The 2023 NBA Finals matchup is set, and for just the second time in history it will include a No. 8 seed. That would be the Miami Heat, who avoided becoming the first team in history to blow a 3-0 series lead with a Game 7 victory over the Celtics to close the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night. Miami will face the the Denver Nuggets, the West's No. 1 seed who will have had more than a week of rest by the time Game 1 arrives Thursday.
Do the Heat have a chance to become the first No. 8 seed to win a title? Of course they do. If you're still doubting the legitimacy of this team, I don't know what to tell you. That said, personally, I'm going with the Nuggets, who are absolutely dialed in every aspect of the game right now and are led by the best player in the world in Nikola Jokic, who guarantees a quality shot every time he touches the ball. Jamal Murray is rolling. The shooters are shooting. Denver's defense is tied together. They're just playing too well right now, and this has been building for a long time with Michael Malone leading this core of players.
Does everyone agree with me? Let's see. Below are our CBS Sports staff predictions both for the Finals winner and the Finals MVP.
2023 NBA Finals predictions
Reiter's pick: Nuggets in 5. The Heat have shown grit, togetherness, resilience and a depth of talent that should teach us by now not to doubt them. But we're going to make that mistake one more time. Unlike the Boston Celtics team Miami bested, Denver will not play with its food and wait to be in a real hole before trying to fight its way out. They are, to say the least, much better coached. Nikola Jokic may be the game's best player, Jamal Murray is a star in his own right. And Denver's depth shouldn't be overlooked. Miami's had a magical, well-earned run. But it comes to an end against a much better Nuggets team. MVP: Nikola Jokic
Quinn's pick: Nuggets in 5. Nikola Jokic has a 10-2 career record against Bam Adebayo. Miami can't use a zone-defense against the Nuggets because Jokic's passing and everybody's cutting would turn it into a layup line. Aaron Gordon might be the defender best-suited to guard Jimmy Butler, specifically, that Miami has seen all postseason. Tyler Herro's return probably helps Denver more than Miami, as it gives the Nuggets another weak defender to pick at. The Heat shot way above their heads in their first- and third-round upsets, but with typical shooting variance, the gap between these teams is enormous. MVP: Nikola Jokic
Ward-Henninger's pick: Nuggets in 7. Fire up another round of bulletin board material. We continue to pick against Miami, and they continue to shove it right back in our faces. The Heat have no answer for Nikola Jokic, but I trust Erik Spoelstra to concoct something to at least limit the big man, perhaps enough to confuse him for the first few games with waves of athletic, disciplined bodies starting with Bam Adebayo. Ultimately, however, I just don't think the Heat will be able to score enough to keep up with Denver's historically dominant offense. MVP: Nikola Jokic
Botkin's pick: Nuggets in 6. Miami deserves a lot of credit for making it this far, but Denver will not beat itself in the ways that Boston did. Nikola Jokic guarantees good looks every time down the court, Jamal Murray is cooking, Denver is defending, the shooters are shooting, everything is dialed in and the Nuggets are ready for the first championship in franchise history. MVP: Nikola Jokic
Herbert's pick: Nuggets in 6. Miami should be able to fare better than the Lakers did against Denver offensively, but it's difficult to imagine the defense holding up in this matchup. The Nuggets typically annihilate zone defense, and I'm not sure the Heat have the personnel to pull off the put-the-4-on-Jokic-and-roam-off-Gordon strategy. (I had Miami going out in six games last round, too, so I won't be *that* surprised if it finds ways to solve more seemingly insurmountable problems.) MVP: Jamal Murray
Kaskey-Blomain's pick: Nuggets in 6. Miami's run through the Eastern Conference was incredible, but it ends here. The Nuggets are a deeper, more talented team and they are also incredibly consistent, unlike the Celtics team that the Heat just faced in the Eastern Conference finals. It will be tough for the Heat to keep up with the Nuggets when it comes to point production, and that will be one of the main reasons that the Nuggets will win the first championship in franchise history. MVP: Nikola Jokic
Wimbish's pick: Nuggets in 5. The Heat won't have anyone to guard Jokic, despite Bam Adebayo trying his best. Miami can't afford to play zone as it did against the Celtics, and I think we'll see their shooting resemble more of what they did against the Knicks rather than this shooting performance against the Celtics. MVP: Nikola Jokic
Maloney's pick: Nuggets in 5. The Nuggets have been the best team in the playoffs and have the best player in the world in Nikola Jokic. He's a matchup nightmare for any team, but especially the Heat who are super thin up front. I've admittedly said the same thing in the first round and the conference finals, but I just don't see how this Heat team can keep this up. MVP: Nikola Jokic