EE-SPN Ep. 2: NBA Conference Finals 2023

Analyzing the conference finals of the 2023 NBA Playoffs

Arjun Dhruv and Manas Kottakota

MK: Alright, let’s kick off today’s podcast by talking about the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

AD: So for this series, I have the Lakers winning in six games. I feel like they’ll replicate what they did in the last series by winning in six games, as they beat the defending champions and proved that they’re able to win in clutch situations.

MK: I completely disagree with you. Although talking about the Lakers, beating the defending champions is a fairly good argument, the Warriors are definitely not on the level that they were last year. So I definitely don’t think [the Lakers] will be able to repeat what they did in the previous series. So I think the Nuggets will win in four or five games really easily because I don’t think the Lakers will be able to hold up with the dominance the Nuggets have displayed so far in the playoffs.

AD: I feel like one issue that the Nuggets are gonna have is, yes they’re a very good team, but they won’t be able to be as overpowered as you say because of their defense. They’ve had the number nine defense in the playoffs this year and I feel like that’s going to be something that’s not going to be as easy to make up for against a team like the Lakers. 

MK: Even though they have the number nine defense, you can’t really just look at that specifically because when you factor in the offense as well, they still have the number one net rating. So even though their defense may be lacking, they still overall have the best record of the playoffs. 

AD: I think Anthony Davis is going to be important. At the beginning of the playoffs, he was very inconsistent. However, recently he’s been stepping up. At the beginning of the playoffs, he had 12 points, then 31, then 16, then 30, then back down to 11, and finally 25. And in his recent games, he’s been dropping over 20 points or near 20 points. So I think that if he is able to maintain what he did at the end of the Warrior series, the Lakers will be in pretty good shape for this series.

MK: AD is definitely going to be a big factor on the Lakers because they’ve got a really consistent bench and LeBron James usually doesn’t fluctuate with how he plays. So AD is definitely going to be the biggest factor for the Lakers. But I think Jokic will be able to outclass him on a regular basis or in the average game, especially because AD doesn’t show up every other game it seems in the playoffs. So Jokic is definitely going to be able to exploit Anthony Davis on his off days which is every other day.

AD: Another reason I think that the Lakers will have a good series against the Nuggets is because of their defense. They are averaging the most blocks per game this season tied with the ––

MK: I don’t think blocks tell the whole story because blocks are just a part of the defense. And that just depends basically on a specific player. So you can’t just use blocks to categorize the entire defensive ability of a team. So if you wanna talk about defense, let’s just talk about the team as a whole instead of just blocks. 

AD: Moving on to the Eastern Conference, we have the Miami Heat versus the Boston Celtics. So what are your thoughts, Manas?

MK: So for this series, I’ve got to choose the Heat in seven, because they have plenty of players that can step up to the occasion and provide for the team when they need them the most, like Jimmy Butler especially. Even when the team doesn’t seem like they’re going to win, he always steps up and puts his best effort forth to make sure that his team can come out on top.

AD: I’m gonna have to disagree with you again on this one. I heard you say that you see a lot of players that can step up to the occasion. So far in these 2023 playoffs, I’ve only seen Jimmy Butler. I haven’t seen any other players who have been that secondary option to him. So that’s why I think the Celtics are going to take it.

MK: Because we’re talking about the second option, even though the Heat lost Tyler Herro to an injury early in the playoffs, Bam [Adebayo] has slowly become better as a scorer and become more reliable as a second option on the offensive end and he hasn’t declined at all on defense. So he is just becoming better and better throughout these playoffs as a second option and he is being more consistent on defense as well.

AD: Regarding the Nuggets-Lakers series, you talked about how their teams ranked offensively and defensively and their net rating, and in every category, the Celtics are ranked higher than the Heat. They are the number two offense and number five defense and they have the number two net rating in the playoffs compared to the Heat, who have the number five offense, number six defense, and number three net rating in the playoffs.

MK: Although the Celtics may have been better in every category for the playoffs, first of all, the sample size is really low. There have only been a few games in the playoffs, [so] I don’t think you can use that to generalize the team’s success entirely, although it does play a big role. But also since each team has respectively only played two teams, their stats for offensive and defensive ratings are definitely going to depend on the teams they play because they’re based on average points scored or allowed, and that really depends on the amount of possessions you have against specific teams like-

AD: I agree that the sample size is low, but if you look at the past couple of years, the Heat has met the Celtics twice in the last three years. And [the Celtics] won both series. Yes, the teams change over the years, but they haven’t changed as much and I feel like that just proves that the Celtics are able to dominate a team like the Heat.

MK: Well, I don’t think you could use dominate because especially in the last series, it was a seven-game series. It came out to the result in the fourth quarter, Jimy Butler had a chance to win the series with that three-pointer and make it to the finals potentially. So I don’t think you can say dominate at all. They’re definitely two very close teams regarding their skill. So yeah, I definitely would have to continue choosing the Heat. And also in the playoffs, I think a really important thing that you need in [a] team is to be able to come out on top in the fourth quarter and I don’t think the Celtics have shown their ability at all to come out in the fourth quarter while the Heat are the number two clutch team in the playoffs according to a fourth-quarter stats in close games.

AD: I disagree completely with that because I’ve seen in the later ends of some of the games in the previous series, the Celtics have shown how good their defensive ability is, and just in general how they can overpower teams just by their defense.

MK: Alright, well that’s all we have time for today. So we’re gonna wrap it up and see you guys next time on the third episode of EE-SPN where we will be talking about the NBA Finals!