As the NBA Playoffs reach its conference finals stage, fans everywhere are eager to see who the last two teams standing will be. There’s no doubt that history buffs would love to see a Lakers vs. Celtics championship, but both those teams have dug themselves early holes. The Nuggets and Celtics currently lead the way in the NBA finalist odds.
With the final four just underway we wanted to break down each of the four teams’ chances and what they need to achieve to play for the NBA championship in June.
With just 44 wins, not many people gave Miami much of a chance entering the NBA Playoffs, especially as the eighth seed. But with a talented roster led by coach Erik Spoelstra, the Heat have shown flashes of brilliance and have since eliminated top-seed Milwaukee and fifth-seed New York from the postseason. Furthermore, they’ve already jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Boston.
While many people view Miami as a heavy underdog, they undoubtedly have the talent and experience to beat Boston. They went the distance with them a year ago at this stage, unfortunately losing at home in a do-or-die Game 7. Jimmy Butler also led much of this group to the NBA Finals in 2020.
The key is Butler continuing to play at the level he has since the playoffs started. He’s scoring an incredible 32 points per game and shooting at a 52 percent clip. In Game 1 Wednesday, he continued his torrid pace, scoring 35 points and seven assists. With those kinds of numbers, along with Bam Adebayo’s 20 points per game and 50 percent shooting clip, Miami has a great chance to advance to the NBA Finals, assuming they can maintain that pace.
The Boston Celtics have just one goal on their mind: an NBA Championship. After taking a 2-1 series lead over Golden State in the 2022 NBA Finals, they watched them propel to three straight wins, eliminating the Celtics’ dreams.
The Celtics are led by Jason Tatum, who put up 51 points and 13 rebounds in their 112-88 Game 7 win over the 76ers. They also have a great supporting cast that includes Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Malcom Brogdon, each stepping up to contribute. Smart’s defensive skills helped shut down Joel Embiid and James Harden to just 15 and 9 points respectively in the decisive game.
Some believe fatigue could play a factor after a grueling seven-game series with Philadelphia. Smart and his team struggled to contain Butler and the Heat in Game 1 on Wednesday and must respond on Friday.
While the Celtics have home-court advantage, the away team has had the upper hand since last year’s playoffs, going 8-4 over the last 12 games, which includes both regular season and postseason games.
Los Angeles Lakers
You can wipe out all the numbers and losses from the regular season. You can forget about their seed. As long as they have Lebron James and Anthony Davis healthy and playing their best, they can beat anyone.
The Lakers proved just that, easily disposing of Ja Morant and No. 2 Memphis in the first round. They followed that up by taking out the defending champion Warriors in six games to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
It’s not just been James and Davis doing all the work; the Lakers have had a great supporting cast that has included outstanding performances from D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves. Even Lonnie Walker IV came out of nowhere off the bench to score 15 points in the fourth quarter to claim a critical Game 4 win over Golden State.
The Lakers, though, face an uphill battle with a highly talented Denver group that already has jumped out to a 1-0 series lead. Additionally, the Nuggets possess home-court advantage and are 3-0 against the Lakers at Ball Arena this season. For the Lakers to bounce back, they need to continue to get big performances from Davis, who averaged 21.5 points and 14.5 rebounds per game in the last series. They must also find a way to slow down Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, particularly on their home floor where they have dominated.
No team in the West won more games this season than the Nuggets. With a star-studded lineup featuring two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, and All-stars Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon, they have looked every bit the No. 1 seed so far. They opened the playoffs by cruising past the Timberwolves in five games. They followed that up by taking out Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns in six, advancing to their 4th conference finals in franchise history.
They’re already up a game on the Lakers after taking the first contest in Denver. Jokic dominated from the beginning and, in the end, had a massive triple-double, scoring 34 points (shooting 12/17), grabbing 21 rebounds, and dishing 14 assists. For three quarters, it was all Nuggets, building their lead to 21 points. However, the Lakers stormed back; Anthony Davis scored 40 points and cut the lead to three with just 3:22 remaining. However, that’s as close as they got.
Denver’s only weakness could be its inexperience at this stage. Of the four teams remaining, they’re the only ones yet to appear in the NBA Finals this decade. They’re also trying to make the franchise’s first-ever championship appearance. The last three times they’ve gotten to this stage, they lost to the Lakers, including 2020.