Commentary, Sports

And then there were four

The NBA playoffs started in August with 16 teams. Now, only four teams remain as they vie to see who will be fighting for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Despite occurring in a bubble, the NBA playoffs in have proven anything can happen on any given night. 

The teams that are still alive:

Western Conference:

Los Angeles Lakers, No. 1 seed: The Lakers are favored to win the Western Conference and possibly the whole championship. They are the last of the top seeds in either conference, as they look to close the door on a feisty Denver Nuggets team.

How the Lakers got here: The Lakers beat the Portland Trailblazers in the first round 4-1, also beating the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals in the same amount of games. In both series, the Lakers lost game one, but rebounded quickly by winning the next four games.

Key players: LeBron James and Anthony Davis have definitely made for a good one-two punch combination, with Davis  averaging a double-double (28.5 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game) and James nearly averaging a triple-double (25.5 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 9.1 assists per game). Players like Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso, Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma have stepped up immensely off the Lakers bench. 

Denver Nuggets, No. 3 seed: The Nuggets’ journey to the Western Conference finals was a lot longer than expected, having gone a full seven games in the first two rounds. Some could describe the Nuggets as the dark horse team to come out of the competitive Western Conference.

How the Nuggets got here: The Nuggets exhausted their bench early, beating the Utah Jazz and the two-seed Clippers in seven games. In game five, the Clippers, who were arguably one of the favorites to win it all, led as much by 16 in the third quarter, but allowed the Nuggets to close the gap and eventually win the game.

Key players: Jamal Murray has been instrumental in the Nuggets offense, averaging 26.6 PPG in the postseason. Nikola Jokic has been a double-double machine, averaging 25.4 PPG and 10.2 RPG and 8.7 APG. Other players that have stepped up offensively are Michael Porter Jr., Jerami Grant and Monte Morris. 

How the Western Conference Finals is panning out: The Lakers lead 2-0 in the series after Davis’ late-game heroics sealed the deal in game two. If there’s one thing everyone’s learned from the Clippers-Nuggets series, it’s that the Nuggets are not to be underestimated. 

Eastern Conference

Miami Heat No. 5 seed: The Heat were probably one of the last teams any NBA analyst would’ve picked to make it to the conference finals. For being a five seed, the Heat are currently 10-3 in the postseason, having posted some impressive results.

How the Heat got here: The Heat swept the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs and impressively beat the top-seeded Bucks 4-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Just like the Clippers, the Bucks were one of the favorites to make it to the finals, as well as possibly win it all.

Key players: Jimmy Butler’s offensive and defensive ability combined with Goran Dragic’s verteran leadership have done wonders for the Heat. The Heat also have a young core thanks to Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herrocoming off the bench.

Boston Celtics No. 3 seed: The Celtics were another under the radar team many people didn’t expect to even get out of the conference semifinals. With strategic gameplay and great coaching from Brad Stevens, the Celtics have found themselves back in the conference finals again for the first time since 2018.

How the Celtics got here: The Celtics kicked off their path to the playoffs sweeping the Philadelphia 76ers and beat the Toronto Raptors 4-3 in the conference semifinals. Throughout most of the playoffs, the Celtics didn’t have one of their key players in Gordon Hayward due to a grade- three ankle sprain.

Key players: Just like the Heat’s young core, the Celtics’ “young three” Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, are averaging double digits in PPG this postseason. Kemba Walker adds age and experience to the Celtics’ young core and, with Hayward making his return to the Celtics from his injury, makes them a much more deadly team.

How the Eastern Conference Finals are panning out: The Heat lead 2-1 over the Celtics after Boston won game three. One could argue the Heat have already won this series considering the Celtics haven’t trailed in a series this postseason, but the Celtics’ resiliency and young core can take them.

Finals prediction:

Western Conference; Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers’ depth and veteran leadership by James and Davis are a strong combination to take down. Another benefit that the Lakers have is height and experience and with James not getting any younger, he’s looking to earn his fourth NBA championship in memory of the late Kobe Bryant.

Eastern Conference; Miami Heat: One may think the Heat are a few years away from making the finals, but they have proven they are built to stay in the bubble. The Heat have risen to the challenge in every round against opponents seeded higher than them and I expect Butler, the young core, and veteran Andre Igoudala to come up big again.

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