And then there were four.
The Denver Nuggets punched the final ticket to the 2020 NBA conference finals with a 104-89 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday to complete their second straight comeback from a 3-1 deficit. With the victory, the Nuggets advance to face the Los Angeles Lakers for the right to represent the West in the upcoming NBA Finals.
Out East, the Miami Heat drew first blood in their conference finals collision with the Boston Celtics by securing a 117-114 victory in Game 1. Four different Heat starters scored at least 18 points, including All-Star big man Bam Adebayo, who helped seal the victory with an all-time rejection of Jayson Tatum with just 3.7 seconds left in overtime.
With only two rounds left to crown a champion, time is of the essence. Let's get to the latest series odds, courtesy of FanDuel, then examine what needs to happen for each club to capture the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy.
Conference Finals Odds
Miami Heat: -168
Boston Celtics: +136
Los Angeles Lakers: -750
Denver Nuggets: +470
How Each Team Can Win the NBA Finals
The Heat hoist their fourth championship banner into the AmericanAirlines Arena rafters if Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are the two best two-way players from here on out, Tyler Herro keeps forgetting he's a 20-year-old freshman and their support scorers don't turn back into pumpkins.
Butler and Adebayo are uniquely equipped to control contests on both ends of the floor. Each is an uber-versatile stopper capable of silencing scorers of all types, and both are plus-passers (or better) for their positions. While neither is a great shooting threat, they have the athleticism, toughness and tenacity to aggressively attack the basket. They needed just 26 combined field-goal attempts to record 38 points in Game 1.
Herro plays with the right kind of irrational confidence—he's already taking huge shots without hesitation and burying them. Goran Dragic's scoring (seven playoff games with 20-plus points) and Jae Crowder's net-shredding (41.7 percent from deep this postseason) feel like the flukiest parts of Miami's formula, but they only need their hot streaks to sustain through seven more victories.
The Celtics give Brad Stevens his first NBA championship if their scoring wings get into a collective groove and this group develops its killer instinct.
Despite having series leads of 2-0 and 3-2, Boston still needed all seven games to dispatch the defending champion Toronto Raptors last round. The Celtics again missed opportunity's knock in Game 1, losing a contest it once led by 14 points. They had chances to close out the win—they were up five with less than a minute remaining in regulation—but their attack went stagnant at the worst possible time.
Saying that, Jayson Tatum is a soaring star, Jaylen Brown is quietly ascending, Kemba Walker is a crunch-time killer, Marcus Smart is the best kind of basketball bully and Gordon Hayward is the biggest wild card as he nears his return from a sprained ankle. The Celtics don't have much depth beyond that five (plus Daniel Thies), but they won't need it if their stars shine brightest when needed most.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers bring the crown to the West Coast if LeBron James does LeBron James things, Anthony Davis is an all-caps SUPERSTAR and the supporting cast fills in any cracks around the wildly talented twosome.
Business as usual is all that's needed from Hollywood's hoops stars. James is flirting with nightly triple-doubles (26.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists). Davis is dominating the interior with 27.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and eight double-doubles in 10 playoff tilts. They normalize greatness, and that may be all this team needs to take the title.
In case it's not, though, it will help if Rajon Rondo can keep summoning the mythical Playoff Rondo, Danny Green can remember he's a knockdown shooter and Kyle Kuzma can find ways to show he's the third-best player on this roster. Oh, and if Frank Vogel finds a strategic plan as sound as the one he unleashed on the Houston Rockets in the conference semis, the Lakers are in great hands.
The Nuggets clinch the franchise's first NBA championship if they just find a way to trail this round and next by a 3-1 margin. I'm (half) joking, of course, but this has been escape-artistry of historic proportions:
Denver wasn't a popular choice to get this far, but this isn't a happy-to-be-here underdog playing with house money. The Nuggets have more wins than any Western Conference team the past two seasons (100), a sensationally skilled 7-footer in Nikola Jokic, a perimeter flamethrower in Jamal Murray and an ignitable rookie in Michael Porter Jr. Murray just dropped 40 points, while Jokic triple-doubled in the club's sixth elimination game.
The Nuggets probably have the slimmest margin for error, and they won't have an easy time identifying LeBron and AD stoppers. But their offense can go berserk any night, and their defense has a few disruptors, like Gary Harris, Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap and Torrey Craig. Tack on the team-of-destiny momentum wave this group is likely riding and maybe Denver keeps finding ways to survive and advance.