Detroit — The 2023 NBA Finals are nearly set as the Denver Nuggets will have nine days of rest while they wait to see who emerges from the Eastern Conference. One more victory over the Boston Celtics will put the Miami Heat with the Nuggets for an opportunity at this year’s NBA championship.
That’s a sentence not many would have uttered when the season began. However, both teams have dominated their opponents in their respective conference finals and are on the brink of competing for the title.
The No. 8-seeded Heat could become the first Play-In team to reach the NBA Finals since the tournament was instituted in 2020. After barely escaping the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls in the Play-In tournament, Miami upset the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round before dismantling the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games in the semifinal round. The Heat currently leads its series against the defending Eastern Conference champions, 3-1.
The Nuggets were the top seed in the West and their road to the Finals came without difficulty, albeit against some of the best individual players in the league. Denver bested the Minnesota Timberwolves in a five-game series in the first round, before defeating the Phoenix Suns in five games in the conference semis. Two-time MVP center Nikola Jokic was joined by co-star Jamal Murray in leading a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers, which could possibly lead to the end of an era.
Both the Nuggets and Heat are made up of well-balanced teams with a combination of shooting, athleticism and a couple of All-NBA players. As the Pistons look to build upon their young core and turn their losing misfortunes around, continuity could be the best solution to eventually start competing in a fierce Eastern Conference. Denver could be a classic example of the saying: “Sometimes you just have to wait your turn.”
Denver’s roster includes five former Pistons, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown, Reggie Jackson, DeAndre Jordan and Ish Smith, although the latter three aren’t in the playoff rotation. Miami has four undrafted players — Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson, Caleb Martin and Max Strus — who are providing major contributions in the postseason.
With LeBron James and Anthony Davis eliminated, there will be a new champion to emerge between Jokic, Heat forward Jimmy Butler and the Celtics’ duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
News: The Nuggets swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals to advance to their first NBA Finals in franchise history.
Views: Jokic didn’t win his third consecutive MVP award, but he’s the winner of the Earvin “Magic” Johnson trophy, which is given to the Western Conference Finals MVP. He could also earn something worth much more if the Nuggets are able to capture their first NBA championship.
Jokic dominated the series against the Lakers and averaged a triple-double, with 27 points, 14.7 rebounds and 11.3 assists. He nailed one improbable shot after another, often going to his signature move of launching the ball from behind his head while on one foot when pressured by defenders.
Jokic received a helping hand from Murray, who reminded many of what he was capable of after missing last season due to a torn ACL. Murray exploded for 37 points in Games 2 and 3, and the Lakers didn’t have anyone capable of slowing him down.
The job isn’t finished, but it appears that Denver is the clear favorite to win the NBA championship, which would make its fanbase ecstatic after the eras led by Alex English, Dikembe Mutumbo and Carmelo Anthony came and went without a ring.
News: The Celtics extended the series to five games after defeating the Heat in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Views: After looking like a shell of themselves for three consecutive games, the Celtics mustered enough will to force a Game 5, following Tuesday’s 116-99 win over the Heat. Jayson Tatum led the way with 33 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists and six different players scored in double-figures for Boston. The Heat appeared as if they would close the series and advance to its second NBA Finals in four years, but the Celtics produced a 38-point third quarter that broke the game open.
No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the postseason, and while the Celtics have the talent to do so, it just doesn’t appear likely that the Heat, led by Jimmy Butler, will lose four consecutive games. Miami is still in the driver’s seat with a 3-1 series lead. However, if Boston defeats the Heat at home on Thursday, the Celtics will have the momentum going into a critical Game 6 in Miami.
With the Western Conference Finals all wrapped up, NBA fans should appreciate the Eastern Finals for as long as they can, because The Finals aren’t scheduled to begin until June 1.
News: LeBron James is reportedly considering retirement after cryptic postgame comments following the Lakers’ playoff exit to the Nuggets.
Views: After 20 seasons of playing at an inexplicably high level in the NBA, is LeBron James seriously ready to call it quits? Maybe in the moment of a heartbreaking loss, he felt as if he had “a lot to think about” regarding his future in the league. However, I don’t think he walks away from the game that easy.
Think about it. James played on an injured foot for the majority of the season and decided against season-ending surgery after speaking with the “LeBron James of feet.” Despite the pain, he finished the season on the All-NBA third team and helped lead the No. 7-seeded Lakers from the Play-In tournament to the Western Conference Finals.
He has plenty left in the tank. He just needs another co-star — who’s reliable on a more consistent basis — to help shoulder the burden. This could be a different method of saying he’s taking an extended amount of time off with no timetable in sight before he returns in the best shape as possible.
I don’t think James will quit basketball cold turkey, especially when he just flirted with a 40-point triple-double in his final game of the season. As much as he could deflect from his previous ambitions of playing with his oldest son, Bronny, I believe that desire is still there. I’d also presume that he’d want the same type of “farewell tour” that his former teammate Dwyane Wade and the late Kobe Bryant received during their final seasons in the NBA.