Eastern Conference Finals
2. Boston Celtics vs. 8. Miami Heat
Celtics in Five
For the third time in four seasons, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics are meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals. The teams have split the previous two meetings, with Miami advancing in the 2020 bubble, while the Celtics won a seven-game war last year. The Celtics were among the top teams in the NBA all season, finishing with the second-best record in the NBA, behind Milwaukee, while the Heat lay in the weeds, making the playoffs through the play-in tournament.
Since making the playoffs, the Heat have looked like a title contender upsetting the top-seeded Bucks in five games and taking down the Knicks in six. Boston is coming off a seven-game war with the 76ers. The NBA has given them a nice assist by giving them two days to recover. The Celtics needed to win the last two games to advance, as Jayson Tatum scored 51 points in Game 7. Eric Spoelstra has cemented his legacy with this playoff run, as his coaching and halftime adjustments have been the key to Miami's success.
The Heat will go only as far as Jimmy Butler can carry them. He is averaging 31.1 points per game in the playoffs. Butler murdered Milwaukee while setting up Bam Adebayo, and the outside shooting of Gabe Vincent and Max Strus gave New York fits. The Heat will need to be deadly from long distance again if they were to have a chance against the Celtics. Boston has been here. They have the defense and the determination after losing Game 7 of the NBA Finals last season. Tatum's 51 points to eliminate the Sixers shows that the Celtics are now in beast mode. Look for the Celtics to shut down Butler, and control the boards, as Jayson Tatum has a big series leading the Celtics back to the NBA Finals in five games.
Western Conference Finals
1. Denver Nuggets vs. 7. Los Angeles Lakers
Nuggets in Seven
A rematch of the Western Conference Finals from the 2020 bubble sees the Denver Nuggets, the top team in the West all season facing the Los Angeles Lakers, who appeared dead in the water in January but made significant improvements at the deadline to make the playoffs through the play-in. After two straight MVP awards, Nikola Jokic was denied the three-peat by Joel Emiid despite having his finest season. However, the Nuggets are primed and ready and have never had a better opportunity to play in the NBA Finals for the first time in team history.
The Lakers' turnaround was made by addition by subtraction, as getting Russell Westbrook out of the locker seemed to propel the Lakers' surge. D'Angelo Russell was added in the Westbrook trade and has been a significant factor in the Lakers' playoff success. Russell is third on the team in scoring with 15.6 ppg, while Austin Reeves took over at shooting guard and has been terrific on both sides of the court. Health is always critical for the Lakers as Anthony Davis has been a beast on the board with 14.1 rebounds per game, while he and LeBron James have combined for 45 points per game.
The Lakers' path to the Western Conference Finals has been paved in gold, as they faced a Grizzlies team that was falling apart with Ja Morant's troubles off the court. In the second round, they dethroned the Warriors in six games. The Warriors, throughout the season, appeared to be running on fumes, off their fourth NBA Championship since 2015. They never got their legs going and lost in six games. The Nuggets, meanwhile, needed five games to take down the Timberwolves while eclipsing the Suns in six. Their performance against the Suns is a preview of how they can take down the Lakers. Neither team has lost at home in the postseason. The Nuggets play at altitude will be the edge they need to win the series in seven games, as Nikola Jokic shows that he is the best player in the NBA.