The definition of the Conference Finals in the NBA brings with it great expectations about who will go on to dispute the basketball crown in 2023. The field is down to four, with the LA Lakers and Denver Nuggets facing off in the Western Conference as the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics will battle for the Eastern title. The action starts tonight with a tough game between the Lakers and Nuggets.
The Celtics did their thing by destroying the Philadelphia 76ers by a score of 112 to 88 in the seventh game of the series. The biggest stars of the 76ers didn’t do their thing – notably, James Harden didn’t step up, scoring just nine points in 41 minutes of play. MVP Joel Embiid disappointed, as well, with 15 points in 38 minutes.
Their lack of performance has already cost Doc Rivers his job. Others coaches might be polishing their resumes, as well.
On the other hand, Jayson Tatum of the Celtics did make it to the appointment. Tatum scored 51 points, making it clear that he reserved his best performance of the series for the biggest game. Tatum scored 51 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and added five assists. But he didn’t do it all alone. Tatum received support from Jaylen Brown who prescribed 25 points.
For Boston, the challenge now is the Miami Heat. Miami showed no difficulty in dispatching the New York Knicks, so the following question is generated: does Boston have what it takes to advance to the finals?
The Heat hope Boston runs out of gas after such a close series against Philadelphia. But Tatum has made it clear who is the real star of the Eastern Conference, so the Heat must be prepared to face one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.
The biggest story in the Western Conference has been the unexpected campaign of the Lakers. LeBron James and company stunned the basketball world by eliminating the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors. Steph Curry and his band had few answers for a Lakers team with key players injured and James showing signs of his age.
It is worth mentioning that the Lakers started the campaign with a 2-10 mark, managed to barely qualify for the play-in, and then, they have been eliminating team after team one by one. Los Angeles has accomplished all that with a balanced cadre, which has shown no signs of cracking in the face of adversity.
By contrast, the Nuggets have been the dominant team in the West since day one. Their arrival in the conference finals comes as no surprise. What does generate astonishment is that Nikola Jokic and company run into LeBron James. Logic dictates that this series should end with Denver advancing to the finals. However, do James and the Lakers have one more miracle up their sleeves?
The safe bet is to see the Celtics against the Nuggets. A final between Tatum and Jokic would be completely irresistible. Two of the biggest stars face to face on the biggest stage is something impossible to miss.
But if anything has been seen in these playoffs, anything is possible. King James, as he has been throughout the series, is listed as probable for the Lakers. If he can play through his soreness, LeBron can help keep the Lakers alive.
Playing in Denver, however, for Game 1 is going to be an issue. The Nuggets are in better shape to win tonight, but the Lakers will keep this series tight.