NBA PLAY-OFFS: The Jamal Murray (Denver) and Donovan Mitchell (Utah) show

Basketball

NBA PLAY-OFFS: The Jamal Murray (Denver) and Donovan Mitchell (Utah) show

JustBest favourites Los Angeles Clippers to win title at $3.45

BY MARK ARCHER
Contributor

Friday, September 04, 2020

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The National Basketball Association (NBA) initiated a sports lockdown last week Wednesday following another incident that riled the Black Lives Movement and threatened the conclusion of the season. This action set off a chain reaction unlike anything ever witnessed in American sports.

Within hours, several Women's NBA (WNBA), Major League Baseball (MLB) and Major League Soccer (MLS) teams, led by their players, decided to join in solidarity with the unprecedented demonstration.

Thankfully (for sports fans), the NBA players decided to end their brief strike and restart the play-offs last Saturday. The main reason, among many, is that playing games provides a far bigger platform to express their views and promote social justice causes.

The NBA play-offs have been unusual (to say the least) but, like most other things in 2020, the unexpected has become the norm.

The Eastern Conference, that saw the losers of all four series win only one of the 17 games played, may have been the only predictable outcomes in 2020.

The JustBet top favourites, Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, are tipped to meet in the finals of the hotly contested Western Conference that has provided the most intriguing match-ups. Oddly, these front-running Los Angeles teams, that both call the Staples Center home, have now won a play-off series in the same season for only the second time.

Along the way, Lakers' forward LeBron James, after leading his team to a 4-1 defeat of the Portland Trail Blazers, is now 14-0 in first-round play-off series —adding to his ever-growing list of accolades.

The Western Conference also provided the only two seven-game series of the first round: The Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets vs Utah Jazz.

The Rocket versus Thunder series provided more sub-plots than many long-running soap operas —Houston point guard James Harden was drafted by the Thunder in 2009 but was traded to the Rockets in 2012 while Oklahoma City point guard Chris Paul played for Houston but was traded in 2019 for point guard Russell Westbrook from Oklahoma City who drafted him in 2008 when they were the Seattle Supersonics.

There is little wonder why this series was such a see-saw battle.

However, the nail-biting Nuggets versus Jazz series was the stuff NBA-neutrals dream of. Third seed Denver won the first game, but sixth seed Utah responded by winning the next three. The plot was then created for the Nuggets to overcome three elimination games or leave the NBA bubble.

The series was transformed into the Jamal Murray (Denver) and Donovan Mitchell (Utah) show, where they became the first pair of players to have two 50-point games in the same play-off series. They traded extraordinary offensive fireworks for six games, before Game 7 turned into an old-fashioned defensive struggle, ending 80-78 in favour of Denver.

The Nuggets swept the regular season series, but each game was close, with Denver taking the three games by a combined 11 points. They were all high-scoring encounters and it was therefore expected that these two young and talented teams would provide high-octane action. And, after six of the highest-scoring individual performances in play-off history, they didn't disappoint.

Jamal Murray is the first player since Michael Jordan in the 1993 NBA Finals, with three straight 40-point games in a post-season series (Jordan had 4 straight). He only managed 17 points in Game 7 (which leave Jordan's record intact) but averaged 34 points in the series and shouldered the workload in the historic Denver victory.

The Nuggets became the 12th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series, but only after they blew a 19-point, third-quarter lead. Mitchell averaged 38.7 points in the series and was spectacular in the second half of Game 7 for Utah but wore down in the final minutes— Not even taking the final, decisive, heart-stopping shot.

Denver looked expended by the end of Game 7 and Jamal Murray appeared to limp to the finish. And their reward for surviving one of the most grueling first-round series of all time is a second-round series against the Clippers.

The last two times these teams met, the Nuggets were blown out by a combined 42 points. Denver has earned the right to celebrate this victory, but things are expected to get a whole lot tougher against Kawhi Leonard and the JustBet favourite Clippers.

NBA Winner
Team Odd
$$$
Los Angeles Clippers 3.45
Los Angeles Lakers 3.55
Milwaukee Bucks 4.60
Boston Celtics 6.40
Miami Heat 14.00
Houston Rockets 16.00
Toronto Raptors 21.00
Denver Nuggets 40.00
Oklahoma City Thunder 50.00

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