The 2020 NBA Playoffs will definitely be the one to remember. Upsets were rife in the conference semifinals with the Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors failing to survive a title contenders massacre and leaving the Orlando bubble earlier than expected.
But the L.A. Lakers have remained in the race and seem in a good shape ahead of their clash with the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers boast the best net rating of the postseason, in big part thanks to their stalwart defense which showed up big in the series with the Houston Rockets.
In Game 4, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel showed his tactical masterclass again and opted for smaller lineups to close the series out. L.A. then dominated Houston, defeating them — as Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni pointed out — at their own game.
With Markieff Morris starting in the place of JaVale McGee, the Lakers were able to rotate quicker and cover the quick Houston players more effectively while not giving up size. As a result, Houston was reduced to just 98 points on average and held the worst net rating of all teams in the last two games of the conference semifinals.
That strategy, however, might be less effective against the Nuggets who, contrary to Houston, play with a nominal center. And, as the Clippers painfully came to realize, not an average one.
Nikola Jokic gave them a basketball masterclass, averaging 24.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 6.6 assists in the series. The Serbian center eclipsed Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and ran the Clippers ragged on both sides of the floor — all the while being the leading playmaker of the team.
McGee and Dwight Howard will definitely have to step up if the Lakers are to advance past Denver.
L.A. cannot underestimate the Nuggets who smothered the Clippers with their intensity, particularly in every second half of the last three games — outscoring them by more than 21 points a night in that period. Denver often did so to bounce back from double-digit deficits.
And that has become something of the team’s trademark. The Nuggets have now played four straight playoff series concluded in Game 7 and come back from being down 3-1 twice in a row.
But complacency seems unlikely to kick in with LeBron James on the Lakers roster. The three-time NBA champion has recently said he is aware of the high expectations the Los Angeles organization has of him and his fellow All-Star Anthony Davis.
And with confidence in his voice, James said he accepts the challenge of restoring the hurting Los Angeles franchise after the worst decade in its history.
Upon a quick glance at his performance this postseason, it appears he does not bluff. James is averaging 26.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists, showing a different side of him every game and doing just what’s needed of him on a particular night to win.
Or in other words, making adjustments to maximize Davis’ potential and let him use his full skillset. And James has succeeded in doing so with the 27-year-old forward scoring 27.6 points and adding 10.9 rebounds on average every game.
What’s more, the Lakers truly showed off their roster depth against Houston. Morris, Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, and Alex Caruso have been sharing the third-star role this postseason and heavily helped their All-Stars off the bench.
The Lakers are confident after their impressive showing against Houston. The spirits are high, proving they are indeed the league’s best chemistry. And in terms of personnel, they seem well-equipped to take the Larry O’Brien trophy home.
As James emphasized, L.A. is peaking at the right time — but they need to maintain the form to win in the bubble. Even if they win the Western Conference Finals, a mighty opponent will be waiting for them in the NBA Finals.
The Boston Celtics defeated the Raptors, the defending champions who came to Orlando with a chip on their shoulder after being reduced to the underdog status in the eyes of analysts in the aftermath of Leonard’s departure.
Meanwhile, the Miami Heat dispatched Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks, who were heavily favored to win the title this season. And they seemed to have done it with relative ease.
Miami has already taken a 1-0 lead following an overtime thriller in the series opener.
The 2020 NBA Playoffs are a gift that keeps on giving. And we are only at the halfway mark.
Western Conference Finals (all times in PT)
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (3) Denver Nuggets
Game 1: Denver at Los Angeles, Friday, Sept. 18. at 6 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Denver at Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 20 at 4:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: Los Angeles at Denver, Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Los Angeles at Denver, Thursday , Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5*: Denver at Los Angeles, Saturday, Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. (TNT)
Game 6*: Los Angeles at Denver, Monday, Sept. 28, TBA (TNT)
Game 7*: Denver at Los Angeles, Wednesday, Sept. 30 TBA (TNT)*
Eastern Conference Finals (all times in PT)
(3) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Miami Heat
Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Miami at Boston, Thursday, Sept. 17 at 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3: Boston at Miami, Saturday, Sept. 19 at 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 4: Boston at Miami, Monday, Sept. 21 TBD (ESPN)
Game 5*: Miami at Boston, Wednesday, Sept. 23 TBA (ESPN)
Game 6*: Boston at Miami, Friday, Sept. 25 TBA (ESPN)
Game 7*: Miami at Boston, Sunday, Sept. 27 TBA (ESPN)
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