We’re down to the last four teams in the 2023 NBA playoffs. The Miami Heat are taking on the Boston Celtics to see which is the top team in the Eastern Conference. Game one starts on May 17th in Boston. For the Western Conference, game one starts on May 16th in Denver. This will be an emotional rematch of the two teams that were in the same position in the 2019-2020 Bubble. That year, LA was first in their division, with a 52-19 record for the season, and beat the Nuggets 4-1.
The Lakers are tied with the Celtics for the most NBA Championships under their belt (17). The Nuggets have yet to win their first. They have never won and have only made it to the finals once in 1976 – but that was a year before the NBA-ABA merger. The Nuggets have Nicola Jokić who has been on fire during the first two rounds of the playoffs. He’s their superstar with two MVP awards, but the Lakers have two superstars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Western Conference – A Rematch After the 2020 Bubble
When these two teams met in the 2020 Bubble, the Lakers were able to contain Jokić, but he has improved since then. Plus, the Lakers don’t have the big players they’ll need to slow him down. During the regular season, Jokić averaged 24.5 PPG but in the last playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, his numbers shot way up. He averaged 34.5 points per game and had three triple-doubles in four games, which ties him for an NBA record.
Jokić, along with Russell Westbrook, Jason Kidd, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson are the only players who have completed three triple-doubles in one playoff series. Jokić has five triple-doubles in the last 11 games.
His team finished the season with 53 wins, becoming the top seed in the Western Conference, but they are still overshadowed by the Lakers who have a much bigger fan base and are on the upswing since both James and Davis have recovered from injuries.
Jamal Murray will also add offensive power to the Nuggets for this series. He did well against the Lakers in the 2020 bubble when he averaged 26.5 points, 6.6 assists, and 50.5% shooting. He missed the next two postseasons because of a torn ACL but he’s recovered and continues to improve. This postseason, he averaged 25.9 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.3 rebounds.
The Defending Champions Proved No Match for LA
The Golden State Warriors dominated the Western Conference since 2014, winning the Finals eight times since then and going on to win the NBA Finals four of those times. This year, the sixth-seed defending champions were taken out by LeBron James and the No. 7 seed Lakers.
Steph Curry had a stellar performance but was almost a one-man-show against the Lakers who had several players carrying the team while James led the way. He had 30 points in Game 6, with nine rebounds and nine assists. They are a well-oiled machine that will be tough to beat.
The top-seed Denver Nuggets dominated their first series against the No. 8 seed Minnesota Timberwolves, winning in five games. They took six games to win the next series against the Phoenix Suns.
The odds are in favor of the Nuggets:
Nuggets (-165) vs. Lakers (+140)
Whoever wins the Western Conference Finals, the Celtics are still expected to win the NBA Finals. The odds are pretty clear:
Boston Celtics (-105)
Denver Nuggets (+230)
Los Angeles Lakers (+390)
Miami Heat (+1300)
With those numbers, I’m just hoping the Heat can at least win one game to slow down the Celtics for the Finals.
No matter which team your bettors are rooting for, they can make many types of bets on top of picking which team will win the Conference. The strong favorites to win the Western Conference Finals MVP award are:
Nikola Jokić -125
LeBron James +250
Anthony Davis +300
Jamal Murray +1400
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