any of its three stars). Donovan Mitchell has been a force during the streak, averaging 29.5 points a game. The Jazz continue to make a hard push for home court in the playoffs, and with good reason — Utah is 20-0 this season at Vivint Arena.

Nets small icon 2. Nets (32-15, LW 1). Brooklyn’s addition of LaMarcus Aldridge brought cries from some casual fans who thought the Nets were building an unfair superteam, but the reality is Aldridge has a role but to fill but is not a franchise-changing player at this point. He’s a backup stretch five, and if he is taking minutes away from the athletic and emerging Nicolas Claxton the Nets do not get better (especially defensively). James Harden says he is the MVP, and he has played like it in Brooklyn, but how much will voters hold the ugly arrival in training camp and disruption in Houston against him?

Suns small icon 3. Suns (32-14 LW 4). There are moments of concerning signs in Phoenix — some rough games for the usually solid bench, a cold shooting streak from three — but with defense and some grit the Suns keep right on winning (six of their last seven). This week the schedule stays relatively soft, but some tests loom on the horizon. They really miss what Jae Crowder brought in Boston, and Phoenix is reaping the rewards of his steady hand, defense, and clutch play — like this dagger.

Clippers small icon4. Clippers (32-17, LW 7). The Clippers are not indiscriminate bombers from three — 39.7% of their shots are from beyond the arc, right in the middle of the league — but they prioritize the corner three, where they take 11.4% of their total shots (second in the league to Utah). The Clippers also hit their threes, shooting a ridiculous 41.7% of their threes as a team and 47.8% on corner threes. When those shots fall, they are hard to beat. Los Angeles had won six in a row and was playing like a contender again, then reminded us of all the questions we have about them in blowing a lead to an Orlando team that traded its best offensive players.

Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (29-18 LW 6). Trading for Aaron Gordon made the Nuggets the big winner at the trade deadline. He brings some needed athleticism and verticality to the offense, but come the playoffs his bigger role will be as an athletic wing defender Denver can assign to LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and the big wings in the West. It’s just been a couple of games so far, but it’s quickly evident how Gordon fits in with the Nuggets and brings them something they lacked.

Sixers small icon 6. 76ers (32-15 LW 3). Philadelphia has gone 6-3 since Joel Embiid went out injured, and 3-2 on a tough road trip without him. It’s an impressive run — fueled by strong play from Tobias Harris — that has kept the 76ers on top of the East (tied with Brooklyn as of this writing). Philly added quality depth and a veteran floor general in George Hill at the deadline (who also will provide good perimeter defense). Everything is looking up for the 76ers — except for Dwight Howard, who was ejected in back to back games in Los Angeles

Bucks small icon 7. Bucks (29-17, LW 2). After winning eight straight, Milwaukee has lost three in a row (although ignore the loss to the Knicks when the Bucks sat all their stars). The losses to the Celtics and Clippers showed how the Bucks remain vulnerable to good three-point shooting teams, a weakness that has carried over from past seasons and a concern heading into the playoffs. Monday’s loss against the Clippers also was the start of 9-of-10 on the road. The addition of Jeff Teague on the buyout market may not provide a lot of help at the guard spots, but Teague is someone coach Mike Budenholzer is comfortable with going back to Atlanta.

Blazers small icon 8. Trail Blazers (28-18, LW 9). Jusuf Nurkic is back after a 10-week absence and the question is, can he lift up the Trail Blazers dreadful, 29th in the league defense? If Portland has any serious playoff aspirations, that is the end of the court that needs to improve. The Portland offense is humming with CJ McCollum back for a couple of weeks, Nurkic back and bringing his big man passing skills to the mix, and newcomer Norman Powell scored 22 in his Trail Blazer debut, and he has shot the ball well through a couple of games in Portland. The team just needs some stops.

Lakers small icon 9. Lakers (30-17, LW 8). Los Angeles picked up two critical wins against Cleveland and Orlando — critical because they are the soft spots in a backloaded, difficult Lakers schedule they are currently facing without LeBron James and Anthony Davis (L.A. plays the Bucks Wednesday then has seven in a row on the road). Adding Andre Drummond off the buyout market will help the Lakers in the short term, they can run some offense through him, and he can defend the paint and grab boards. How he fits into the Lakers culture and his role in the postseason will be the bigger tests.

Mavericks small icon 10. Mavericks (24-21, LW 10). Dallas’ offense — ranked 11th in the NBA for the season — has been dramatically better in recent weeks, 5.4 per 100 possessions better in their last seven games. What’s interesting is they are doing it without easy buckets in transition: The Mavericks start 12.2% of their possessions in transition, second lowest percentage in the NBA (Knicks). That’s not really a surprise for a Rick Carlisle coached team. Dallas is 1-1 to start a run of 6-of-7 on the road (with the home game being Utah).

Knicks small icon 11. Knicks (24-23, LW 13). The loss of Mitchell Robinson to a foot injury and surgery is a blow, particularly on the defensive end of the court where Robinson had been solid off the bench. No Robinson means more Nerlens Noel, which is good for New York’s offense, and behind him expect to see veteran Taj Gibson. Obi Toppin’s run continues to be limited. Immanuel Quickley is back to coming off the bench after three games as a starter, Tom Thibodeau trusts Elfrid Payton more with the offense.

Grizzlies small icon 12. Grizzlies (22-22 LW 15). Great news this week that Jaren Jackson Jr. — part of the long-term core with Ja Morant — is on pace to return in late April, get some games under his belt, and be available for the postseason if Memphis can hold on to a spot. The other player the Grizzlies hoped would be part of that cure, Justise Winslow, has struggled since returning from injury: 7.1 points a game, 12.2% shooting from three (career 32%), and an ugly 37.2 true shooting percentage. He also is missing time with a sore right thigh.

Hawks small icon 13. Hawks (23-24 LW 11). John Collins was not traded at the deadline in part because the Hawks want to make a playoff push and Collins is one of the team’s best players (don’t be shocked to see a sign-and-trade this offseason). The new coach bounce has worn off in Atlanta and the team is 2-4 on its current road swing through the Western Conference, with the team’s defense being the issue (27th in the NBA in that stretch). The Hawks are tied for the 6/7/8 spots in the East with Boston and Miami and need to get some stops and find some wins to avoid the play-in games.

Celtics small icon 14. Celtics (23-24, LW 16). Despite his rough debut game, trading for Evan Fournier was an upgrade in Boston — every team could use more shooting. Trading away Daniel Theis was a bigger risk, putting a lot more on the plates of Luke Kornet and Robert Williams III. These trades will look a lot better if the Celtics can string together some wins during the six straight home games coming up — in a tightly-packed middle of the East just a few wins can vault Boston up the standings.

Spurs small icon 15. Spurs (23-21, LW 12). With LaMarcus Aldridge gone and the signing of Gorgui Dieng off the buyout market, the Spurs upgraded their backup center spot for their style of play. Dieng will provide more defense than Aldridge can at this point in his career (but not the floor spacing). The Spurs starting five — Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl — has a +0.8 net rating, which may not be thrilling but is 13.3 better than the most heavily used starting lineup with Aldridge in it.

Hornets small icon 16. Hornets (24-22, LW 18). LaMelo Ball was getting the headlines — and rightfully so, he is still the Rookie of the Year favorite — but the Hornets are not a one-man show, they have won 4-of-5 since losing Ball to a fractured right wrist. Charlotte currently sits as the No. 4 seed in the East, and while there is a tight grouping in the middle of that conference, that the Hornets are on top speaks to an impressive season from James Borego’s group.

Warriors small icon 17. Warriors (23-24, LW 14). Despite Draymond Green’s passing and Andrew Wiggins/Kelly Oubre giving the team some level of secondary shot creation, the Warriors’ offense is still the Stephen Curry show — Golden State’s offensive rating is 10.3 better when Curry is on the court. That’s not all that strange, even when Kevin Durant was in Golden State it was Curry’s gravity that made the offense sing. The Warriors didn’t trade Oubre at the deadline, and part of the reason was to make the postseason, but now they need wins: Golden State sits in the final play-in spot but the hot Kings are just one game back, the Pelicans 1.5.

Pelicans small icon 18. Pelicans (21-25, LW 19). Zion Williamson‘s growth during his second season — he was a 6’1″ point guard when he entered high school, before the growth spurts, and that mindset and skills are on display now — has been one of the brightest spots of this season. He has scored 20+ points in 24 straight games, shooting better than 65% in that stretch. J.J. Redick didn’t feel he was treated fairly when he requested a trade this season, but he is now out the door and in Dallas.

Kings small icon 19. Kings (22-25, LW 22). Sacramento left a lot of pundits scratching their head at the deadline, wondering why they were not more aggressive as sellers. However, behind De’Aaron Fox and strong clutch play as a team, the Kings have won five games in a row and sit just one game back of the Warriors for the final play-in spot — and ownership in Sacramento wants to make a postseason push. As for evidence of the Kings’ clutch play, watch Harrison Barnes hit a game-winning three off a length-of-the-court pass.

Heat small icon 20. Heat (23-24 LW 17). Miami made itself better at the trade deadline, landing Victor Oladipo and Nemanja Bjelica while giving up just one rotation player. This may not have been the level of player Heat fans were hoping for (Kyle Lowry), and how much better the Heat got is up for debate, but they are better. Miami’s win in New York Monday (without Oladipo and just five minutes for Bjelica) ended an ugly six-game losing streak that the Heat below .500 again and stuck in the middle of a crowded East. Can the newcomers give enough lift to get Miami up the standings and out of the play-in range?

Pacers small icon 21. Pacers (21-24, LW 21). Caris LeVert is scoring 15 points a game and is showing flashes of his old self following surgery, but he is still shooting just 37.3% overall since returning. Myles Turner keeps making his Defensive Player of the Year, case, he now has a dozen games this season with at least five blocks. Key gamer the Pacers Wednesday night against the Heat, they are 2/3 of the teams tied for 6/7/8 in the East.

Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (19-26, LW 20). Chicago’s offense has fallen apart since the All-Star break. Chicago is 3-8 since the break, scoring almost 10 fewer points a game, they are 28th in the NBA in offensive rating in that time (105.4), and they are bottom 10 in the league in three-point shooting percentage and true shooting percentage (they were top 10 in those categories before the break). The Bulls are hoping that the trade for Nikola Vucevic will awaken the offense and get it rolling again, but the team is 0-2 since he entered the lineup.

Wizards small icon 23. Wizards (17-29 LW 24). Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double for the season now — 21.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 10.5 assists a night — and his 21-assist triple double on Monday night gave him the franchise record at 16, a goal he was able to reach in just 38 games (which speaks to Westbrook’s skill and the Wizards history). All those triple-doubles have not translated to wins as the Wizards are 3-8 since the All-Star break, which is a little unlucky because their defense is top 10 in the league over the last seven games.

Raptors small icon 24. Raptors (18-28, LW 25). Toronto chose to hang on to Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline, not getting the blow-us-away offer they wanted. That should mean a playoff push for the Raptors but the team has lost 12-of-13 with the second-worst defense in the NBA over that stretch. Toronto currently sits as the 11 seed, two games back of Chicago for the final play-in slot, and it has the toughest remaining schedule in the East. It’s going to be difficult to get back in the mix.

Pistons small icon 25. Pistons (12-33 LW 26). Rookie Saddiq Bey has been finding his footing as the season has gone on. Back in January averaged 7.3 points a game with a below average true shooting percentage, but as he grew comfortable in the league and coach Dwane Casey trusted him more, his averages have gone up — in March he is averaging 13.7 points a game with a 57 true shooting percentage (right at the league average) and he’s hitting 39.5% from three. At the deadline, a rumor floated around that the Kings offered former No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III for Bey, and the Pistons wisely shot that down. Detroit has something in the rookie out of Villanova.

Thunder small icon 26. Thunder (19-27, LW 23). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is out indefinitely due to plantar fasciitis; the man that would have been his backup, George Hill, was traded, and now comes word Al Horford is going to sit the rest of the season for the Thunder. OKC has the eighth-worst record in the league heading into the final months and the focus is now on the youth and building for the future — and if their lottery odds get a little better during that stretch, then so be it. Just don’t call it tanking, everyone hates that word.

Cavaliers small icon 27. Cavaliers (17-30, LW 28). If you’re looking for the bright side in Cleveland, the way Isaac Okoro defended All-Star Zach LaVine in the Cavs’ win over the Bulls is good cause — that is the kind of lockdown defender the Cavaliers hoped they were drafting. The Cavaliers traded JaVale McGee at the deadline — the center spot is all yours, Jarrett Allen — and the amazing part of that deal was the Cavs got more draft capital back for McGee than they gave up to get Drummond a year before.

28. Timberwolves (11-36, LW 27). It’s no secret Minnesota is looking for an elite four to put next to Karl-Anthony Towns, but they couldn’t find one at the trade deadline (they had been rumored to be in the Aaron Gordon mix). Maybe they make a run at John Collins in the offseason (although Collins, Towns, and D'Angelo Russell on the court together sounds like a defensive disaster). The Timberwolves have dropped 5-of-6 and there is plenty of blame to go around, the team is bottom five this season in offense and defense.

Magic small icon 29. Magic (15-32, LW 29). Despite trading away Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, and Nikola Vucevic at the deadline, the Magic were winners — they got back draft assets and are starting on the path to a real rebuild. Orlando had been stuck in the middle chasing a bottom playoff seed for too long; it was definitely time to clear the decks and rebuild. That is going to mean a lot of losses the rest of the way, but outscoring the Clippers 17-3 to close out the game Tuesday and get the win showed the grit we expect from a Steve Clifford team.

Rockets small icon 30. Rockets (13-33, LW 30). Mike D’Antoni may be gone to Brooklyn, but Houston is still willing to launch from three, taking 45.6% of their shot attempts from beyond the arc (the fourth-highest percentage in the league). The problem is they hit a league-worst 33% of those shots. Victor Oladipo averaged 7.7 threes a game but hits 32% of them, John Wall takes 6.1 a night on average but hits 31.8%. Houston has the toughest schedule remaining of any NBA team — the television networks wanted Houston on in big matchups late in the season when they had Harden (that has all changed, obviously).

UPDATE: Pistons reportedly agree to massive deal to make Monty Williams new coach

2023 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

UPDATE: The Detroit Pistons — specifically team owner Tom Gores — got their guy.

The Pistons backed up the Brinks truck and agreed to terms with former Suns coach Monty Williams to be their next head coach, something first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, among others.

It will be interesting to see how much power Williams will have over player personnel moves in addition to being the coach. Williams reportedly was planning to take a year off from coaching after being let go by the Suns, but he got an offer he could not refuse.

Gores had interviewed the other top candidates, Charles Lee and Kevin Ollie, and decided to make one more big run at Williams before giving one of the first-timers the job. Pistons GM Troy Weaver and Williams worked together back in Oklahoma City. Williams is a defensive first coach known for discipline, and those things were on the top of the Pistons’ coaching wish list.

Williams is one of the most respected coaches around the league, but he did have clashes with players on the roster in Phoenix, most prominently Deandre Ayton. The chemistry in Phoenix that looked so good when Williams took the Suns to the Finals seemed much more fractured by the end. New owner Mat Ishbia reportedly never warmed to Williams, and that combined with the second-round exit for a team with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker was enough to make the change.

Now Williams has a new home — and a massive payday.


Not long after Dwane Casey left the bench and moved into the Pistons’ front office, the Pistons called Monty Williams and tried to make a big money offer to entice him to come, something reported at the time by Marc Stein. Buzz grew around the league that Williams — who was let go by the Suns after they fell in the second round — was going to take a little time off from coaching before jumping back into the grind.

The Pistons have gone through their coaching search — reportedly with former Bucks’ assistant Charles Lee and former UConn coach Kevin Ollie as the frontrunners — but before picking one of them the Pistons are going to make one more run at Williams, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Pistons are preparing to offer Williams in the range of $10 million per year, league sources said, which would put him among the league’s highest-paid coaches. Detroit has been hopeful over the past several weeks that Williams would consider accepting the job, sources added…

If Williams declines the proposal, Lee, a Bucks assistant since 2018, is expected to emerge as the likely choice, league sources said.

This report was echoed by Stein, who added details.

The offers have been consistently estimated to me at $50 million over five years or even $60 million over six years. Sources say that two of the Pistons’ previously reported finalists for the post — Bucks associate head coach Charles Lee and former UConn coach Kevin Ollie — were only summoned to meet face-to-face with Pistons owner Tom Gores for a second time after Williams turned them down the first time.

The phrasing from Charania — “Detroit has been hopeful… that Williams would consider accepting the job” — is no accident, that’s a sign of what they expect to happen.

If you were the owner/PR staff of a struggling team — one that the lottery gods just knocked down to fifth in the upcoming NBA Draft — and you were about to hire a deserving but not well-known coach to lead your franchise, leaking about the big offer you made to the big name coach is smart spin. If Williams takes the money, the Pistons land a top-flight coach. If Williams says “no thanks” then you can tell the fan base you tried.

The Pistons entered last season hoping to make a run to the play-in, but those hopes were dashed when Cade Cunningham was injured a dozen games into the season and missed the rest of it. With Cunningham back along with Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, Bojan Bogdanovic and the No. 5 pick, expectations of wins will greet whoever is the new coach.

New York Knicks part ways with GM Scott Perry

New York Knicks Introduce New Signees
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

When Scotty Perry came on board with the Knicks, they felt like chaos personified off the court, and on the court their best players were Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr.

That era seems like another lifetime ago. Perry, first with former team president Steve Mills and then with the next president Leon Rose, brought professionalism and stability to the New York Knicks not really known in the James Dolan era. The Knicks may not yet be contenders, but they have built a 47-win team behind Jalen Brunson with 11 first-round picks in the next seven years (to use or trade for a star). The Knicks are well-positioned for the future and Knicks fans are as optimistic as they have been in decades.

Which is why it’s news that Perry and the Knicks are parting ways, something reported by multiple sources, including Ian Begley at Perry’s contract was up.

It will be interesting to see where the Knicks go from here. Former Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was added as an executive last season. The Knicks could give Rosas the full-time position or promote another front office member, such as assistant general manager (pro scouting) Frank Zanin or assistant general manager (college scouting) Walt Perrin. Brock Aller already has a vice president title (Vice President, Basketball and Strategic Planning), so it would be an odd transition for him to move to general manager.

Perry should have interest around the NBA should he want to return to a front office job. He will have options.

New York heads into the offseason poised to chase a star free agent, should the right one become available. They also have a clean cap sheet without bad contracts weighing them down, which anchored the Knicks in the standings for years.

Perry deserves some of the credit for that.

PBT Podcast: NBA Finals preview, plus Nurse to Philly, and Bucks as opera


The NBA Finals are here and it’s not the matchup anybody predicted: The Denver Nuggets vs. the Miami Heat.

In this latest PBT Extra podcast, Kurt Helin and Corey Robinson break down that Finals matchup and if the Heat have any chance of slowing down Nikola Jokić. First the pair talk the Heat’s Game 7 win over the Boston Celtics and what this says for the future of the Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown era in Boston.

After the Finals, in Corey’s Jukebox, Corey compares the Bucks and the recent hiring of Adrian Griffin as the team’s head coach to the famed Mozart opera Don Giovanni — and that’s not a complement to Milwaukee.

Then the duo get into the news around the NBA: What does Bob Myers leaving mean for the Warriors? Is Nick Nurse a good hire in Philadelphia? And what the heck is Eric Lewis thinking?

You can watch the video of some of the podcast above or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at

Five things to watch in Heat vs. Nuggets NBA Finals (with betting tips)


Nobody had this Finals matchup on their bingo card (well, except ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez, who called this matchup before the season).

The Denver Nuggets were the best team in the West all season and kept improving as Jamal Murray got healthier and gained more confidence in his surgically repaired knee. Still, they entered the playoff facing doubts because we hadn’t seen them play at this level in the postseason since the bubble. The Nuggets answered all the questions.

Miami barely made the playoffs at all, having to come from behind in the fourth quarter of the last play-in game to beat the Bulls. But otherworldly play from Jimmy Butler, players like Caleb Martin stepping up, and a relentlessness no team in the East could match, sees them in the Finals after coming one shot short of this mark last season.

Who will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy?

Here are four things worth watching, plus some betting advice from Vaughn Dalzell of NBC Sports Edge.

1) What is Miami’s defensive plan against Nikola Jokić?

Nobody has a good answer for stopping — or often even slowing — Nikola Jokić.

It’s been the case for three years now, but especially in these playoffs. The Los Angeles Lakers had the best defense in the NBA after the All-Star break and the best defense through the first two rounds of the playoffs, all anchored by an elite defender in Anthony Davis. Jokić averaged a triple-double of 27.8 points, 14.5 rebounds and 11.8 assists a game against them and the Nuggets torched them.

The challenge in guarding Jokić is nobody can do it all that well one-on-one, but the second the help comes — if it comes from where he can see it in particular — he carves a team apart with his elite passing skills.

Miami’s best option to defend Jokić — and what they did in the team’s regular season matchups — is to put Bam Adebayo on him and not send much help. Adebayo is not stopping Jokić one-on-one, but he’s strong and agile enough to make him work for it. Plus, if Jokić is primarily a scorer the Nuggets’ offense is less dangerous — if he scores 35+ points but with five assists the Heat can win; if he has 25 points but 12 assists the Nuggets win handily.

That strategy comes with risks, primarily foul trouble for Adebayo, but also it removes him as a roaming help defender (one of his strengths). The Lakers started with Davis on Jokić but had relative success with others taking the primary job — Rui Hachimura, LeBron James — which allowed Davis to double and help on others. Who on the Heat can take on that assignment? Caleb Martin or Jimmy Butler? Too small. Maybe Cody Zeller or Haywood Highsmith off the bench, but the Heat hurt their offense with those two out there, and neither is exactly an elite defender.

Expect heavy doses of Adebayo, with the Heat strategy being to front the post and make passes into the Joker difficult, and then live with him as a scorer but try not to let him get rolling as a passer. When Jokić is in pick-and-roll actions with Jamal Murray or on the move, expect a team defense to collapse on him.

That all sounds good, but Jokić figures defenses out, which brings us to how the Heat flummoxed the Celtics.

2) Can Denver solve Miami’s Zone?

Miami ran more zone than any team in the NBA this season (in fact, more zone than any team in more than a decade). It works for them because it’s not a conventional zone, they have active defenders out top who push out high, then they have an elite defensive decision-maker and rim protector in the back with Adebayo. More than anything, the Heat play zone with the intensity of man-to-man (something few teams do at any level).

Denver had an impressive 121 offensive rating against zone defenses this season, according to the NBA tracking data at Second Spectrum (for comparison, the Kings had the best offense in the NBA this season at 119.4). The Nuggets have had the best offense against a zone defense in the regular season and playoffs.

One key way to beat a zone is to get the ball to a good passer in the soft middle of the zone, around the free throw line — the Nuggets have Jokić. Denver is also loaded with shooters who can and will knock down shots over the top of the zone (don’t expect a Celtics-like regression in shooting).

Miami will run some zone as a change-up, but it won’t work as a steady diet as it did against Boston.

3) Aaron Gordon on Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler is a tough cover because he is too strong for guards to stop from getting to his spots but too quick for most forwards to stay in front of.

Denver will bet Aaron Gordon is quick enough to at least give Butler trouble (he’s done well these playoffs against Kevin Durant and LeBron this postseason). Gordon has the advantage that Butler is not a natural 3-point shooter, so he doesn’t have to play up incredibly high on him, and Gordon is strong enough to handle Butler’s physicality.

Butler is going to get his, but if Gordon can make him work for it, be physical, and start to take his legs out from under him a little, it’s a huge advantage for Denver.

4) Vaughn Dalzell’s betting recommendations

Game 1 Over Trend: Game 1’s are usually strong bets for the Over. All four Game 1’s of the second round went Over the opening total and both of the Conference Finals went Over the total in this postseason, so Game 1’s are on a 6-0 run to the Over. In the NBA Finals, four of the last five Game 1’s went for 227 or more points. Denver averages 122.0 points per game in three Game 1’s during the postseason and Miami averages 120.0 points per game in three Game 1’s. The total opened at 218.5 and is up to 219.5, so the Over looks like a solid bet.

Game 1 Favorites of -5.5 or More: Since the start of the 2013 postseason, NBA Finals favorites of -5.5 or more points have gone 14-3 on the ML and 12-4-1 ATS. Denver opens as a -8.5 point favorite. Home teams are on a 5-0 ML streak and 4-1 ATS in Game 1’s with an average margin of 14.0 points per victory. The Nuggets’ spread has a lot of value historically, despite -8.5 being such a large number.

(Check out more from Dalzell and the team at NBC Sports Edge.)

5) Wild card role players: Martin and Vincent, or is it Michael Porter Jr.

Role players always make a difference in the Finals.

Miami needs that to happen to have a chance. Caleb Martin was almost the Eastern Conference Finals MVP averaging more than 17 points a game and will have to play at that level again. How much Gabe Vincent meant to this team was obvious in Game 5 against the Celtics when he was out. Max Strus and Duncan Robinson also will be critical — and need to defend well enough to stay on the court — if the Heat are going to make a run.

For the Nuggets, Michael Porter Jr. is a walking matchup nightmare at 6’10” and with the ability to get red hot from 3. Teams tend to put a guard on him — and Miami likes to play small — and Porter Jr. just knocks down shots over the top of them. He could win Denver a game this series just with his shot.

Prediction: Nuggets in 5. This is not a knock on an impressive Miami team and run to the Finals, they earned their way here. Denver is just this good. LeBron said this was the best team he has played against since coming to Los Angeles, and that should tell you all you need to know. The Finals will be a coronation for Jokić.