And Then There Were Four: NBA Conference Finals Preview

Jack Meyer, Online Editor-in-Chief

After a frantic offseason, a historic stoppage in play and a playoff boycott led by multiple stars, the race for this year’s NBA championship has finally been narrowed down to four teams: the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. Each team faced plenty of obstacles throughout the season and had to face several difficult opponents throughout the playoffs. Through their hard work, dedication and talented play, these four organizations are merely games away from possibly making NBA history. Here is a look at the journey that each team made. 


Los Angeles Lakers

Regular Season Record: 52-19 (first in Western Conference, third in NBA)

Playoff Opponents: Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets

MVP: LeBron James

X-Factor: Bench Players

After missing the NBA playoffs last year, the Lakers were determined to make a title run this season. In order to get superstar LeBron James a new sidekick, the Lakers pulled off a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans that landed them another superstar in Anthony Davis. The franchise surrounded James and Davis with multiple strong role players, some returning from the previous season (such as Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo and Javale McGee) and some joining the Lakers during the offseason (such as Dwight Howard, Danny Green and Markieff Morris). With a revamped roster, the Lakers were seen as favorites to win the title at the start of the season. 

While they finished with the third-best record in the league, many still see the Lakers as the best team in the NBA. LeBron put forth one of his best seasons yet, leading the league in assists and chipping in with 25.3 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game. Davis also had a strong season for Los Angeles, leading the team with 26.1 points per game and placing as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year. Still seen as frontrunners for the title, the Lakers hope to win their 17th NBA championship, which would tie them for the most championships in league history alongside the Boston Celtics and secure their first Finals win since Kobe Bryant led them to the title in 2010. 


Denver Nuggets

Regular Season Record: 46-27 (third in Western Conference, sixth in NBA)

Playoff Opponents: Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers

MVP: Nikola Jokic

X-Factor: Jamal Murray

As of September 9, nearly no one thought the Nuggets would reach the Western Conference Finals. Down 3-1 in the second round against the heavily favored Clippers, a Clippers victory seemed so inevitable that this article originally had a section discussing their journey to the Conference Finals instead of the Nuggets. However, after coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the first round against the Jazz, the Nuggets proceeded to make NBA history and bounce back from yet another 3-1 hole to shock the league and send the Clippers back to Los Angeles. 

The Nuggets appeared to enter the NBA’s Orlando campus as a completely different team than when the season abruptly stopped on Mar. 11. Throughout his NBA career, star center Nikola Jokic has received criticism for his weight, at one point weighing in at 284 pounds. However, during the months that the NBA suspended play, Jokic appeared to lose a significant amount of weight, allowing him to incorporate new elements to his game that better suited his now-slimmer figure. Additionally, the playoffs gave way to the emergence of a possible superstar in Jamal Murray. The seventh pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Murray has blossomed in this year’s postseason and lived up to his initial lofty expectations, averaging 27.1 points per game over the first two rounds for the Nuggets. With a solid supporting cast to back Murray and Jokic, the Nuggets have a chance to not only win their first ever NBA championship, but make their first Finals appearance as well.  


Boston Celtics

Regular Season Record: 48-24 (third in Eastern Conference, fifth in NBA)

Playoff Opponents: Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors

MVP: Jayson Tatum

X-Factor: Kemba Walker

Making their third Conference Finals appearance in four years, the Celtics have maintained their reputation as one of the most successful franchises in the NBA. After superstar Kyrie Irving left Boston in free agency, the Celtics swiftly replaced him with All-Star Kemba Walker. Walker’s playmaking ability allowed young stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to grow over the course of the season, with Tatum making his first All-Star game. The Celtics have also received contributions across their entire roster, with Gordon Hayward providing a reliable scoring option on a nightly basis, Marcus Smart chipping in with three point shooting and tough defense and Daniel Theis rounding out their starting lineup as an undersized but aggressive center. 

After finishing with a top five record in the league, the Celtics faced two tough playoff opponents: the Philadelphia 76ers and the Toronto Raptors. The Celtics handled the 76ers with ease in a quick sweep, led by Tatum, Walker and Brown, who each averaged over 20 points per game for the series (27.0, 24.3 and 21.5, respectively). Their second round matchup proved to be much tougher, with the Raptors pushing the Celtics to seven games before Tatum closed out the series with 29 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. The Celtics hope to capitalize on this opportunity and possibly win their 18th championship in franchise history. 


Miami Heat

Regular Season Record: 44-29 (fifth in Eastern Conference, 11th in NBA)

Playoff Opponents: Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks

MVP: Jimmy Butler

X-Factor: Tyler Herro

The Miami Heat may be the most surprising team in the NBA this year. Initially projected to barely make the playoffs, the Heat held their own this season and established themselves as a dark horse to make a run in the NBA bubble. The Heat would go on to shock the NBA by knocking out the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Bucks had the best record in the NBA during the regular season and had their sights set on the NBA Finals, but the Miami Heat bounced them out of the playoffs in only five games. 

The Miami Heat have received key contributions from across the roster. Bam Adebayo has flourished into an All-Star and nearly took home the league’s Most Improved Player award, as well as being named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team. Additionally, Goran Dragic and Andre Igoudala continue to provide a veteran spark for the Heat and the team has received enormous contributions from the three-point line from Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro and Jae Crowder. However, the Heat would not be here today if not for Jimmy Butler. The five-time All-Star signed with the Heat this past offseason and his presence has enhanced the Heat’s culture of hard work and dedication, which allowed them to make their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2014. The Heat hope they can continue their run of upsets and take home their fourth NBA title. 



Lakers defeat Nuggets, 4-1

Heat defeat Celtics, 4-2