The Denver Nuggets had a nice run, but the clutch performance of Anthony Davis on the biggest stage of his career has put their season in peril yet again. In previous rounds the Nuggets fought back to advance and prove they were the present and future of the NBA, but running into LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers has them in danger of being labeled frauds just by losing to the better team.
Coming into the NBA bubble and then the playoffs, the Blazers were touted as the toughest possible opponent for the top-seeded Lakers. The Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt teamed with the return of Jusuf Nurkic presented the Lakers with a seemingly impossible task. Some experts went so far as to guarantee the Blazers would beat the Lakers before they had even made it into the postseason. After the Blazers won the first game of the series, Charles Barkley predicted a sweep.
The Lakers went on to win the next four games by a combined 60 points. The Blazers were immediately dismissed as pretenders. A weak 8-seed that barely made the playoffs and never stood a chance against the Lakers.
A similar narrative played out in the Western Conference Semifinals as the Lakers faced the small ball Houston Rockets. Houston featured two former MVPs and a unique lineup where everyone could shoot the three and switch everything on defense. James Harden in his prime has been an unstoppable force. Harden had led the league in scoring three consecutive seasons.
Houston also won Game 1 as bettors loaded up on the Rockets.
By the time the Lakers won the next four games by a combined 51 points, Houston's team was reduced to a failed experiment. Westbrook injured and a poor excuse for a modern NBA player anyway. Harden a choker who will never actually win in the postseason anyway.
Now it's the Nuggets' turn. They lost Game 2 at the buzzer and trail the series 0-2. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic were one of the best duos in the NBA after they completed two 3-1 comebacks. Unless they beat the Lakers in four of the next five games, those accomplishments will be diminished. The Jazz pretenders and the Clippers overrated. How can a team be for real when Michael Porter Jr. is their third-best player? He only averaged 16 minutes a game in eight games this season.
The same fate awaits the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics. If the Lakers end up winning a title against either of those teams, who cares? If you want a real title you have to beat the best team in the Western Conference. This will just be another case of LeBron picking on a weaker Eastern Conference.