1 of 5 | Forward LeBron James (L) and the Los Angeles Lakers will face the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, May 16 (UPI) -- LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will face Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets on Tuesday in Denver, launching the conference finals slate in the 2023 NBA playoffs.
The top-seeded Nuggets and No. 7 Lakers will tip off Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at 8:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN. The No. 8 Miami Heat will battle the No. 2 Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday on TNT.
"I expect it to be electrifying," Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo told reporters Monday in Miami.
The best-of-seven-game series could continue through May 29. The winners will meet in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on June 1. The conference final matchups are rematches from the 2020 postseason, when the NBA held the playoffs in a 'bubble' campus in Orlando, Fla., amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's the best time of the year," Celtics forward Jayson Tatum told reporters Sunday in Boston. "We get to play them again. As a competitor, you just love the opportunity."
The Nuggets and Celtics are heavy favorites to advance to the NBA Finals. They lost to the Lakers and Heat, respectively, in 2020. The Celtics beat the Heat to advance to the NBA Finals last postseason, but lost to the Golden State Warriors in the title series.
"Nothing about last year matters," Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said. "I don't think Miami is thinking about last year. I think they are coming out ready to play basketball and, if anything, to atone from last year.
"We just gotta come out with a fresh mind and execute what's in front of us. I'm look forward to it. I think it will be a great challenge."
The Heat advanced to the conference finals seven times in the past 13 seasons. The Celtics will make their seventh trip in 14 years.
The Nuggets will make their third conference finals appearance in 15 years. The Lakers will make their fifth showing in 16 seasons.
All conference finals games will tip off at 8:30 p.m. The Lakers-Nuggets series will air on ABC and ESPN. All Heat-Celtics games will air on TNT.
Sizing them up
The Nuggets and Heat posted matching 8-3 records through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Nuggets made an NBA-best 50.4% of their shots during the regular season. They also logged the second-most assists during the regular season and are the top playoff team in offensive rating and rebounding percentage.
Star center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray are the Nuggets' top two players. Jokic, who averaged 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists in the regular season, is averaging 30.7 points, 12.8 rebounds and 9.7 assists this postseason.
Murray averaged 25.9 points per game, while making nearly 40% of his 3-point attempts this postseason.
James averaged 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game, helping the Lakers sneak into the postseason with a 43-39 record. The four-time champion is averaging 23.4 points per game this postseason.
Fellow Lakers star Anthony Davis is averaging 21.2 points per game in the playoffs. The Lakers also are getting contributions from D'Angelo Russell (15.7 points per game), Austin Reaves (15.4) and Rui Hachimura (11.2).
The Lakers and Nuggets produced split results (2-2) in four meetings this season. The Lakers beat the Nuggets in five games in their 2020 Western Conference finals meeting.
"We will go back and look at it," Davis told reporters Friday, when asked about the 2020 series. "The biggest key is making the ball find the guys we want it to find and just playing off of that."
In the other series, the Heat will look to continue a historic run. They are just the second No. 8 seed in NBA history to reach the conference finals, joining the 1998-99 New York Knicks. Those Knicks remain the only No. 8 seed in league history to reach the NBA Finals, where they lost to the San Antonio Spurs.
The Heat needed to win a play-in tournament game to clinch a spot in the playoff field. They then upset the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks and No. 5 Knicks to reach the Eastern Conference finals.
The Heat-Celtics series will feature two of the hottest players this postseason, with Jimmy Butler and Jayson Tatum facing off.
Butler's 31.1 points per game this postseason lead all active players. Tatum, who is coming off a Game 7 record 51 points, logged 28.2 points per game through the first two rounds.
Brown averaged 24.6 points per game through the Celtics' 13 playoff games. Marcus Smart (15.8), Malcolm Brogdon (14.8) and Derrick White (12.8) are among other offensive contributors for the Celtics.
The Celtics shot a league-best 39.5% from 3-point range so far this postseason. The Heat, who scored the fewest points per game in the NBA this season, have protected the ball and feasted on the mistakes of their opponents, scoring an NBA-best 20.4 points off turnovers per game in the playoffs.
The Heat continue to use depth to deploy different lineups to challenge their foes. Adebayo (18.1 points per game), Gabe Vincent (11.5), Max Strus (10.9), Caleb Martin (10.8) and Kyle Lowry (10.1) are among their top contributors.
Western Conference finals Game 1: Lakers at Nuggets at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN
Eastern Conference finals Game 1: Heat at Celtics at 8:30 p.m. on TNT
Western Conference finals Game 2: Lakers at Nuggets at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN
Eastern Conference finals Game 2: Heat at Celtics at 8:30 p.m. on TNT
Western Conference finals Game 3: Nuggets at Lakers at 8:30 p.m. on ABC
Eastern Conference finals Game 3: Celtics at Heat at 8:30 p.m. on TNT
Western Conference finals Game 4: Nuggets at Lakers at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN
Eastern Conference finals Game 4: Celtics at Heat at 8:30 p.m. on TNT
Western Conference finals Game 5 (If necessary): Lakers at Nuggets at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN
Eastern Conference finals Game 5 (If necessary): Heat at Celtics at 8:30 p.m. on TNT
Western Conference finals Game 6 (If necessary): Nuggets at Lakers at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN
Eastern Conference finals Game 6 (If necessary): Celtics at Heat at 8:30 p.m. on TNT
Western Conference finals Game 7 (If necessary): Lakers at Nuggets at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN
Eastern Conference finals Game 7 (If necessary): Heat at Celtics at 8:30 p.m. on TNT