It has taken them a little longer to get underway due to a pair of Game Sevens in the Western Conference quarterfinals, but the second round of the Western playoffs are finally set to tip off tonight. The No. 2 Clippers will face the No. 3 Nuggets on Thursday, with the No. 1 Lakers playing the No. 4 Rockets on Friday.
The Clippers will enter their series against the Nuggets as overwhelming favorites. Of the 19 ESPN experts who made predictions for the series, not a single one picked Denver to win — and not one thinks it will take the Clippers more than six games to dispatch the Nuggets.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George figure to be major problems for Denver. It’s unclear if the Nuggets have defenders capable of slowing down the duo; and on the other end of the court, top Denver scorers like Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will face more resistance from Leonard, George, and company than they did from Utah’s defenders in the first round.
The Lakers also open as heavy favorites over Houston. The 16 ESPN experts who made picks for the series were once again unanimous in projecting an L.A. victory, though in this case at least a handful predicted it will take a full seven games.
The well-rested Lakers will have the size advantage over the Rockets, as forwards like P.J. Tucker, Jeff Green, and Robert Covington will be tasked with guarding Anthony Davis and LeBron James. L.A. also had one of the NBA’s best defenses all season long and may force Houston’s role players to beat them with outside shots.
Still, while an all-L.A. Western Finals looks – as it has all year – to be the likeliest outcome, the Nuggets and Rockets have the star power to make things interesting. Nikola Jokic, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook aren’t about to bow out quietly. And as we’ve seen in the two Eastern Semifinals so far, a solid game plan and some well-timed hot shooting streaks can quickly put a series favorite on its heels.
What do you think? Are you penciling in a Clippers/Lakers showdown already, or do you think the Nuggets or Rockets are capable of pulling off an upset?
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