NBA roundtable: Surprises, playoffs MVP and what’s at stake-News

The Eastern and Western conference finals starting Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET, The cost of ESPN), only four teams remain in the battle for the NBA title.

However, out of the four teams, two won the playoffs.

Seed number 7 Los Angeles Lakerswho advanced in the game of the player, will meet with Denver Nuggets — No. 1 seed with best record in league — West. At this time, a Miami Heatthose who are seeded 8 through the playoffs, take the second seed Boston Celtics for a spot in the NBA Finals.

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the Celtics won the league MVP Joel Embiid and Philadelphia 76ersas Tatum put together a Historic Game 7 success in the East semifinals. The Heat have been running their own record as the only 8-seed since 1999 to win the conference finals. New York Knicks — and I’m grateful Jimmy Butler.

LeBron James and the Lakers have not yet won Stephen Curry and Golden State Warriors in six games you want the King to make another Finals run. The Nuggets passed their toughest test by cutting a star-studded roster Phoenix Suns the team that has been there Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Chris Paul.

Our experts break down the biggest matchup stories ahead of the conference, and reveal the biggest expectations for basketball’s biggest tournament.

1. Which team were you most surprised to see in the conference finals?

Nick Friedell: Heat. The group seemed to be on the verge of reforming a few weeks ago. To see the changes they have made in such a short time – Miami followed suit Chicago Bulls in the final minutes of the East playoffs — it’s one of the most unexpected plays I’ve seen in a decade and a half of covering the league.

Kevin Pelton: The Heat, who are now tied for the best record in the playoffs (8-3) are the top-seeded Nuggets. After benefiting from a dangerous 3-point shooting in the first quarter (45%, easier than any team), the Heat returned to mean in the semifinals (31%) but still dominated the Knicks series.

Tim Bontemps: Heat. They were playing Milwaukee Bucks, favorites to win the title, in the first round and send them to five games. They now return to the conference slate against Boston for the third time in four years. The Lakers are also a surprise story as the West’s No. 1 seed. 7, but the title goes to the Heat.

Kendra Andrews: The Heat, who at the end of the season looked like they were heading for a summer of big changes. So “Playoff Jimmy” appeared. I don’t think anyone expected him to be here.

Jamal Collier: The Nuggets. Maybe not really surprised – look at Kevin Durant, “Am I surprised by the Nuggets?” — but most impressive is how they got here. With the way Denver has slipped in the second half of the campaign and under the unsteady West, it would be reasonable to assume that the Nuggets are the ones most likely to be upset early on. But the Nuggets look as stylish and sophisticated as their location suggests.

2. Which duel are you most looking forward to in the Lakers-Nuggets series?

Andrews: Nikola Jokic vs. Anthony Davis. Much can be said about the matchups Jokic has faced against them Minnesota Timberwolves and the Sun in both races — that’s how they had a clear margin. That could change in the Western Conference against Davis, another big man who is leading the playoffs in every game. How the two-time Nuggets ‘MVP’ adjusts is the big story heading into Game 1.

Collier: Jokic vs. Davis. This will be Jokic’s toughest test of the postseason in a defender who can protect him and a big man who will pressure Denver’s interior defense. If Davis can be effective on both ends of the floor, the Lakers have a chance to win the series. But if Jokic can distract Davis or tire him out by chasing him, the Nuggets should be able to move forward.

Friedel: Jokic vs. Davis. Jokic has a chance to prove to everyone how good he is on the biggest level. If they get the best of this matchup, the Nuggets will go to the NBA Finals.

Pelton: Jokic vs. James. Jokic won’t be guarding James all the time, but James and the Lakers will present a very different challenge to Jokic. Phoenix averaged just 46.4 points per game in the paint during the playoffs; the Lakers are averaging 50.3, second behind Denver. Notably, the Nuggets weren’t great in the regular season against top-10 teams in the paint, beating them 59% of the time compared to 69% against bottom-10 paint-scoring teams like Phoenix.

Best time: Jokic vs. history. Jokic vs. James and Davis are heavy hitters, but if Jokic can win eight more games in the playoffs, the “best player in the league” debate will be over.

3. Which lineup are you most looking forward to in the Celtics-Heat series?

Pelton: Jayson Tatum vs. Jimmy Butler. The two versatile wings, like their respective teams, are meeting for the third time in the last four meetings. Despite a few minutes in the middle of the series due to injury, Butler surpassed Tatum last year; but Tatum had both good returns and assists, as he got eight out of nine MVP votes (with Butler getting the other votes).

Collier: Tatum vs. Butler. Butler was a 3-pointer away to pull off an upset last season. Miami doesn’t seem to have the talent to compete with Boston this year, though, so you can’t count out “Playoff Jimmy.”

Andrews: Tatum vs. Butler. The heat is here because of Butler. The same can be said for Tatum and the Celtics. Tatum has been a success on this road and has been huge for his team every time they have needed him, including late in Game 6 and amazing game 7 against the 76ers. The star who wins this one-man battle will win the series.

Best time: Butler against his body. For the Heat to have a chance in this series, Butler needs to be the kind of incandescent he has been against Milwaukee. After spraining his leg early in the Knicks series, he was no match for the player. If Butler’s body matches up, he’s good enough to make this series competitive.

Friedel: Butler against everyone. The Heat and Celtics are no strangers at this point in their recent playoff rivalry. Celtics coach Joe Mazzella, like Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau in the second round, will do everything he can to make someone other than Butler beat them. Boston’s secondary defense will make it difficult, but Butler has shown that he can elevate his game on the biggest stage. It will be fun to watch…again.

4. Who is the playoff MVP so far?

Best time: Jokic, who had a 34-point triple-double while shooting 57% from the floor and 44% from 3 against the Sun stars. I believed coming into this game that Jokic had put more pressure on him than any player in the league, because it was time to deliver with a healthy team and a top seed in the West. He has not only given, he has gone above and beyond. It has been very interesting.

Friedel: Butler, who has faith in the Heat’s locker room that appeared on the edge a few weeks ago. Jokic’s numbers are amazing, but Butler’s team has come out of nowhere to get to this point, and Miami’s season would have been over long ago without him.

Collier: Butler. He has once again carried the Heat all the way to the conference finals, this time past the top two seeds. Butler has been the best player in the world.

Andrews: Butler. The heat is not here without him. There are no ifs, ands or buts. Therefore, he should be the MVP so far.

Pelton: Devin Booker, despite the dismissal of Phoenix. Sure, Booker wasn’t as good as the Suns were fired in the explosion at home. But Phoenix probably wouldn’t have won a single game against Denver if it weren’t for Booker’s record in games 3 and 4, where he combined for 83 points on 34 of 43 shooting.

5. Who is most at risk in the final meetings?

Pelton: Speaking of history, James. Of course, some players would benefit from leading their teams to the NBA Finals, but they are too young to have another chance. This could be James’ last chance. Getting a team that seemed destined for the lottery early in the season to reach the Finals would also be a boost to its long history of playoff success.

Collier: James. Another final appearance at this stage of his career, in the season he broke the previous goalscoring record, at the age of 38, and how did the team look at the beginning of this campaign? Well, that would be another moment in the King James story.

Best time: Jokic. If he can lead Denver to a Finals appearance, it could be a huge boon to The Joker’s legacy and the Nuggets franchise. There’s a ton on the line for both teams, but a trip to the Finals could be tough for Denver.

Friedel: Jokic. He’s an amazing player, but one of the biggest knocks on his game is that he couldn’t lift the Nuggets to the postseason. What better way to solve this problem than to beat James and the Lakers.

Andrews: Nuggets coach Michael Malone. He has been with the Nuggets since 2015 and has been coaching Jokic-Jamal Murray two since 2016. If Denver doesn’t make the Finals as one of the two remaining teams that didn’t need a playoff to advance, there will be questions about Malone’s future and whether he’s the guy to do in Denver. .

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