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Bets to make on NBA Finals: Wager on Jokic, not Nuggets

Updated June 1, 2023 - 1:27 pm

Nikola Jokic finished second in the NBA MVP voting this year to Joel Embiid as the Nuggets center fell short in his bid to become only the fourth player in league history to win the award in three straight seasons.

But the “Joker” is poised to have the last laugh as the odds-on favorite to win the NBA Finals MVP and lead Denver to its first NBA title over Miami.

The Nuggets are -425 series favorites over the Heat (+325) at the Westgate SuperBook after opening at -360, and Jokic is the -360 favorite at Caesars Sportsbook to be named Finals MVP.

ESPN sports betting insider Doug Kezirian likes Denver to beat the Heat but recommends a play on Jokic to win MVP rather than lay the series price.

“I don’t think there’s a way Denver wins without Jokic getting MVP,” Kezirian said.

The 6-foot-11-inch, 284-pound Jokic is averaging a triple-double in the playoffs with 29.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game.

Another option Kezirian likes is the Nuggets -1½ in the series game spread, which means they must win in six games or fewer. That bet is -190 at Caesars and Circa Sports after opening as low as -160.

“I understand the Heat have beaten two teams that are on the same level as Denver in Milwaukee and Boston. But I just think the Nuggets have too much firepower,” he said. “There’s no answer for Nikola Jokic, and the frontcourt of Miami is their weak point.

“I just don’t know if Bam (Adebayo), (Cody) Zeller and Kevin Love are going to be able to stop their frontcourt.”

Westgate SuperBook NBA oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said the book increased the series price as the line on Thursday’s Game 1 rose from the Nuggets -8 to -9.

“We took some sharp play at -8½ on the Nuggets,” he said. “The Nuggets have had a substantial amount of time off, and they’re going to be the fresher team.

“The Heat have had a tough road, and now they’re going into altitude against a team that’s been rested. That’s usually a tough spot in Game 1 there.”

Kezirian also likes Denver, which is 30-18-1 against the spread at home this season, to cover in Game 1.

“I think Denver pulls away in the second half,” he said. “It’s a quick turnaround for Miami. I think it will be tough for Miami to hang around.”

The Nuggets are 12-3 straight-up in the playoffs and 9-6 ATS, and Sherman also expects them to win the series in relatively easy fashion. In the exact series result prop at the SuperBook, Denver winning in five games is the +195 favorite.

“It’s a tall order for Miami. To me, the Lakers are better than the Heat team, and Denver dispatched the Lakers in four games,” Sherman said. “I could see this thing going 4-1 and ending in five. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. I don’t think the Heat have the firepower to consistently stay with Denver.

“More so than solely Denver’s offense, from a defensive standpoint, Jokic playing at the level he is will be too demanding on Miami’s defense, as it was on Denver’s previous opponents.”

Jokic is a +120 favorite at Caesars to score the most points in the NBA Finals. Jimmy Butler is the +160 second choice, and Jamal Murray is the +220 third pick, followed by former UNR star Caleb Martin and Michael Porter Jr. at 35-1.

Butler is +350 at the SuperBook to win MVP, and Murray is 12-1.

Back to the futures

When the Westgate posted 2023 NBA title odds last summer, a bettor wagered $10,000 on Miami at 14-1. The Heat’s odds ranged from 60-1 to 100-1 for most of the season en route to earning the eighth playoff seed.

The 2024 NBA championship odds already are up at sportsbooks, and the Nuggets and Celtics are 6-1 co-favorites at the Westgate, followed by the Bucks (7-1), Suns (9-1) and Lakers (10-1). The 76ers are 14-1, and the Warriors, 76ers and Clippers are 16-1.

“We went a little high on Golden State, and we’re getting some money on them. I’ve seen 12-1 out there, and we’re at 16-1. It feels like they’re getting to the end of the road,” Sherman said. “With all the Lakers liability we had last year and how they got to the Western Conference Finals, I know if we went to the 14-1 to 16-1 range, we’d probably be overwhelmed already.

“We expect them to potentially make changes with LeBron (James) threatening retirement. I think it’s more of a threat to the front office to be more aggressive. He really wants them to make a last stand.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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