The Western Conference semifinal has already begun, and it’s on fire! Who advances to the final? Will we have a Los Angeles derby, or can Denver and Houston cross their path?
LOS ANGELES LAKERS VS HOUSTON ROCKETS
The Los Angeles Lakers finished the regular phase of the Western Conference on top of the league table, and soon faced a complicated team. The Portland Trail Blazers arrived “on fire”, full of confidence, performing incredibly, and led by Damian Lillard.
Then we got to a point that I think it’s important to refer. The first match against Portland was very much the same as it was against Houston. The Lakers lost, in a very slow game, with low intensity, and struggling a lot in defense.
In the second match the scenario also repeated itself. A more intense game without the ball, the ability to contest shots from the perimeter, fast transitions, and mainly, a strong game inside the key.
Just like they have lost to the Blazers, they also lost to the Rockets, winning against both in the second game, with their game model imposing itself, with a dominant Anthony Davis in the key, and a LeBron James distributing the game but also very strong in the infiltration movements, besides more participative players, mainly in defense.
LeBron James (no doubt), but a lot of protagonist for Anthony Davis too. Facing a more flexible team, and a not so strong one inside the key (as it was against Portland), the number 3 jersey will be fundamental.
The Houston Rockets, on the other hand, went through a difficult series, decided only in game 7, against Oklahoma. After opening the series with 2-0, they allowed the draw, and everything was decided in the last game with only a 2 point difference.
Their strong points remain very clear. They had a way more technical team than the opponent, and an intense game, but without the ball they struggle a lot in extended series. The Rockets are defending much better than in the regular season, but they depend a lot on the outside shooting, and when it doesn’t fall, they struggle.
In front of the Lakers it was very clear. A lot of shots from the perimeter, defended very intensely in game 1 and lost intensity in game 2, however the 3 point shooting kept them in the game.
In the first 2 quarters of the second match, the Rockets even struggled with a disadvantage of 25 points, supressed in the third period, precisely due to a more intense defense and to an outside shooting falling succesfully.
In an extended series, this tends not to work out.
James Harden. “The Beard” is able to perform very well in the perimeter, where Houston’s game resides. Besides, he has shown to be a good passer when he is double teamed, managing to release the other players.
Who goes through to the final?
Lakers! In a long series, a better assembled defense and a strong key game, should make the difference, just like in the previous phase.
The Rockets depend a lot on their long shooting, and in game 2, most of the times the Lakers knew how to contest this feature, putting up a more flexible defense. I predict a 4-1 to L.A.!
NBA forecast: Keep an eye on the Lakers win, and in the individual scores from key players like Davis and Harden.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS VS DENVER NUGGETS
The Clippers came to this season as one of the strong title contenders. They have assembled a group full of good options, a very strong collective game, and also added two stars to the roster: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
The second best campaign on the Western Conference seemed kind of ungrateful, because they had to face the Dallas Mavericks of Luka Doncic right on the first round of the playoffs.
The series were amazing with, high scores and reaching a 2-2 draw, when in the final stretch, Doncic lost Porzingis partnership, and Dallas lost defensive power aswel as a great scorer.
Clippers have a great all around game, very good players in the 3 point shooting, like Paul George, a good infiltration, strong medium distance shots with Kawhi, and still have a strong key game with Zubac, Harrell, and even Lou Williams coming from the bench, who would be a starter in almost every team in the league.
The Clippers are having one of the best offensive campaigns in the league, and they also defend very well. They know how to contest medium distance shots, and they’re also a very good rebounding team. The long shooting is their weakest point, and that’s what Denver will explore.
Obviously Kawhi Leonard. The number 2 jersey defends very well, helps in quick transitions, and he is the teams top scorer.
Denver arrives more tired for this series, after disputing a game 7 against the Utah Jazz. I was expecting a better game without the ball from the Nuggets, something that didn’t happened in front of the Jazz.
The Utah team achieved great scores throughout the series, obligating Denver to adapt to a faster game, instead of a more defensive match. Donovan Mitchell punished Denver’s defense with a mixture of aggressive infiltration and long shooting.
Nuggets responded with Jamal Murray in spectacular form. The number 27 led the team, playing very intense, hot in the 3 point shooting, and almost unstoppable with his infiltrations in the key.
In the first match, the Nuggets once again failed to stop a stronger offensive game from the Clippers, as it was in the previous series. In the second game, they had to use the long shooting in order to get into the game, through Nikola Jokic in particular. Jamal Murray was also fantastic, and the series are now tied.
In order to keep themselves alive in the series, and if they want to stand a chance to go through to the finals, they must keep an intense defense, a strong key game, and be sharp in the perimeter.
The partnership between Jokic and Murray remains hot.
They are two players of good characteristics. While Jokic knows very well how to play inside of a strong and well marked key, he also knows how to act well in the long shooting, as he showed in game 2. Murray should repeat the performances against Jazz, but now better marked.
Who advances to the final?
I bet all my chips on the Clippers. Denver is a great opponent, but if well marked, loses a lot of their firepower. Los Angeles have a better cast, have more options if they want to change their style of play, and more decisive players.
I like the scoring lines in this duel, individual scoring by players like Leonard, George and Murray.