For the fourth consecutive season, the reigning champion will not have the opportunity to defend their title in the NBA Finals.

The Denver Nuggets have emerged as this year’s Western Conference champions, dethroning the 2022 NBA champion Golden State Warriors who fell in the second round to the Los Angeles Lakers. This marks the first ever Finals appearance for the Nuggets, who have been in the NBA since the 1976-77 campaign.

If Denver takes this series, they will become the 20th franchise among the existing ones in the NBA to win the title and reduce the number of ringless teams to 10.

On the other end of the bracket, the Miami Heat became the first team to make multiple Finals appearances since the onset of the pandemic. Miami is also just the second team to make it this far as an eighth seed, duplicating the impressive feat of the New York Knicks in 1999.

However, the Heat will look to surpass that Knicks team, who fell to the San Antonio Spurs in five games, and become the lowest seeded team to ever win an NBA title. The current holder of this distinction is the 1995 Houston Rockets group that won the championship as the sixth seed in the West.

Miami has been one of the league’s premier franchises since the year 2000 and a win in these NBA Finals will be their fourth since 2006, tying them with Golden State for the most over this period.

Within these two organizations, there are many compelling storylines as well, ranging from their star players to their coaches and even to role players.

Nikola Jokic

One of the biggest knocks on Jokic that surfaced during his bid to win three consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player awards this season was that he has yet to win an NBA championship unlike the other three-peat winners Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird.

Jokic ultimately fell short in this year’s MVP race to Joel Embiid, but he has made it clear during these playoffs that voting against him was a mistake.

Now that he has finally made it to the NBA Finals, he has a prime opportunity to put this narrative to rest and take his rightful place in history as one of the best players to ever pick up a basketball.

Jimmy Butler

Butler is now making his second NBA Finals appearance and a Heat title this year should make the six-time NBA All-Star a lock to enter the Basketball Hall of Fame. Though his career averages are quite paltry when compared with other Hall of Famers, he has had several memorable postseason moments over his 12-year NBA career, including this season’s Cinderella run.

If Butler can culminate what has been one of the greatest underdog stories in recent memory with his first ever championship, it will be difficult to ignore his case to become an eventual Hall of Famer.

Erik Spoelstra

Now 52 years old, Spoelstra has grown by leaps and bounds since first taking over as Miami’s head coach in 2008. He continues to write his impressive career arc that kicked off in the Heat’s video room in 1997 and has blossomed into one of the greatest tactical minds of all time and. A third-ever NBA title will make him only the seventh coach to ever win it all three times.

Michael Malone

Malone is by no means a household name among casual NBA fans, but he has a chance to break into the public’s conscience with a Nuggets title.

Like Spoelstra, Malone has worked his way up the league’s ranks to eventually become a head coach. Denver’s leadership has been patient with Malone, who has been with this team since 2015, and he is now in the perfect position to reward them for their trust.

Jamal Murray

Denver’s starting point guard is regarded as one of the streakiest players on the planet yet he is still known to most for his exemplary performances in the NBA Bubble back in 2020.

The 26-year-old guard has been working hard to shed his “Bubble Murray” monicker, as seen in the recently concluded West Finals where he averaged 32.5 points per game in their four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers, and another big series should give him the recognition that he deserves as one of the best guards in the league today.

Caleb Martin

Martin turned heads during the Eastern Conference Finals where he averaged 19.3 points over their seven-game duel with the Boston Celtics. The 26-year old Martin, who went undrafted in the 2019 NBA Draft, was cut by the Charlotte Hornets a mere two years ago and his rise to become Miami’s third leading scorer in this postseason is one of the more fascinating stories in recent memory.

A stretch like this usually leads to a significant bump in pay for an unheralded player like Martin, yet the Heat had the foresight to sign Martin last offseason to a three-year, $20.4 million deal that now makes him one of the best value players in the entire NBA. These NBA Finals will give Martin an even bigger stage to showcase his talents and build on his growing reputation as an elite role player.