NBA News: The Denver Nuggets Await Eastern Conference Finals Game Seven Winner
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2023 Western Conference Finals, the Denver Nuggets, led by Nikola Jokic, completed their first-ever playoff sweep by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 113-111 in Game 4 in Los Angeles. Despite a heroic effort from LeBron James, including scoring the most points in a playoff half in his career, the Lakers could not halt the Nuggets’ march to their first NBA Finals.

This result marks the first time LeBron James has been swept in a playoff series before the NBA Finals. He had been swept twice in his career, both in the Finals by the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. Despite the Lakers’ elimination, James’ performance was a testament to his status as one of the league’s all-time greats.

The Nuggets await the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals, which was pushed to a Game 7 on Saturday with the Boston Celtics pulling out a last-second victory over the Miami Heat. Derrick White scored on a putback with 0.1 seconds left, and the Celtics moved to the brink of the greatest comeback in NBA playoffs history.

Jayson Tatum scored 31 points, Jaylen Brown scored 26, and Marcus Smart added 21 for the Celtics, who became only the fourth NBA team to erase a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series and force a deciding game. The others in that club — the 1951 New York Knicks in the NBA Finals, the 1994 Denver Nuggets in the second round, and the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers in the first round — all lost Game 7, all on the road.

The NBA Finals Odds

Should the Celtics advance to the NBA Finals, they will have met bookmakers’ expectations as they were one of the two top favorites to advance out of the Eastern Conference along with the Milwaukee Bucks. It would be the second straight appearance for Boston, who lost last year to the Golden State Warriors in six games.

The Heat remain a long shot to win, according to the NBA championship odds, but they’re just a single game away from reaching their second NBA Finals in the last four seasons. Miami lost to the Boston Celtics last year in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Denver Nuggets overcame fairly long odds in advancing to their first NBA Finals. At the start of the playoffs, they were third, behind the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns, despite being the overall top seed in the Western Conference. The Finals will begin in Denver no matter who advances out of the Eastern Conference, with the Nuggets the clear favorite to win.

What Could Have Been

The Western Conference had seemingly been loaded with an abundance of overly talented rosters, which included the top-seeded Denver Nuggets, the exciting Sacramento Kings, then reigning NBA Champions Golden State Warriors, and the highly touted rosters that resided with the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.

Having officially earned the seventh seed in the standings, the Lakers squared off in a highly anticipated first-round showdown against the upstart but heavily talented Memphis Grizzlies, who had secured the second seed. The Grizzlies had championship aspirations and were a major threat given their young core, highlighted by Ja Morant and the then recently labeled Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. However, the veteran combination of LeBron James and Anthony Davis proved too much of an opponent.

After defeating the Grizzlies in the first round, the Lakers were matched against the defending champion and interstate rival Golden State Warriors. Los Angeles prevailed in a series where they never trailed, reaching their second Western Conference Finals in four years. Unfortunately, the Nuggets were too much for them, easily dispatching them in four games.

There was no denying that this Lakers team had made a charge for the championship that season. LeBron was still averaging some truly absurd numbers at 38. Despite some retirement rumors, James seems likely to continue this insane level of production heading into next season.

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