With just four teams remaining in the NBA postseason, the Houdini ranks all of the possible NBA Finals combinations–including those that don’t include the Boston Celtics.
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals was a heartbreaker for Boston Celtics fans the world over. The blown 12-point fourth-quarter lead. Bam Adebayo’s game-sealing block of Jayson Tatum’s dunk attempt in the waning seconds of overtime. You name it, and it messed with the emotional psyche of Cs fans in the penultimate round’s opening salvo.
That said, it was one game. It wasn’t a home game at the TD Garden, and the Celtics don’t need to worry about losing home-court advantage because there is no such thing in the Lake Buena Vista bubble in Walt Disney World’s Wide World of Sports complex.
Instead, it was just the first of what could be as many as seven exercises in the third Eastern Conference finals appearance for Boston since 2017. The NBA Finals are still a realistic–and most attainable–goal for Brad Stevens’ bunch.
With that in mind, and in celebration of the Denver Nuggets’ second consecutive 3-1 series comeback in these playoffs, the Houdini is here to rank all of the possible NBA Finals matchups of the remaining four teams:
4) #5 Miami Heat vs. #3 Denver Nuggets
If this ended up being our NBA Finals matchup after a half-decade of superstar battles between Steph Curry/Kevin Durant-led teams going up against Kawhi Leonard/LeBron James…I’d be disappointed.
This would be the one matchup that history would always look back at and wonder what could have been if the season was not suspended back in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
3) #3 Boston Celtics vs. #3 Denver Nuggets
If I’m being honest, the idea of the Nuggets in the NBA Finals just doesn’t appeal to me as much as the alternatives. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray have arrived as bona fide superstars following two straight miraculous series comebacks, but the narrative for the finals would be far juicier with one of the game’s most politically involved players (LeBron James) playing for his legacy in an election year…and one that has been filled with unbelievable headlines.
Apologies for sounding a bit Ramona Shelburne-esque in my analysis, but Denver will have its time in the future. I want the NBA in the national spotlight as much as possible.
2) #5 Miami Heat vs. #1 Los Angeles Lakers
James against his former Heat team now being led by one of the league’s most spirited competitors in Jimmy Butler is the epitome of must-see television. Stylistically these two squads match up well, with Bam Adebayo being a menacing match for Anthony Davis defensively and James and Butler likely going head-to-head in pivotal moments.
Then again, James’ Lakers could easily dispatch a Heat team that is largely unproven even at this point in the playoffs. Los Angeles took both contests in 2019-20, including a 15-point whooping at the Staples Center.
1) #3 Boston Celtics vs. #1 Los Angeles Lakers
I mean…duh. The NBA’s (and possibly all of sports’) greatest rivalry culminating this most unusual season would be the perfect anecdote to what has been a very bleak 2020. This is the current Las Vegas favorite as the most likely matchup, and the collective star power on both teams is why.
It just seems right that James’ biggest obstacle in his quest of collecting his fourth ring would be the very team that has sent him home on countless occasions on some of his most successful regular season teams in Cleveland. Likewise, James being the final boss in Tatum’s ascension to NBA Champion is scripted right out of the MCU.