This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
The NBA Finals have finally arrived. With Game 1 between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat set to tip off at 9:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday night, Nick Whalen and Alex Barutha lay out their spread and total picks, as well as some of their favorite player props.
All odds via the DraftKings Sportsbook
Alex Barutha: Heat +4.5 (-109); UNDER 217.5 points (-109)
I think these are the perfect numbers for the spread and moneyline, and that makes sense given we're dealing with two great teams with plenty of playoff sample size. The line opened as high as -5.5 in some places and was bet down to -2.5 at at least one sportsbook (per ESPN's PickCenter). And my guess is that the spread will always fall between those two numbers in the series no matter what happens.
My faith is in the Lakers to win the series, but Miami always finds ways to keep games close. The Heat find teams' flaws and exploit them – just ask the Bucks. The Lakers have two players of Giannis Antetokounmpo's caliber, which obviously changes the conversation a bit, but not enough for me to smash Lakers -4.5. Ultimately, with a Finals matchup, I always feel more comfortable searching for series odds and props rather than trying to analyze the spread on a game-to-game basis.
In terms of the over/under, my gut is to always lean on the under in playoff games in which the teams have competent defenses. From there, I fight to find evidence for an over. Neither of these teams live and die by the three, so I'm not scared of a game where they combine for 40 made threes. The Heat also prefer to slow it down on offense, with the playoffs' fifth-lowest fast-break frequency. The real concern is the Lakers, since Los Angeles has the highest transition frequency in the playoffs. But that alone isn't enough for me to assume the over will hit.
Nick Whalen: Heat +4.5 (-109); UNDER 217.5 points (-109)
While I've gone back and forth with my overall series pick (I'm riding with the Heat – for now), I really like Miami to come out and win Game 1. The Lakers – and LeBron teams in general – have a lengthy history of starting slowly in playoff series. In the Finals, James-led teams are 1-8 in Game 1s. Typically, those tend to be "feel out" games for James, and while that could be the case again Wednesday, I see it as more of an ambush by Miami. The Heat have so many more capable players on both ends of the floor, and I think the Lakers will likely struggle to score against Miami's varying defensive schemes. If – or, more accurately, when – the Heat fall back into a zone, which Lakers can you truly count on to shoot their way out of it?
Total-wise, I like the under, but not by much. In the Conference Finals, both teams combined to go over 217.5 points in eight of 10 games, but I think we see a slower-paced Game 1 between two of the league's best defenses. The Lakers love to get out and run, but Miami will be ready for those after-basket attacks, and I think the Lakers could really struggle to score in the halfcourt.
Meanwhile, Miami is the better shooting team, but the numbers aren't as stark as you'd think. Percentage-wise, the Heat have been only a hair better in the playoffs – 35.7% to 35.5% – but they've launched five-plus more attempts per game. I'm not expecting either team to shoot the lights out in Game 1. And with the Lakers' role players entering the series as shaky as ever – KCP somewhat-excluded – I wouldn't be shocked if LA struggles to cross the 100-point threshold Wednesday night.
Anthony Davis OVER 2.5 assists (-167)
Bam Adebayo, a fantastic defender, should spend plenty of time on Davis in this series. And whether Adebayo is on Davis or not, I anticipate the Heat sending heavy help on the Lakers' big man whenever he has the ball near the basket. Davis proved to be a good passer in the regular season (3.2 APG) and is continuing that in the postseason (3.6 APG), so he should be able to surpass 2.5 assists if the Heat do what they can to force the ball out of his hands. In a somewhat-comparable situation against Miami earlier in the playoffs, Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 7.0 APG in the first three games of that series before he got injured in Game 4. - Alex Barutha
LeBron James UNDER 28.5 points (-110)
The Finals do typically bring out the best in James, but typically he's not at his most aggressive in Game 1s. In these playoffs, James has scored 23, 20 and 15 points in his three Game 1s, opting instead to function as a distributor with his jumpshot mostly abandoning him. As evidenced in the closeout game against Denver, James can still re-discover that jumper when he needs to, but I don't think he'll take the bait in Game 1. Look for James to once again feel things out as the Heat likely deploy multiple defensive looks. - Nick Whalen
Danny Green OVER 1.5 threes (-107)
I'm assuming the Heat sell out to stop baskets at the rim, which could lead to an influx of three-point attempts for the Lakers. Green is already taking 5.1 attempts per game in the playoffs, making 1.9 of them (36.4%), so over 1.5 threes at just -107 seems like good value regardless of game plan. At the very least, it seems like much better value than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's prop. He has made just four more threes than Green in these playoffs, and his three-point prop is also 1.5 – but you have to pay -148. - Alex Barutha
Miami Heat first to 20 points (+108)
This is a little off-the-wall, but it falls in line with my belief that Miami comes out firing and asserts itself as the more aggressive team. The Lakers have the two most reliable players in the series, but the Heat are the team most capable of piling up points in a hurry. If the game turns into a shooting contest early on, I'm siding with Miami. Plus, if Dwight Howard enters the starting lineup, he instantly gifts the Heat some early points at the free throw line. - Nick Whalen
This isn't free money like last round's prop of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to score more points than Gary Harris, but I've completely lost faith in Kuzma, who failed to score more than 11 points in a single game during the Conference Finals and is averaging just 10.5 PPG in the playoffs. While Robinson is scoring only 11.3 PPG in the playoffs, he's proven to have a higher ceiling than Kuzma. Robinson has cracked 20 points three times, while Kuzma has topped out at 18 points. Robinson also stepped up under pressure, averaging 12.5 points per game in the Eastern Conference Finals. Ultimately, Robinson has earned the trust of his team, while Kuzma still feels like a role player with only slightly more credibility than Alex Caruso (Kuzma is actually playing fewer minutes per game than Caruso). - Alex Barutha
Goran Dragic OVER 27.5 points + rebounds + assists
Dragic isn't quite as dynamic as the three lead guards the Lakers have faced on their way to the Finals, but he's quietly been playing some of the best basketball of his career in the postseason. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Dragic went over that 27.5 number in four of six games, despite handing out five or fewer assists in all four. The Lakers have a solid stable of defensive guards, but they tend to get handsy on drives to the basket. And for as great as Rajon Rondo's defense was, at times, against Houston and Denver, he still has some concerning lapses. I like Dragic to exploit those guards as the Lakers' defense sells out to slow down Adebayo and run shooters off the three-point line. - Nick Whalen
Kyle Kuzma UNDER 10.5 points
One more quick one. I have little to no faith that Kuzma can be the player the Lakers need him to be in this series. His shooting has been a mess for most of the playoffs (31.5% 3PT), and I'm not sure why that would change against the best defense and best overall opponent the Lakers will have faced. Down the stretch in the Nuggets' series, Frank Vogel began to slightly curtail Kuzma's minutes. His 39 combined minutes in Games 4 and 5 were his fewest in any two-game stretch since February. - Nick Whalen