Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals begins tonight, and there isn’t a clear projected favorite. The Denver Nuggets have the two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and are the #1 seed, but the LA Lakers have Anthony Davis playing at the peak of his powers and some random forward named LeBron James. This lack of a favorite sort of applies for this Wednesday’s Eastern Conference Finals as well, though Miami Heat’s 8th seed status has certainly surprised the nation in how they knocked out the 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks (most of their core still intact) and breezed by a frisky, promising New York Knicks team (beat them in 6 yes, but we’ve witnessed at least two other charity Game 5’s in this year’s playoffs alone).
So we have a rematch in the East. The fact remains- the Boston Celtics are deeper than the Heat. They have Jayson Tatum (who managed to regain his powers in the span of a single quarter) and Jaylen Brown (whose inability to dribble normally disinterested me but he smoked Harden and the Sixers in Games 6 and 7), in addition to a bunch of veteran guys who are too tough-nosed and consistent to count (Horford-Brogdon-Smart is just a killer lineup). They also went to seven grueling games with them in last year’s series, with Miami being a Jimmy Butler three-pointer away from their second finals in three years (they’re now in their third conference finals in four years). Butler has by far been the standout performer in his respective conference, and it’ll be interesting to see if Tatum’s statement games to close out this year’s regular season MVP Joel Embiid will carry over to this series. I got Heat in 6, but I could see another 7-game dogfight.
Oh, Nuggets in 6 as well. I envision a Denver-Miami Finals, evoking the gritty, slower-paced beauty of 90s basketball, with the Joker and Buckets battling for the crown. LeBron can turn the switch on anytime he wants, but I see Denver giving him anything he wants while smothering AD and the rest of the team. The Lakers’ tradeline acquisitions have tread water, with Reaves and Schroeder being far more consistent than Russell, Vanderbilt, or Beasley, so I see the Nuggets’ depth, chemistry, and undefeated playoff home record this year continuing forward.