What a wild, exciting NBA playoffs this is turning out to be! In the first round alone, 4 higher seeded teams – the East’s 1st seed Milwaukee Bucks and 4th seed Cleveland Cavaliers; and the West’s 2nd seed Memphis Grizzlies and the 3rd seed Sacramento Kings – were booted out unceremoniously. That’s 4 upsets in 8 match-ups, or a 50% win rate for the favored teams. In the second round, 2 of the 3 finished mano-a-mano duels have been won by lower-seeded teams, for an even lower 33% win rate. All 2nd round match-ups reached a minimum of 6 games, which tells us that no team is head and shoulders above the rest. There is a clear parity among the teams in the playoffs. And fans from all over the globe are on the edge of their seats as they watch the fireworks and the ongoing drama unfold.
As of this writing, it is the Denver Nuggets going against a surprisingly resurgent Los Angeles Lakers for the Western Conference crown; while in the Eastern Conference, the doggedly-determined Miami Heat have earned an improbable trip to the round of four. They will be going up against the survivor of the Boston Celtics-Philadelphia 76ers face-off, which will be decided by a now-or-never Game 7 this Sunday in Boston.
The Nuggets, starring former MVP Nikola Jokic, eliminated the luckless Phoenix Suns 4-2 to be the first team to advance to the Western Conference Finals. The Suns were considered darkhorse favorites for the crown with the acquisition of that future Hall-of Famer, Kevin Durant. Unfortunately, they would lose veteran point guard Chris Paul to a groin injury in a winnable Game 2 of that series. This was further compounded by the loss of center DeAndre Ayton in Game 6, tilting the odds immensely in favor of the Nuggets. What had earlier appeared to be the Suns’ impregnable Fab 4 – with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton – was mercilessly demolished in game 6 with the absence of Paul and Ayton.
The Nuggets – top seeds in the West – had a 2-year hiatus from serious playoff campaigns in 2021 and 2022 following injuries to top stars Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. With both Murray and Porter healthy now, and with an elite support cast starring Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Bruce Brown Jr, they have great offensive and defensive back-ups that have brought the Nuggets to the top of the regular season.
The Nuggets will meet the 7th- seed Los Angeles Lakers, who upset the defending champs Golden State Warriors 4-2 in another gruelling match-up. The Lakers are more-than-worthy opponents, with a blend of elite stars and steady support pieces. Lebron James and Anthony Davis Jr are undoubtedly one of today’s most respected cage duos. Austin Reeves has been a major surprise, having matured to become a viable 3rd wheel in the team. Then there’s D’Angelo Russell, Dennis Shroder, Rui Hachimura, Lonnie Walker IV and Jared Vanderbilt; all of whom are capable of creating significant impact at any given time. Their contributions have given a slowly- aging Lebron and the injury-prone AD valuable bench time to keep them competitive and healthy come crunchtime.
The Lakers had already been given up for dead after the end of the first half of the season. With a major revamp during the mid-season trade deadline, the Lakers brought in key pieces and surged back into contention. However, the Lakers have been through 2 marathon heavyweight slugfests in the playoffs, the first against Ja Morant and the 2nd-seed Memphis Grizzlies; and the second against Steph Curry and the even more pesky 6th-seed Warriors. And this could take a huge toll on their veterans. The Lakers will be up against a well-rested, completely healthy Nuggets team raring to grab their first-ever NBA crown.
Over in the east, the Miami Heat are the surprise Conference finalists, nudging out an equally determined New York Knicks team that simply refused to die without a fight. The Heat are an over-achieving bunch who – despite the injuries to key players, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo – have eluded elimination against higher seeded teams. With veterans Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry; plus an unfazed, underrated group of support elements, the Heat are showing how a tough-as-nails defense could level the playing field. Equally amazing with this team is how their belief – in each other and in their system – has elevated the way they play. They will go against the winner of the epic Boston Celtics – Philadelphia 76ers duel which has gone the full route.
This year’s playoff has been a total blast. Betting odds have gone awry, top teams have been disrespected. As the Chinese saying goes: we live in interesting times. Indeed, in this season’s basketball wars, it is moment-to-moment for all the surviving teams; with health, team chemistry and coaching creativity now playing major roles in the crucial days ahead.
Cover photo courtesy of Sporting News. Other pics courtesy of Arizona sports, Sporting News, Los Angeles Times, Masslive.com, The Manila Times, Draftings Nation, Yahoo Sports!, Action Network, Bleacher Report and TheSixers Sense. For a closer look, just click on the picks.
i’m really surprised with the lakers. then again, you can never count lebron out especially when he has a prodigiously gifted scorer in anthony davis. just an amazing team out there in L.A.
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Yes, and with a support unit that can give them extra rest time, this Lakers team could be very dangerous.
The Nuggets are top seeds, but they lack the experience, the championship pedigree. And that should make them underdogs against the Lakers. The Lakers are now a solid team with a steady second unit. The fact that the Nuggets haven’t won a championship yet makes me want to cheer them on. How about a friendly wager, my friend? 😊👍🏼