Who will progress from the NBA Conference Finals?

By Mark Woods

Latest NBA Odds

16 May 2023

And then there were four. Two season-long goliaths were expected to be here, but they are joined by a pair of upstarts who have beaten the odds to come good. The quartet is still in the running to acquire the NBA Championship next month.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the renegade Miami Heat visit the bruised but alive Boston Celtics in Game 1 on Wednesday night. But first, the Los Angeles Lakers - scripting a fairytale right out of Hollywood - bid to continue their surprise run through these playoffs when they travel to the Denver Nuggets in Tuesday’s Western Conference Finals opener. 

Who makes the cut to the last two? The markets forecast Denver and Boston - and I agree. The Celtics, having survived an epic duel with Philadelphia, are restored as 2.06 favourites in the outright market. The Nuggets, rested after moving swiftly onward, are 3.75.

And in the West, it seems the perfect time for Nikola Jokic and his running mates to finally dispel doubts over their capacity to excel in the post-season and roll past the Lakers. There’s been a curious and inexplicable tendency to do Denver down, even when they entered these playoffs with the top seeding in their Conference (now the top overall) and with the significantly effective home advantage that the Mile High City affords them.

6-0 so far on their home floor, Mike Malone’s men have been an offensive juggernaut with the perennial triple-double of Jokic as the head of that snake. Averaging 115.8 points in these playoffs on a huge differential of +9.2, they have also shot particularly efficiently. 

And, while attention has centred around the two-time MVP, Jamal Murray has returned to his pre-injury pomp. The guard may be the Lakers toughest cover and the true swing state in the series. We should not forget they are 7-0 at their own arena. LeBron James has been consistently spectacular. Anthony Davis too, mostly. LA’s finest possess the best defensive record in this post-season but this will be a physical test for their two leviathans. 

Denver has accumulated experience but also momentum. The Lakers, who are 3.15 to steal Game 1, have overcome flaws – but also flawed foes. And, although there’s good value on the guests on +6 at 1.97, it’s still the Nuggets who look primed to prevail.

The NBA Eastern Conference Finals betting is more definitive on the outcome of Game 1 between the Celtics and Heat. Boston is 1.29 to draw first blood despite their stumbles so far with Miami 3.95 to cause another surprise.

Like so much of their blitz from eighth seed to final four, you should underestimate the guests at your peril. 8-3 in the post-season, Miami isn’t a great shooting team without Tyler Herro but they compete hard.

It feels like a coin toss, just as it was when the Cs won out 4-3 at this stage last term. The Celtics’ talent in depth - from Jayson Tatum to Jaylen Brown and onward - is higher and brings variation. The Heat will need to be at their best in every game to stand a shot with the hosts priced at 2.06 on a handicap of -9. 

Los Angeles Lakers @ Denver Nuggets
Game 1 Tip-off: 1.30am Tuesday BST (Sky Sports Main Event)
Prediction: Over 223 points @ 2.04
Series Prediction: Nuggets in five games

Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics
Game 1 Tip-off: 11.30am Wednesday BST (Sky Sports Main Event)
Game 1 Prediction: Celtics to win and Over 210.5 points @ 2.62
Series Prediction: Celtics in six games

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