While the NBA caught heat for much of the past decade for its predictable formula (with super teams like the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors and all-time great players like Lebron James and Kevin Durant dominating the sport and cleaning house when it came to the postseason), the past few years have seen upsets galore once the playoffs begin.
Who expected the Toronto Raptors to finally figure out their playoff woes and end Durant’s run with the dynastic Warriors in 2019, for the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns to clash in 2021, for the Warriors to make a late-era push for another championship last year without the help of Durant?
2023 has been no different, with the top-seeded Bucks losing in the first round in a 4-1 gentleman’s sweep, the No. 2 seeded (but eternally frustrating) Memphis Grizzlies falling to pieces against the veteran Lakers, the Warriors pulling out a game seven victory against Sacramento on the road despite not being able to put it all together yet this year, and a young Cavaliers team showing they just weren’t quite ready yet against the Knicks.
At the end of play on Monday, May 8, the Los Angeles Lakers held a 3-1 series lead over the Warriors; the Miami Heat a 3-1 lead over the New York Knicks; the Suns and Denver Nuggets sat tied 2-2 in their series, as did the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.
Exciting news for Celtics fans and sports enthusiasts alike! Despite their current gridlock series with the Philly team, the Boston Celtics are still considered the heavy favorites to clinch their record-breaking 18th Larry O’Brien Trophy. In fact, some top betting sites are listing them as high as +165, which is almost double the odds of their closest competitors, the Lakers.
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So Here’s a look at how I expect those series to finish up, as well as what the potential NBA Finals matchup could be:
Lakers vs Warriors
For a team that was on the outside looking in for much of the season, the Lakers have really turned it on since the playoffs began. The Warriors struggled similarly all year (although they had a much better regular season), and I don’t think they’ll be able to figure it out in time to come back in the series, much less to be able to string three consecutive victories together. The Lakers’ luck will run out eventually, but they’re an easy pick to advance to the conference finals now.
Heat vs Knicks
Jimmy Butler is on right now, and when he’s playing at the top of his game there aren’t many players in the world who can say they’re better. The Heat will take care of business, winning this series in Game 5 or Game 6. The Knicks simply don’t have a match for the Heat’s high powered defense, and Julius Randle is still working his way back from the ankle injury that limited him in the first round of the playoffs.
Working against perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Bam Adebayo doesn’t do him many favors, to be fair, but New York has scored 101 points or less in their three losses in this series and Randle’s play is a huge part of that. After less than satisfactory play in his last three playoff runs, the onus is on Randle to step up his game.
Suns vs Nuggets
Phoenix is set to miss Chris Paul yet again in Game 5, but his injury hasn’t been the crushing blow many expected, as he got hurt with the Suns falling to a 2-0 series deficit. They’ve fought back to tie the series with a pair of high-flying wins. I expect the winner of this series to win the Western Conference, and right now the Suns are looking like the better pick.
They’re clicking without Paul right now, and his return will give them a boost provided that they can get him back up to game speed without sacrificing the rotation they have right now.
Celtics vs Sixers
Shooting guard James Harden has really turned it on in the Sixers’ two wins so far this series. You’d think that first-time NBA MVP Joel Embiid would be the story as he tees off against Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but Harden’s perimeter shooting has been what’s put the Siders over the top, with him scoring 87 points across those two games.
For all of their talent, the Celtics have struggled to make plays when the season depends on it throughout Tatum and Brown’s tenure: look at how Tatum struggled in the Finals last year. Ironically, Embiid, Harden and the Sixers have had similar issues, so it’ll be a matter of who blinks first. I expect a motivated Embiid to put his team over the top: punch a Sixers vs Suns final now.
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