NBA Conference Finals preview
How we got here is a story of its own.
What happens next may top it all.
Out West, a recent regular season dominator looks the championship part as DENVER host the mighty LOS ANGELES LAKERS.
You'd have copped big odds about this match-up a few months ago.
With Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverly on the squad, the Lakers were barely a .500 unit. In truth, they barely ever got their head above water but they finished the season hot and continued that into the playoffs.
So, here we have. No. 1 DENVER and the LAKERS, via the play-in tournament!
Across the country, last year's Finals participant BOSTON are looking for a repeat trip to the big dance. But standing in their way, like the Lakers, is a team who needed the play-in tourney to secure a place but then went onto dominate the No. 1 Bucks and Knicks to arrive here in serious form - the MIAMI HEAT.
We know where they've been, what matter is what will happen next...
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
BOSTON v MIAMI
Season recap: 2-2
Key injuries: Miami - Tyler HERRO, Victor OLADIPO. Boston - Danilo GALLINARI.
Two of the hottest players in the game enter this series.
Jimmy BUTLER arrives off a dominant series against Milwaukee and a highly efficient series against New York. He's had a 50-point game and he's doing everything great players need to do to drive their team toward a title. In green, JAYSON TATUM is airborne. His game seven stunner against Philadelphia was as good a performance as we've seen. 51 points, 13 boards, 5 assists to send Philly packing.
But these two teams are no one-man bands.
JAYLEN BROWN can score a bucket on anyone standing in his way. He possesses size, skill and shooting. He often starts games in a blaze of glory. AL HORFORD showed his true value in game seven, making life difficult for the MVP Joel Embiid.
MARCUS SMART owns an NBA Defensive Player of the Year whilst ROBERT WILLIAMS and guards DERRICK WHITE and MALCOLM BROGDON provide punch when needed. Boston are a truly deep squad.
The Heat have some depth but will be hurting until Herro resumes play.
BAM ADEBAYO is the epitome of a role player - but in its most elite sense. KEVIN LOVE and KYLE LOWRY add veteran leadership and nous. DUNCAN ROBINSON and GABE VINCENT round out the Heat's depth.
Boston have the upper hand in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, FG% and 3PT% which has to count for something.
In a knock 'em down, hard-nosed, hard-fought series, I'll take BOSTON to close this out and advance to another NBA Finals.
TIP - BOSTON in game seven at home.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
DENVER v LOS ANGELES
Season recap: 2-2
Key injuries: Denver - Nil, LAL - Nil.
Almost everything hinges on Anthony Davis.
LeBron James will be LeBron James. At stages, he will dominate the series. Other times he will look something like a 278-game playoff veteran needing rest from the Mile High air.
Role players will come and go.
But Davis' job on Nikola Jokic - on both ends - will be the key outcome decider in this one.
Jokic averaged 34, 13 and 11 in the semi-finals against Phoenix. Stupidly insane numbers. He's so dominant and so efficient it seems unfair to his opponents.
Davis entered the league as a generational defender but as his offensive game has grown and his injuries mounted, his defence has dropped from elite to rock solid when he's engaged.
Fall asleep for a moment versus Jokic and he will be finding someone for a knockdown triple or getting to the cup for what should be a dunk for most people his size but will be a graceful lay-in for the Serbian superstar!
IF Davis can keep Jokic to 25 on modest shooting percentages, the Lakers can pinch this. IF he can draw fouls on Jokic who is not a known defensive stopper himself... there are a few ways Davis can turn this series upside down - none of them will be easy and none of them seem likely.
James will get his. Davis will even get his.
But what Jokic does will be key to this whole thing.
Ultimately, he leads his Nuggets to the promised land and a date with destiny.
TIP - DENVER holds home court then pinches game six in LA.