Looking at the Four Potential NBA Finals Matchups

Updated: Oct 9

And then there were four. This year’s playoffs have been the most exciting and unpredictable in many years. With storylines like Denver’s coming back from a 3-1 deficit twice and the Clippers’ unexpected collapse, it seems that nothing is off the table. In this article, I’ll be previewing the four potential NBA Finals matchups and predicting the winner for each.


Lakers vs. Celtics


LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers watches as teammate Rajon Rondo defends Boston's Jayson Tatum in an NBA game.
Jayson Tatum (0) drives against Rajon Rondo (9) and LeBron James (23). | Image via AP/Charles Krupa

A legendary matchup throughout the NBA’s history, the Lakers vs. Celtics rivalry has been considered one of the greatest of all time. The two teams have met 12 times in the Finals since 1959, and many Hall of Famers like Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Kobe Bryant have all left a legacy in the story of Los Angeles vs. Boston.


If the teams meet each other in the Finals once again, the main storyline will be LeBron James and his quest for that elusive fourth championship ring. James has drawn plenty of criticism during his career, but his 3-6 Finals record might be the most harped on. If he can lead the Lakers to a ring at age 35, doubts about his ability to win when it matters most will be disproven. On the other side, the Celtics are a young team scrapping their way through the playoffs. They fought the Raptors to a Game 7 in their second round matchup and simply had more energy near the end. It should be interesting to see how head coach Brad Stevens plans on stopping Los Angeles big men Javale McGee and Dwight Howard, as his centers Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter are no taller than 6’10”. One can expect this heavyweight matchup to go down to the wire.


Prediction: Lakers defeat Celtics in Game 7


Lakers vs. Heat


Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers blocks Bam Adebayo's shot in an NBA game.
Bam Adebayo (13) has his shot blocked by Anthony Davis (3). | Image via Getty/Sean M. Haffey

The Heat have been one of the pleasant surprises in this year’s playoffs, going 10-2 so far in the Orlando bubble. Bam Adebayo has been the heart and soul of the starting rotation, averaging 17.7 points, 11.2 rebounds, and setting his teammates up with almost 5 assists. Additionally, rookie Tyler Herro has done it all for Miami. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, he was one assist shy of a triple double. He and Adebayo are the infusion of youth that balance the team with veterans like Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragić. 


The Heat’s zone defense will look to slow down LeBron and Anthony Davis and prevent fastbreak opportunities. If they can force the Lakers to operate in the half court, they may be able to chip away at their typical affinity for keeping the ball moving. However, the Heat’s lack of depth has been concerning in the last few games. The starting lineup has tended to get off to slow starts in the first quarter, putting pressure on the bench unit to close that gap. LeBron could be resting, but Anthony Davis is still on the floor, terrorizing defenses with his post moves and silky midrange jumper. How will Miami’s bench unit respond to that? 


Prediction: Lakers defeat Heat in Game 6


Nuggets vs. Celtics


Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics guards Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets in an NBA game.
Marcus Smart (36) guards Jamal Murray (27). | Image via Getty/Aaron Ontiveroz

Say the Nuggets continue their miraculous playoff run and come from behind once more to defeat the juggernaut Lakers. Nikola Jokić has been fantastic for the Denver Nuggets in both his individual performance and his rapport with budding star Jamal Murray. Murray and Jokić in the pick-and-roll have been one of the most unstoppable duos in this year’s playoffs. If they can continue to use their excellent chemistry to their advantage, paired with supporting shooters like Michael Porter Jr., it is possible that Denver could take an early lead against Boston. 


One factor could stand in the way of that connection: Marcus Smart. A two-time All-Defensive First Team selection, Smart takes pride in shutting down the most elite point guards. Jamal Murray has already put up some shaky shooting nights, going 5-17 in Game 3 and 9-25 in Game 5 against Patrick Beverley and the Clippers. Boston must also contain Jokić at all times, as he has a sixth sense to find open teammates. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown continuing to perform on both sides of the ball will be another major key to the Celtics’ road to the championship.


Prediction: Celtics defeat Nuggets in Game 6


Nuggets vs. Heat


Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat contests the shot by Paul Millsap of the Denver Nuggets in an NBA game.
Bam Adebayo (13) contests Paul Millsap's (4) shot. | Image via Getty/Garrett Ellwood

This very well could be the most intriguing of the four potential championship matchups; an offensive powerhouse in the Nuggets and a smothering defensive unit in the Heat. In their two regular-season meetings, the Heat held Jokić to an average of just 14 points and 6 rebounds. 


Their success in stopping the 7’0” Serbian can be largely attributed to the 2-3 zone defense they’ve been using all year. This means that two men are at the top of the key, guarding the wing and ball-handler. The other three men are in charge of taking away corner threes and opportunities at the rim. This scheme works perfectly for Miami, as they can mask average defenders like Goran Dragić and Tyler Herro. The remaining three spots are filled with longer athletes like Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala, Bam Adebayo, Jae Crowder, and Derrick Jones Jr. A bout against Denver might be the Heat’s best path to their first championship since 2013.


Prediction: Heat defeat Nuggets in Game 5