Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets

What the Lakers must do: Defend. When these teams met in the conference finals in the bubble in 2020, the Lakers won the series in just five games, holding Denver to 109.2 points per contest. They may have to do even better this time around, as the Nuggets have perhaps the best player in the world in Nikola Jokić, winner of two of the last three NBA MVP awards. Fortunately for LA, they have perhaps the best defender in the world in Anthony Davis. In the 2020 championship run, Davis’ long arms upset countless shots and he’ll have to do the same here.

The problem for the Lakers is that Jokić is even better than he was three years ago, capable of scoring from anywhere and dishing out dazzling assists. Against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals, the Lakers held the Warriors and Stephen Curry to low 100 points in Game 3 and an average of 109.8 points per game in the six total contests. They’ll have to keep up that pressure against Denver.

When the Lakers were victorious against Golden State, a relieved James said that he and his team have “a lot of respect” for the Nuggets. And both teams will have a handful of days off between winning their semifinal series and Game 1 in Denver on Tuesday. The break will be important for the Lakers, especially if they want to keep their Game 1 winning streak alive on the road and wrest home-field advantage from their higher-ranked rivals, just as they did in the first round against Memphis and then the Warriors. .

Key player for the Lakers: LeBron is still the King, but the Lakers’ best player now is clearly Davis, with his condor-like wingspan and ability to influence play on both ends of the court. He can control guards and block shots on defense and attack the paint with the ball. But the series will likely come down to “the others,” as Shaquille O’Neal often calls the role-players of a squad. Undrafted wing Austin Reaves has been the team’s third-best player in recent months, and guards Dennis Schröder and D’Angelo Russell have provided a significant scoring boost. Everyone will need to be at their best if they want to survive Jokić.

What the Nuggets need to do: Keep calm. Sure, they’re a (relatively) small-town team. And LA sure is stunning, with stars like Jack Nicholson and Michael B Jordan in the crowd. But the tires are still 10 feet tall and the court is still 94 feet by 50 feet. While Denver is a medium defensive team, their star player can do it all on offense, and they will have to. When the Warriors were successful against the Lakers, he came from driving Davis away from the basket. Jokić can do it in spades, orchestrating from the top of the three-point arc. Combine his talents with the skilled supporting cast of point guard Jamal Murray, forward Aaron Gordon, shooter Michael Porter Jr and Swiss Army knife Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the Nuggets have more than enough to get to the nba finals for the first time in franchise history.

Key Nuggets player: The Nuggets’ starting lineup is excellent. They have size, scoring, experience, continuity and finishing talent. So let’s take a look at the team’s reserves, specifically, the three players likely to come off the bench in any close game: versatile forward Jeff Green, guard Bruce Brown Jr and promising rookie Christian Braun. Yes, Jokić is always number 1 when it comes to Denver. But without a big bench game while the starters rest, Denver will be home sooner than expected.

Prediction: Since the Lakers renewed their franchise to such massive degree This year, it’s hard to get any idea of ​​the teams’ head-to-head battles during the regular season. But with two hungry rosters and two former MVPs, this should be close. The advantage, however, has to go to James, who has been here too many times before. Lakers at 6.

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics

Jimmy Butler books his best performances for the playoffs
Jimmy Butler reserves his best performances for the playoffs. Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

What the Heat need to do: It all starts with Jimmy Butler. He’s the last straw with his shooting, dogged defense and ability to commit fouls. Aside from Butler, the other ace up the Heat’s sleeve is his coach, Erik Spölstra. He may be the best tactician in the game, able to turn a slight lead into one that could decide a series. The Heat play tough, and the Celtics are well aware of that, having faced Miami last year in the conference finals, going to seven games and barely winning afterwards. a missing ringer from Butler that still lives in the minds of his fans. Even though the Heat are the No. 8 seed, they think they’re on Boston’s level. With the unfazed Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry, along with shooters Max Strus and Duncan Robinson, Miami has a great chance to move forward if they stay disciplined.

Key player for the Heat: While Butler remains the biggest name in Miami, it’s going to be tough for the Heat to win without a strong shot from distance. Miami will surely be looking to ruin the game with fouls, rough play and whatever other tricks Spoelstra can muster. But they’ll have to spend time with Boston’s big scorers in order to advance. As such, Robinson and Strus must take shots frequently, both to score points and to create space on the floor for Butler to operate.

What the Celtics need to do: Remember who they are. It’s strange, Boston somehow tends to forget that they may be the best team in the NBA and certainly the best remaining team in these playoffs. They are bored? The team’s two stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, are complemented by the excellent Al Horford, Robert Williams and Marcus Smart – many would say it’s the only team in the NBA that can beat the Celtics. are The Celts. If the team gets discouraged or loses confidence, Miami will attack like a piranha crossed with a pitbull and there will be no tomorrow. In fact, the series will be won and lost between the ears for Boston and its playoff-proven roster.

Key player for Boston: Boston’s key figure won’t be on the court. Instead, it’s 34-year-old rookie head coach Joe Mazzulla, who replaced Ime Udoka. amid a storm of controversy. The youth games caller is somehow two years old younger than the team’s starting center, Horford. Will Coach Mazz be outwitted by Coach Spo, who already boasts two LeBron-Wade-era championship rings? Or will he accept the challenge? Mazzulla has already been recently shout for smart. But Mazz and his team responded in Sunday’s Game 7 against Philly, outscoring the 76ers 33-10 in the third quarter. It will be up to the Boston coach to make sure the team stays rooted in his identity: a killer double whammy with a talented supporting cast.

Prediction: While the “Zombie Heat,” as Bill Simmons calls them, just won’t go away, Boston is far more talented from top to bottom than the South Beach team. They should take care of business in the series and face the Lakers in the final for 13he time in history, each team waiting win your 18he title banner. Boston at 6.


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