Even though the Western Conference Semi-Finals have already begun, here are my predictions for both series.
#1 Nuggets vs. # 4 Suns
Both of these teams are coming off relatively easy series. They both won in five against clearly inferior teams (this only applies to the Suns’ last three games, where the Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard. Now both of them are better teams than last round, and it will be interesting to see how each team adjusts.
The Nuggets are probably the quietest first seed of all time. What I mean when I say this is it feels like no one talks about them as a title threat even though they very clearly are one. In the past couple of years, the Nuggets had been super reliant on Nikola Jokic, but Jamal Murray has stepped up big time and looks the closest to who he was in the bubble in 2020. He averaged 27 points and six assists while shooting 42% from 3-point range. He will be the X Factor for the Nuggets in this series.
Probably the most encouraging thing for the Suns in these playoffs is the fact they have not needed Kevin Durant to go off in their wins. They have probably relied on Devin Booker more, which is great news. It would be one thing if Durant had shown any sign of regression, but he has not. He has let Booker get his own and just scores when he needs to. However, If the Suns want to go on a far playoff run, they will probably need Durant to be “The Guy” and not Booker. Lastly, the biggest concern with the Suns is their depth. They have been running with about a seven-man rotation and have few options after that. There is a good chance they will run out of gas. If they do, will it be in this series? Who knows?
At the beginning of the playoffs, I picked Denver and Phoenix to go this far, and I picked Denver in 7. After watching Game 1, I am still confident in this pick. If Jokic and Murray play to their potential, and the Nuggets’ bench dominates the Suns’ bench (this is highly likely), Denver will win this series.
Predictions: Nuggets over Suns in 7
#6 Warriors vs. #7 Lakers
The league thought they were done with Steph Curry vs. LeBron James? That’s funny. Even though it has been five years since they have played in the playoffs, it feels like yesterday. This time the teams are more evenly matched, both guys are in different stages of their careers, and it will be a great series.
The Lakers have surpassed expectations big time in the past couple of months. They seemed to have made the proper trades and adjustments and look like true threats to win the West. Anthony Davis looks the best he has since 2020 and was hands down the best defender in the league in the first round. In addition, players like D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, and Rui Hachimura have come up huge. This is excellent news for the Lakers because it shows they do not need LeBron James and AD to carry the entire load.
Believe it or not, their X Factor for the series will probably be LeBron. LeBron has looked solid compared to the rest of the league, but to his standards, he has been a little slow. Some of this is because of his injured foot, and some is because he is getting older. Of course, you can never count LeBron out of a playoff series, but his overall aggressiveness (or lack thereof, depending on what happens) is something to keep an eye on.
The Warriors are coming off an extremely hard-fought series against probably the best offensive team in the league in the regular season, the Sacramento Kings. They were the favorites to win the series, but after going down 2-0, many people began to count them out.
The Warriors will have to do a lot of what has made them great in the past if they win this series. Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins will have to lead their defense the best they can. Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson must get hot at certain points in the series. Kevon Looney must take advantage of the Laker’s size and grab as many boards as possible. All of the little things that make them champions are things that they need to do to win. Steph Curry will get his own on the offensive end, and we know that it will come down to everyone else doing their part as well.
This series will almost definitely go 6 or 7 games. It will be hard fought, but some of it might come down to who plays better on the defensive end, Anthony Davis or Draymond Green. Because of the Warriors’ experience, knowing how to play with each other, and knowing how to overcome their adversity, I think they will sneak out of this series with a win.
Prediction: Warriors over Lakers in 7
The playoffs have been wild this year. Debatably the league’s three biggest stars (LeBron, Durant, and Curry) are playing in the West this round, and it is great seeing all three of them dominate at the same time again.
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