NBA

2023 NBA Conference Finals Preview: High and Low Seeds Clash

August 22, 2023

After the Celtics unceremoniously dumped the 76ers on Sunday afternoon, only four teams remain in the NBA playoffs. Let’s take a look at the matchups, key players and odds heading into the Conference Finals. Will we see a one and two seed make the NBA Finals? Or do the lower-seeded Lakers and Heat have more in store?

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Western Conference Finals

Denver Nuggets (1) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (7)

Tipico odds to win series: Denver (-160), L.A. Lakers (+130)

The Lakers will take on the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. Top-seeded Denver defeated the Timberwolves in five games and the Suns in six games to get to this point. Seventh-seeded Los Angeles took out the Grizzlies and Warriors in six games each after defeating the Timberwolves in the play-in round.

The Nuggets will have home-court advantage as the No. 1 seed in the West, which could prove to be the difference given both teams’ stellar play at home. After going 34-7 at Ball Arena in the regular season, the Nuggets are a perfect 6-0 on their home floor in the playoffs.

The Lakers have done them one better, going 7-0 at Staples Center since the regular season ended. In each of their first two rounds, the Lakers took Game 1 on the road to steal home-court advantage, then won every home game and lost every road game.

The series opener in Denver on Tuesday night will be a pivotal game, as the Nuggets look to upend LA’s winning formula and stay undefeated in their own arena en route to what would be their first ever conference title and trip to the NBA Finals.

Denver’s offense revolves around Nikola Jokic, who had a strong case to win MVP for the third consecutive season before the award ultimately went to Joel Embiid. Jokic averaged 24.5 PPG, 11.8 RPG and 9.8 APG in the regular season, and he’s been even better in the postseason, with 30.7 PPG, 12.8 RPG and 9.7 APG.

Jamal Murray has stepped up as the Nuggets’ No. 2 option, averaging 25.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 6.5 APG in the playoffs. Michael Porter Jr. (14.5 PPG), Aaron Gordon (13.1 PPG), Bruce Brown Jr. (12.2 PPG) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (10.5 PPG) are all scoring in double digits as well this postseason, giving Denver a balanced attack beyond Jokic and Murray.

The Lakers have found success using a similar formula, with various role players contributing strong performances to complement stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. James is averaging 23.4 PPG, 10.0 RPG and 5.3 APG this postseason, while Davis is adding 21.2 PPG, 14.1 RPG and 2.7 APG. D’Angelo Russell (15.7 PPG), Austin Reaves (15.4 PPG) and Rui Hachimura (11.2 PPG) have been LA’s most productive role players.

Eastern Conference Finals

Boston Celtics (2) vs. Miami Heat (8)

Tipico odds to win series: Boston (-550), Miami (+400)

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The Celtics punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals with a Game 7 win over the 76ers on Sunday, and No. 2 seed Boston will face the eighth-seeded Heat. Prior to going the distance against Philadelphia, the Celtics eliminated the Hawks in six games.

Miami was minutes from missing the playoffs entirely, as the Heat lost their first play-in game to the Hawks and needed a fourth-quarter comeback against the Bulls in their second play-in contest just to secure the No. 8 seed. They then went on to upset the top-seeded Bucks in five games in the first round before beating the Knicks in six games in the conference semifinals.

Boston has a clear edge in talent in this series, but between the outstanding play of Jimmy Butler and the excellent coaching of Erik Spoelstra, the underdog Heat can’t be written off.

This will be the third Eastern Conference Finals matchup between these teams in the past four seasons. Boston defeated Miami in seven games in 2022, avenging the Heat’s six-game triumph in 2020. The Celtics are big favorites to win the series, but the Heat have already pulled off a pair of upsets to reach this point.

Boston is led by one of the NBA’s premier duos in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum scored 51 points in the 112-88 Game 7 win over the 76ers, bumping his postseason scoring average up to 28.2 PPG, along with 10.6 RPG and 5.2 APG.

Brown isn’t far behind, with 24.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 3.4 APG. Boston’s other key contributors in the playoffs have been Marcus Smart (15.8 PPG), Malcolm Brogdon (14.8 PPG) and Derrick White (12.8 PPG).

Jimmy Butler has led the way for the Heat with 31.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG and 5.4 APG. Bam Adebayo is the team’s second option, and he’s chipping in 18.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG and 3.5 APG. Miami has six other players averaging double-digit points this postseason, but two of them are unavailable, as Tyler Herro (hand) and Victor Oladipo (knee) have been sidelined since partway through the first round.

That still leaves Gabe Vincent (11.5 PPG), Max Strus (10.9 PPG), Caleb Martin (10.8 PPG) and Kyle Lowry (10.1 PPG) in prominent supporting roles behind Butler and Adebayo.

Sasha has been contributing NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and Tennis content to RotoWire since 2015, with an emphasis on DFS. He is a huge New York sports fan who has been playing fantasy sports since middle school.

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Sasha Yodashkin
Sasha Yodashkin has been contributing NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and Tennis content to RotoWire since 2015, with an emphasis on DFS. He is a huge New York sports fan who has been playing fantasy sports since middle school.
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