5 things we learned for the NBA Conference Finals
We are one step closer to finding out who will be NBA Champions 2020, the finals are set, with the Los Angeles Lakers set to do battle with the Miami Heat over seven games, starting on Wednesday. But what have we learned about the top four teams in the NBA following the Conference Finals?
1. Maybe Kemba Walker wasn't built for the big time
Before making the switch to Boston, Kemba Walker was seen as a big fish in a small pond but after seeing he's struggles in the NBA Finals maybe he was in his ideal situation after all. While Kemba had a very solid first season in Boston, knowing he was no longer the only hope for his team, when it came to crunch time in the playoffs he spent more time in foul trouble than anything else, with Boston usually looking to Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown down the stretch. Although Walker averaged 19.5 pts, 4 reb and 4 assists he at least 4 fouls in three of the six games and inevitably spent more time on the bench than he or his coach wanted. Kemba Walker brought a feel good factor back to the Boston Celtics after a tough 2018/19 season but he was brought in to be a difference maker. He might propel Boston's young stars to greater levels but will he ever reach the levels he did as a big fish, I am not so sure.
2. Dwight Howard still has a huge role to play for the Lakers
Dwight Howard was seen as nothing more than a role player in LA after signing for the Lakers but after not playing at all in the Rockets series, he showed that he still has a huge amount to offer this Lakers team in the playoffs. Following a huge performance of the bench in game 1 (13 pts, 3 rebs, 2 steals & 2 blocks) and defeat for the team in game 3, Howard was introduced to the starting lineup and played a huge role in nullifying Nikola Jokic aswell as chipping in on the score board and on the boards. He averaged 10.5 pts and 10 rebs in his two games as a starter to help the Lakers to a 4-1 series lead and a place in the NBA Finals. He has done all he can to make sure he remains a starter in the finals but even if not he will once again have a huge role to play, nullifying Bam Adebayo and making sure the Lakers win their first title for 10 years.
3. If you want to beat Miami, you better kill them
Not as gruesome as it sounds, but in every game of the Eastern Conference finals that was separated by 7 points or less heading into the fourth quarter, the Heat won. If you give this Miami team any sort of encouragement they will grab it and run away with it. This team is filled with exciting youth, clutch ballers and wily veterans, they can hurt you on offence and dominate you on defence so when they are failing to catch fire you have to make sure you pour all the water you can on them, giving them as slim a chance of winning as possible heading down the stretch. In the two games that Miami were cold, Boston took advantage but every time it was close, the Celtics had no answer for this stacked Miami team. They fight for each every second they are on the floor, with clutch talents like Jimmy Butler & Goran Dragic and a great range of three point shooting. It is certainly something the Lakers will need to be aware of, even though they are 52-0 when leading after the third quarter. Hmmm, this should be a fun series.
4. Murray and Jokic still have improvements to make
Jamal Murray & Nikola Jokic were the feel good story of the NBA playoffs after coming back from 3-1 down in the first two rounds of the post season against Utah & the Clippers, respectively. However their performance in the Western Conference Finals showed they still have a lot to learn if they want to reach the finals in Denver. The two were the dynamic duo, with Murray dominating the first round comeback and Jokic the semi with both providing great back up when the other was dominating. Although in the finals, they showed how much they still need to learn to match the elite in the league. The 4-1 conference finals defeat to the Lakers didn't come as much of a surprise but it was the manner of the losses. Jokic was consistently targeted by the wily Lakers team and spent nearly every game in foul trouble, which had him planted on the bench early in the game and down the stretch. Meanwhile Murray was still impressive as he averaged 41 mins, 25 pts and 7 ast in the five games but he was controlled by double teams down the stretch of games and if he is to match up to the best in the league he has to learn to adapt his game. The Nuggets were the surprise package of the playoffs but Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray still have big steps to take if they are to be the top dogs in the West.
5. Lebron James is still the man to beat in the NBA
Lebron James has now been to 9 of the last 10 NBA Finals, his only absence, his first year in LA where he was plagued by a groin injury. The one year James was away, Kawhi Leonard stole the show and had people believing he was now the main man in basketball but natural order has now been restored. Lebron's close out performance in game 5 was the KING at his best, 38 pts 16 reb & 10 ast, including 16 points in the fourth quarter. He dominated the game from start to finish, taking it upon himself to make sure there was no hiccup from the Lakers. As the saying goes 'to be the best, you have to beat the best', and Lebron James is still the final hurdle you must clear to be Champions.
The finals get underway in the bubble this Wednesday at 2 am, catch every game live on Sky Sports.