A look at the upcoming Western Conference playoffs:
Phoenix vs. Denver
Series odds – Phoenix -225, Denver +180
Odds to win Western Conference: Phoenix +290, Denver +900
Odds to win NBA title: Phoenix +850, Denver +1800
If this is the end of the Lakers’ run with LeBron James, let the record show that execution was carried out by the long-suffering Phoenix Suns, who kicked butt (8-0) in the bubble last fall and picked right off where they left off. If the Suns were bummed out that all the second-best record in the West got them a first-round date with the James / Anthony Davis Lakers, they didn’t show it. Led by Devin Booker, Phoenix bended, folded and mutilated the aging James and the ailing Davis. Phoenix laughed at oddsmakers who made LA the favorite to win its second straight title, then went out and took apart the Lakers in six games. The Suns now flip the script and become the favorites in their West semifinal matchup with a weirdly inconsistent Nuggets team, which is led by consensus league MVP Nikola Jokic. Jokic is as comfortable beyond the 3-point line as he is on the block, and no team is the league has yet figured out exactly what to do about him. As if that wasn’t enough, Phoenix will also have to deal with emerging star Michael Porter Jr., who has stepped up big-time to fill the shoes of injured (and out for the season) guard Jamal Murray. Porter will have his hands full on the defensive end, as no guard tandem in the league is playing better right now than Booker and PG Chris Paul. The No. 2-seed Suns are favored in this series, but it would hardly be a major upset if the Nuggets – even without Murray – figure out a way to get it done.
Utah vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Series odds – Utah -123, Los Angeles +113
Odds to win Western Conference: Utah +125, Los Angeles +260
Odds to win NBA title: Utah +325, Los Angeles +650
NBA marketing types are breathing a little easier today after the Clippers were able to advance, and the league dodged a second bullet of having another LA team laid waste in the playoffs. Losing the defending champ Lakers was bad enough, but not having the Clips in even the second round would have been tough to swallow. No worries, though. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George made sure that the home team would win at least one time in the series, and took Game 7 against the Mavericks. Now, just two days later the Clippers must start all over again – against a rested best-in-the-West Utah team that hasn’t played since eliminating Memphis on June 2. The Jazz earned the top seed by winning 52 games (in a full 82-game season that would play out to 59), and would go down in history as the most anonymous NBA champion ever if they can pull it off. Donovan Mitchell is a legit star and Rudy Gobert has been protecting rims for nearly a decade, but after that? There’s a Bogdanovic, but no one really knows which one. And whatever is left of Mike Conley. Jordan Clarkson has been dynamite off the bench. Somehow coach Quinn Snyder makes it all work, and the Jazz will be favored in the series despite the fact that home teams in the Dallas/LA series went 1-6. The Clippers were able to hold off the Mavericks partly because the Mavs just didn’t have the horses to match LA’s production, especially off the bench. Luka Doncic was Luka Doncic (he averaged nearly 40 points in the four games in LA), but the Clippers were more than able to match that with Leonard and George, and LA had an edge in everything else.