With the Eastern Conference Finals match up set to begin on Tuesday night between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, the Lakers will be waiting for the winner of Game 7 between the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers to determine the Western Conference Finals.

The night will see both the beginning and an end to a series, and one team's season will be over by the end of it. The NBA postseason has provided memorable moments already, from Luka's buzzer beater to the Raptors' double-overtime win to force Game 7 against Boston. But the league's biggest star, LeBron James, sits in waiting while trying to add another championship to his Hall of Fame resume.


Luka Doncic GAME WINNING BUZZER BEATER!!! Clippers vs Mavericks Ending Sequence, Luka-Morris-Luka GW www.youtube.com

After dismantling the Houston Rockets' explosive offense by changing up their lineups and inserting Markieff Morris and Alex Caruso alongside LeBron James, the Lakers were able to take away the perimeter opportunities that the Rockets have capitalized on all season to outpace their competition. By playing a smaller lineup to combat the Rockets' strengths, the Lakers made Mike D'Antoni's squad look confused and frustrated throughout the series.

It appeared that Lakers' coach, Frank Vogel, had a defensive game plan centered around taking everything away except James Harden. That sounds crazy, but Harden is going to get points regardless of how you defend him, so by focusing on taking away those open teammates spotting up for corner threes, the rest of the Rockets were largely unable to get in rhythm. That included Russell Westbrook who finished Game 5 with only 10 points in 36 minutes.

The Lakers were daring Westbrook to take open three point shots and were rewarded for it. Westbrook went 7 for 27 from three point land during the West Semi Final, which is just a tick above 25%. LeBron James was spectacular, averaging 25.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game in the series.



It will be interesting to see if the Lakers will utilize the smaller lineup they had success using against Houston against their next opponent. Both the Nuggets and Clippers have formidable big men, so you should expect to see more usage of JaVale McGee and possibly Dwight Howard.

The Nuggets have managed to bring their series with the Clippers back to even after being down 3-1. Denver overcame a 3-1 deficit in the first round of the playoffs against the Utah Jazz, however completing two such comebacks in one postseason has never been accomplished. Standing in front of them will be a determined LA Clippers team and the reigning Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard.



We are already aware of Kawhi's ability to perform in big moments, but it will be up to his counterpart, Paul George, who has been infamously dubbed "Playoff P" due to his spotty play in the playoffs during his career, to step up and put in a big performance in Game 7 to prevent one of the preeminent favorites to win the championship from going home early, like the Bucks did over in the East.

Although the Clippers boast possibly the deepest and most talented roster in the league, I like the Nuggets to continue their winning streak and upset the Clippers to move onto the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers. Nikola Jokic has proven to be too much to handle at times during this series, and the Clippers don't have a good answer for him defensively. Because Jokic can cause mismatches all over the court and has the vision to find open teammates, I think the duo of the Joker and Jamal Murray will continue their excellent play, especially in the second half of games (82 combined points in the second halves of the two comeback victories), and close out the Clippers.



The Heat have surprised many by reaching the Conference Finals, but they are well coached by Erik Spoelstra, and Jimmy Butler has provided the kind of leadership that this young team has responded to. The return of a healthy Goran Dragic to the rotation has given Miami a real boost, as he's been chipping in 21 points per game during the postseason, and his leadership on and off the court is a stabilizing factor for the Heat. Rookie, Tyler Herro, has proven to be willing and able to take big shots in big moments and is a large reason why this team is thriving in the playoffs.

Shooting just a hair under 40% from three point range in the playoffs, Herro gives Butler and fellow all-star Bam Adebayo a reliable option to pass to when the paint clogs up. Butler has described the Heat as having a dog mentality heading into the Eastern Conference Finals, but a gritty and battle tested Celtics team stands in their way of getting to the NBA Finals.



While the Heat have been surprising, the Celtics have managed to resurrect themselves in the wake of the disastrous Kyrie Irving experiment and become a legitimate threat to win the NBA championship this season. Kemba Walker has seized the opportunity in Boston to propel himself into the role of the unquestioned leader of a title worthy young squad.

Jayson Tatum has established himself as a superstar in the league with his play this season, and Jaylen Brown has also taken significant steps forward with increased opportunities this year. Gordon Hayward has provided a steady fourth option for the Celtics and can still score when asked to, but he's also begun to excel as a passer and rebounder, as it seems he's settling into his newfound role. Add in Marcus Smart, who continues to be one of the best defensive players in the league, and you get a team that has the potential to win now and in the future.



Predictions

Western Conference Semi Finals Game 7

Denver Nuggets over Los Angeles Clippers (4-3)

Eastern Conference Finals

Boston Celtics over Miami Heat (4-2)

Western Conference Finals

Los Angeles Lakers over Denver Nuggets (4-3)

Paul George grabbing a rebound in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals

Barry Gossage/Getty Images

In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.

After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.

The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.

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Ben Simmons disappointed in the playoffs this season

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.

Offense being the key word here.

Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.

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The Lakers looked lost in the Valley

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.

After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.

LeBron James LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.

The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.


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