For the first time since the 1976 ABA/NBA merger, both NBA Finals participants entered the playoffs with at least 10-1 odds to win it all. Neither the Denver Nuggets nor the Miami Heat were among the top five favorites entering the playoffs. Now they are the final two teams standing.
Odds from Caesars Sportsbook. Historic series odds from SportsOddsHistory.com.
How the Heat got here
Miami entered the playoffs with 150-1 odds, the longest odds for any team to reach the championship game for any NBA/NFL/NHL/MLB team in the past 30 seasons. The last time a team reached the NBA Finals with even 100-1 odds was the 1981 Houston Rockets. Only the Nets, Hawks and Timberwolves entered the 2023 postseason with longer title odds.
The Heat odds dipped to 250-1 after their play-in loss to the Atlanta Hawks. They already cashed 100-1 tickets to win the East at that point. But since they clinched the 8-seed, they became the first team since the 1999 New York Knicks to win three straight series upsets as an underdog en route to the NBA Finals. The last team to win all four playoff series as an underdog was the 1995 Houston Rockets.
Their +750 odds against the Bucks created the second-largest series upset in the past decade. Their +430 odds against the Celtics made the largest upset in the conference finals since 2009.
The Heat have also pulled off nine money-line upsets this postseason, tied for the most upsets by any team in a single postseason in over three decades. No team has won more games as an underdog entering the Finals in that span. During the regular season, the Heat won only eight games as an underdog.
The Heat were just 31-48-4 ATS during the regular season, which would be the worst regular-season cover percentage by any team in over 30 years. They are the first team to reach the NBA Finals with a negative point differential (including playoffs) since the 1959 Minneapolis Lakers.
However, since the playoffs have begun, the Heat are 13-5 ATS. The only team in the past decade to have a better ATS record in the playoffs (min. 10 games) was the 2019-20 Miami Heat, who were 16-5 ATS as they finished as runners-up.
Not surprisingly, the Heat have done their best work as an underdog. They are 22-16 ATS as an underdog but 23-38-3 ATS as a favorite or in a pick'em role.
How the Nuggets got here
Despite earning the top seed in the Western Conference, Denver entered the playoffs with 11-1 odds, the second-longest odds for a 1-seed in the past 20 seasons. They were sixth in title odds and third in the West.
At 11-1, the Nuggets would be the biggest long shot to win a title based on odds entering the playoffs since the 2011 Dallas Mavericks at 18-1. It would be the second straight year a team with double-digit odds went on to win the title after the Golden State Warriors won at 10-1 last season. The only other team at least 10-1 to win the title since the 1976 ABA/NBA merger besides the Mavericks and Warriors was the 1995 Rockets at 18-1.
Now they are -400 favorites in the NBA Finals. In the past 40 NBA Finals, teams that are at least -300 favorites are 14-1 in playoff series. The only upset came by the 2004 Detroit Pistons, who upset the Los Angeles Lakers as +500 underdogs.
The Nuggets have home-court advantage, and they have played well there all season. The Nuggets are 30-18-1 ATS at home compared with 23-25 ATS on the road. They are also 16-9 ATS as underdogs.