As both the Miami Heat and the Denver Nuggets have a 2-0 lead in their respective series with the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, we could know the matchup for this year’s NBA Finals as soon as the middle of this upcoming week.
As one might expect (given that they lead their series 2-0) the Nuggets are heavy favorites to claim their first NBA title in team history, listed at or around -115 at PayPal Betting Sites. Somewhat more surprising is the fact that the Heat only have the third-best odds (+400), trailing the Celtics (+340) who they currently have a big lead over in the series. Odds can vary dramatically from sportsbook to sportsbook (as can the promotions and bonuses offered) so be sure to shop around first if you think you have a winning bet: you might be able to find odds that will win you more elsewhere.
Here’s a look at some trends to watch in each of the Conference Finals series, as well as who this sports writer thinks will make (and win) the NBA Finals. The beautiful thing about all four of the remaining teams is that each of them (or at least certain star players) has been accused of not being able to get it done on the game’s brightest stage, whether it’s fans poking fun at LeBron James’ NBA Finals record, Jayson Tatum or Nikola Jokić’s streaky performances in playoff games, or the Heat’s hot-and-cold play depending on Jimmy Butler’s success. Someone will get to prove the doubters wrong this year on the way to crowning themself champion.
Denver vs Los Angeles
The Lakers have had good success against two-time league MVP Nikola Jokić since the fourth quarter of Game 1, when they adjusted their strategy for facing him, taking the onus off of Anthony Davis to go one-on-one with his fellow big man in favor of wing Rui Hachimura. The gambit worked, with Jokić scoring just two points in the final ten minutes of the game (and 23 points, pedestrian by his lofty standards, in Game 2).
The bad news for Los Angeles, though, is that the Nuggets’ secondary scoring has been more than able to step up, with guard Jamal Murray putting up 37 points in Denver’s Game 2 victory. Jokić also managed a triple-double in that game (with a whopping 17 rebounds and 12 assists), so he’s shown the maturity to work as a facilitator for his teammates when the shots aren’t falling for him.
On the Lakers’ end of the court, their luck seems to finally be running out. After sneaking into the postseason as a play-in team, Los Angeles got hot at exactly the right time. James and Davis have dealt with injuries for much of this season, though, and their play is starting to slow down. The good news for Los Angeles is that they’ve managed to give Denver a fourth-quarter scare in the first two games of the series, but I don’t think they’ll be able to win four games before Denver wins two.
Miami vs Boston
Much like the Lakers, Miami has outpaced expectations for this entire postseason: they’ve just continued to do so in the conference finals. Heat forward Jimmy Butler seems to possess the innate ability to score just enough to win in each game he takes part in.
Boston has had a massive second half lead in each of the first two games (leading by as much as 12 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2) but subsequently blew those leads: as excellent as Butler and center Bam Adebayo have been on both ends of the court, making key stops and then getting back on it with scoring threats, that isn’t a sustainable way to win. Boston’s high flying offense can get streaky at times, especially as the tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown try to do too much and play hero ball to get things going, but if anyone can come back with three of the final five games on the road, this star-studded Celtics team can.
Look for Denver to stay atop the Lakers, Boston to come back in the series, and the Nuggets to win a championship for the first time in the 56 year history of their franchise. Jokić is a man on a mission, and almost every other player to win more than one MVP award (with the exception of Karl Malone and Steve Nash) has a championship under their belt as well: look at Giannis Antetokounmpo defying the odds in 2021. It’s the Joker’s turn this year.