Israel Gutierrez of ESPN deserves his flowers for the excellent call that he made before the season.
Back in October, Gutierrez was one of several colleagues at The Worldwide Leader who delivered a prediction back in October for this year’s NBA Finals matchup. Of the 18 total panelists who gave predictions, Gutierrez was the ONLY one who picked both the Denver Nuggets and the Miami Heat to win their respective conferences.
— Izzy Gutierrez (@IzGutierrez) May 30, 2023
Here is the craziest part. On top of Gutierrez getting the exact NBA Finals matchup right, he was the lone panelist to have the Nuggets coming out of the West … AND the lone panelist to have the Heat coming out of the East. The Milwaukee Bucks were by far the most popular pick to win the East (as well as the NBA title) while the LA Clippers and the Golden State Warriors tied as the most popular picks to win the West. You can look back over the ESPN panelists’ full preseason predictions here.
Gutierrez is actually based in the Miami area, having previously covered the Heat for the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post. But even if there may have been some homerism with his pick, that was still an impressive called shot. The Heat won just 44 games in the regular season, fell to the second game of the play-in tournament, suffered multiple injuries to key rotation players, and were right on the doorstep of blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Boston Celtics. Despite all that though, they managed to clinch one of the most unlikely Finals berths in NBA history.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, were the No. 1 seed in the West throughout the season, but still very few saw their success coming before opening night. They will have at least one major advantage over the Heat in the Finals, which matters for that second part of Gutierrez’s preseason prediction — that Miami will win the series in seven games.