Both Conference Final series are fully underway inside the NBA Bubble, with all four teams involved finding themselves in some vastly different places. I wanted to go through these ongoing series and talk a little bit about each team's current outlook.
The Nuggets might be one of the best stories of these playoffs so far. Denver is the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in two straight series to reach a Conference Final. If you're one of those people who thinks that the NBA is rigged, look no further than the Denver Nuggets to dispel that notion. When the season began, nearly everyone believed that the Lakers and Clippers would be facing off in the Western Conference Finals and that the NBA would market it as "The Battle of LA." Well, Denver was right there to ruin everything.
Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić have been on absolute fire in the Playoffs and, until now, it seemed like no one could stop them. As I'm writing this, though, the Nuggets are currently down 2-0 to the Lakers; but hey, they've been down before in the bubble and it hasn't stopped them. Do I think they'll make the Finals? No. But do I think there's a chance? Hell yes.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have played great Basketball ever since their Game 1 scare way back during their first round series with the Trail Blazers. They looked as if they were going to struggle shooting the ball forever, as Danny Green and company just couldn't put the ball in the hoop. Luckily, things turned around pretty quickly for the best team in the West. LeBron James looks about as good as he ever has and is primed to make yet another trip back to the Finals. I guess he just got sick of taking the route through the East, so he had to switch it up a little bit. The man really just doesn't age, does he?
Then there's LeBron's teammate, Anthony Davis, who just nailed an insane game winner to beat the Nuggets in Game 2 as I'm writing this blog. Is there anything that this guy can't do? So many people, including myself, thought that he was better off playing the five and planting himself in the paint. Then, sure enough, he goes out and nails a fade-away three pointer for the win. That's just ridiculous. The Lakers are my pick to win this series and I think it'll take a great showing from one of the Eastern Conference squads to take them down in the Finals.
While the Nuggets may have been one of the best stories of these playoffs, the Miami Heat are probably the most surprising. When Jimmy Butler went to Miami, most people picked them to be a mid-tier playoff team with a best case outlook of making it to the second round. Now here they are, 10-2 in the playoffs and only two wins away from the NBA Finals.
It hasn't been all Butler, though. In fact, I would argue that it's actually been much more about Miami's depth than about Jimmy's performance. Guys like Goran Dragić, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson compliment Butler and Bam Adebayo to a tee. That squad's ability to hit the deep ball with consistency is what's gotten Miami this far, as well as what can win them the Larry O'Brien Trophy if things go their way. Miami is no joke and they've put their "Heat Culture" on full display in these playoffs. They already took down the gritty Pacers, along with the best team in Basketball in Milwaukee and its recently-named League MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Now, they look to beat the Celtics in the Conference Finals. My pick to make it out of the East, though? You know that it's the guys in green.
You really thought that I wouldn't pick the C's to make the Finals? You're crazy. Though they may have had their issues in Games 1 and 2, they finally showed their true colors in Game 3 with a wire to wire victory. Jaylen Brown was the star of the show in that one, leading all Celtics in scoring. He and Jayson Tatum have been absolute monsters for the C's in the playoffs. The young duo has serious playoff experience, but they have to prove that they can handle the pressure now after going down two games to none.
The real key factor in this series, though, is Gordon Hayward. He just returned from an ankle injury and will now be with Boston for the remainder of their playoff run. Fun fact -- the Celtics have not lost a game in which Hayward has played during these playoffs. I'm ready for that streak to continue. I've got the C's persevering and making it to the NBA Finals.
So, there you have it: my thoughts, analysis, and predictions for the rest of the NBA Playoffs. Get yourself ready for yet another classic Celtics vs. Lakers match-up in the Finals (Celtics in six, you heard it here first). What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!
- Jack Simone (@BannerTownJack)