Will LeBron James be back in the NBA Finals up against one of his former teams? It's not a certainty, but that's the way things are shaping up in the NBA playoffs.
On Thursday night, James led the Los Angeles Lakers to a Game 4 win over the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, moving them one win away from a spot in the NBA Finals. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Miami Heat are also one victory away from reaching the championship game after notching a Game 4 victory over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night.
It's not a shock that the Lakers, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, are in this position. But it's been a surprise run from the Heat, who are the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and took down the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the second round. They now have the No. 3-seeded Celtics on the brink of elimination.
With both series getting closer to their conclusions, here's everything you need to know about the upcoming action in the NBA playoffs.
Remaining Conference Finals Schedule
Friday, Sept. 25
Game 5: No. 5 Miami Heat at No. 3 Boston Celtics, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Saturday, Sept. 26
Game 5: No. 3 Denver Nuggets at No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers, 9 p.m. ET, TNT
Sunday, Sept. 27
Game 6 (if necessary): No. 3 Boston Celtics at No. 5 Miami Heat, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Monday, Sept. 28
Game 6 (if necessary): No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers at No. 3 Denver Nuggets, TBD, TNT
Game 7 (if necessary): No. 3 Boston Celtics at No. 5 Miami Heat, TBD, TBD
Wednesday, Sept. 30
Game 7 (if necessary): No. 3 Denver Nuggets at No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers, TBD, TNT
NBA Title Odds
Los Angeles Lakers: -330 (bet $330 to win $100)
Miami Heat: +350 (bet $100 to win $350)
Boston Celtics: +1400
Denver Nuggets: +3600
Odds obtained via FanDuel.
Conference Finals Storylines
Can Heat Continue Torrid Run on Friday Night?
It's been a remarkable run by the Heat in the playoffs. They are 11-2 in the postseason and have already taken down two strong teams in the Bucks and Indiana Pacers. Now, they are one win away from eliminating the Celtics and reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 2014 (which was their last season with James).
In Game 4, Miami showcased exactly how it's been playing so well. Four Heat players score at least 20 points, and the team also had a huge performance off the bench from 20-year-old rookie guard Tyler Herro, who scored 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting.
And despite its recent success, Miami isn't complacent. Not even the youngster.
"There's a lot of work to be done still," Herro said, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN).
The Heat's work in the Eastern Conference Finals could be done if they win Friday's Game 5. Although the Celtics played a seven-game series against the Toronto Raptors in the second round, this is the first time they have faced a deficit in the playoffs—and a 3-1 hole isn't easy to overcome.
History is also on Miami's side. The Heat have never lost a playoff series in which they have held a 3-1 lead. So if the Celtics are able to come back, it would be a historically impressive feat.
Will Lakers Prevent Another Nuggets Comeback?
A 3-1 lead is a great thing to have in an NBA playoff series. More often than not, the team with that advantage is going to finish off the series and advance.
The Nuggets wouldn't know. They have trailed 3-1 in each of their first three series this postseason. They rallied back to beat both the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games in the first two rounds. And now they are looking to do the same thing against the Lakers.
However, Los Angeles is the best team Denver has faced yet. And it proved that Thursday, when James and Anthony Davis combined for 60 points to power the Lakers to a 114-108 Game 4 win. Davis had 34 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals, while James had 26 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
"We played great down the stretch," Davis said, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). "We played great overall. Still some things that we can fix if we want to put this thing away."
The Lakers will have the opportunity to do just that Saturday in Game 5. Los Angeles won each of its first two playoff series in five (against the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets), and it could be on its way to doing the same against Denver. Unless the Nuggets find some more playoff magic and begin another improbable comeback, that is.
If Denver wins Game 5, then it will be interesting to see whether it can build some momentum against a team as talented as L.A., which appears certain to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.