NBA conference finals predictions: will Jokić halt LeBron’s title ambitions? (2023)

Western Conference finals: Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets

What the Lakers need to do: Defend. When these teams met in the conference finals in the bubble in 2020, the Lakers won the series in just five games, holding Denver to 109.2 points per contest. They may have to do even better this time as the Nuggets boast perhaps the best player on Earth, Nikola Jokić, winner of two of the past three NBA MVP awards. Thankfully for LA, they have maybe the greatest defender on Earth in Anthony Davis. In the 2020 championship run, Davis’ long arms altered countless shots and he’ll have to do the same here.

The problem for the Lakers is that Jokić is even better than he was three years ago, capable of scoring from anywhere and dishing dazzling assists. Against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semi-finals, the Lakers held the Warriors and Stephen Curry to under 100 points in Game 3, and an average of 109.8 points per game in the six total contests. They’ll have to keep that pressure up against Denver.

When the Lakers emerged victorious against Golden State, a relieved James said he and his team have a “lot of respect” for the Nuggets. And both teams will have a handful of days off between winning their semi-finals series and Game 1 in Denver on Tuesday. Rest will be important for the Lakers, especially if they want to keep their streak alive of winning Game 1 on the road and snatching home-court advantage from their higher-seeded foes, just as they did in the opening round against Memphis and later against the Warriors.

Key player for the Lakers: LeBron is still the King, but the Lakers’ best player is clearly now Davis, with his condor-like wingspan and ability to affect the game at both ends of the court. He can check guards and block shots at the rim on defense and attack the paint with the ball. But the series will probably come down to “the others,” as Shaquille O’Neal often calls a squad’s role players. Undrafted wing Austin Reaves has been the team’s third-best player over the past several months and guards Dennis Schröder and D’Angelo Russell have provided important scoring pop. Everyone will need to be on their A-game if they’re to survive Jokić.

What the Nuggets need to do: Stay calm. Sure, they’re a (relatively) small-town team. And sure LA is glitzy, with stars like Jack Nicholson and Michael B Jordan in the crowd. But the rims are still 10ft tall, and the court is still 94ft by 50ft. While Denver are a so-so defensive team, their star player can do it all on offense – and he’ll have to. When the Warriors had success against the Lakers, it came from drawing Davis away from the basket. Jokić can do so in spades, orchestrating from the top of the three-point arc. Combine his talents with the skilled supporting cast of point guard Jamal Murray, forward Aaron Gordon, shooter Michael Porter Jr and Swiss army knife Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the Nuggets have more than enough to make it to the NBA finals for the first time in franchise history.

Key player for the Nuggets: The Nuggets’ starting five are excellent. They have size, scoring, experience, continuity and talent to boot. So, let’s look at the team’s reserves – specifically, the three players likely to come off the bench in any close game: versatile forward Jeff Green, slashing guard Bruce Brown Jr and promising rookie Christian Braun. Yes, Jokić is always No 1 when it comes to Denver. But without great bench play while the starters rest, Denver will be heading home sooner than they hoped.

Prediction: Given that the Lakers revamped their franchise to such a massive degree this year, it’s hard to glean any insight from the teams’ head-to-head battles during the regular season. But with two hungry rosters and two former MVPs, this should be a close one. The edge, however, has to go to James, who’s just been here too many times before. Lakers in 6.

Eastern Conference finals: Miami Heat v Boston Celtics

NBA conference finals predictions: will Jokić halt LeBron’s title ambitions? (1)

What the Heat need to do: Everything starts with Jimmy Butler. He is the straw that stirs the drink with his drives to the basket, dogged defense and ability to draw fouls. Aside from Butler, the Heat’s other ace in the hole is their coach, Erik Spoelstra. He may be the best tactician in the game, capable of turning a slight advantage into one that could decide a series. The Heat grind out games, and the Celtics are well aware of that, having faced Miami last year in the conference finals, going to seven games and barely winning after a missed Butler buzzer-beater that still lives in the minds of their fans. While the Heat are the No 8 seed, they believe they are on Boston’s level. With the unflappable Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry, along with shooters Max Strus and Duncan Robinson, Miami have a great chance to advance if they stay disciplined.

Key player for the Heat: While Butler remains the biggest name for Miami, it will be hard for the Heat to win through without strong shooting from distance. Miami will surely look to muck the game up with fouls, rugged play and every other trick Spoelstra can muster. But they will need to hang with Boston’s big-time scorers in order to advance. As such, Robinson and Strus must hit shots often, both to put up points and to create the court space for Butler to operate.

What the Celtics need to do: Remember who they are. It’s strange, Boston somehow tend to forget that they may be the best team in the NBA and certainly the best remaining squad in these playoffs. Do they get bored? The team’s two stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, are complemented by the excellent Al Horford, Robert Williams and Marcus Smart: many would argue the only NBA team that can beat the Celtics are the Celtics. If the team get lackadaisical or lose confidence, Miami will attack like a piranha crossed with a pitbull and there will be no tomorrow. Indeed, the series will be won and lost between the ears for Boston and their playoff tested roster.

Key player for Boston: The key figure for Boston won’t be on the court. Instead, it’s the rookie 34-year-old head coach, Joe Mazzulla, who replaced Ime Udoka amid a storm of controversy. The youthful play-caller is somehow two years younger than the team’s starting center, Horford. Will Coach Mazz be outwitted by Coach Spo, who already boasts two championship rings from the LeBron-Wade era? Or will he rise to the challenge? Mazzulla has already recently been called out by Smart. But Mazz and his team responded in Sunday’s Game 7 against Philly, outscoring the 76ers 33-10 in the third quarter. It will be up to Boston’s coach to make sure the team stay rooted in their identity: a killer one-two punch with a talented supporting cast.

Prediction: While the “Zombie Heat,” as Bill Simmons calls them, just won’t go away, Boston are far more talented top-to-bottom than the squad from South Beach. They should take care of business in the series and meet the Lakers in the finals for the 13th time in history, each team hoping to earn their 18th title banner. Celtics in 6.


Who is favored to win NBA Finals 2023? ›

With betting favorite Milwaukee eliminated, the Celtics are the favorites to win the NBA title on FOX Bet. Boston's title odds sit at -120, while Los Angeles comes in at +550.

Who is favored to win the Eastern Conference finals? ›

Eastern Conference finals

With all due respect to Jimmy Butler and the Heat, the Celtics should win this series convincingly. They are the better team overall, the top team in the league, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index, and the BPI series projector has the Celtics winning the series 97% of the time.

Who is favored to win the NBA championship? ›

The two title favorites for this postseason as of Wednesday morning — the Celtics (+100) and Nuggets (+180) — are naturally the favorites for next season, too. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the Celtics are the overall favorites at +500 while Nikola Jokic and company are +550.

Who has the best NBA championship future bet? ›

NBA Champion Odds
Best Odds
Celtics-105 ++100
Nuggets+165 ++180
Lakers+650 ++550
Heat+1600 ++1600

Are Nuggets favored over Lakers? ›

Denver is favored by six points, and the over/under is 222.5 in the latest Nuggets vs. Lakers odds from Caesars Sportsbook. Before making any Lakers vs. Nuggets picks, you'll want to see the NBA predictions and betting advice from the proven computer model at SportsLine.

What are the odds the Heat will win the championship? ›

The Celtics, who lost the 2022 Finals in six games to the Warriors, are heavy favorites (+110) to capture their first title since 2008. They're followed by Denver (+250), then Los Angeles (+300) and the Heat (+1200) have by far the longest odds to raise their first championship banner in a decade.

Who is most likely to win NBA Western Conference? ›

Who Is Favored To Win The 2022-23 Western Conference Championship?
Denver Nuggets-160
Los Angeles Lakers+140

Who is favored to win the NHL Western Conference finals? ›

The Golden Knights are slight favorites on DraftKings Sportsbook to win the Western Conference Final over Dallas.

How many NBA Finals was Lebron favored in? ›

This is just the third time in James' NBA Finals career that he will be a listed favorite in both the series and in Game 1.
NBA Finals Series Odds — LeBron James Teams & Opponents.
2013Heat -220 *Spurs +180
2012Thunder -175Heat +155 *
2011Heat -175Mavericks +155
2007Spurs -450Cavaliers +360
5 more rows
Dec 9, 2021

How often does the favored team win in the NBA? ›

How often do moneyline favorites win in NBA? Over the past five seasons, 67.25% of favorites have been successful in the NBA regular season. Home favorites have a slightly higher success rate than those on the road, with 69% of home favorites winning compared to 64.4% of those on the road.

Who is the best NBA handicapper? ›

NBA Handicappers
  • Matt McCuen. @DeadPresPicks. NCAAB+7. View profile.
  • Josh Gayle. @ThatGuyBets. NFL NBA+1. View profile.
  • Brian Matthews. @the_bmatt. NFL NBA+1. View profile.
  • Ben Rajavuori. @WeBeatTheSpread. NCAAB+3. View profile.

Who is the best PG to never win a NBA championship? ›

Elgin Baylor Baylor is regarded as one of the greatest players in NBA history after averaging 27.4 PPG and 13.5 rebounds per game in his career. Remarkably, Baylor failed to win a single Finals series despite making it to that stage seven times in his career.

Who has the most career game winners in NBA history? ›

Number one on the list of most game-winners is Michael Jordan. He is considered by many as the greatest basketball player of all-time—Jordan, who is a six-time NBA champion, piled up nine game-winners during his entire 15-year career.

Why did the Nuggets trade Carmelo Anthony? ›

After seven straight years of leading them to the playoffs, Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets reached an impasse. The Nuggets wanted their young star to re-up and sign the maximum extension, spend his prime with the team that drafted him third overall. Melo wanted different things.

What did the Nuggets get for Carmelo? ›

In the 2011 deal, the Denver Nuggets traded Anthony to the Knicks along with Chauncey Billups in exchange for Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, a 2014 first-round pick and the swap rights in 2016.

Are the Lakers a good franchise? ›

The Lakers hold records for having the most wins (2,905), the highest winning percentage (61.5%), the most NBA Finals appearances (29), and the fewest non-playoff seasons (5 tied with Spurs).

What is the best NBA team 2023? ›

Boston Celtics

Who is favored to win Heat or Celtics? ›

The Celtics are the current favorites to win the NBA title at +100 at FOX Bet. Boston is facing an unlikely opponent in Miami.


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