THE NBA Western Conference semifinal stage is finally set.
Top seed Los Angeles Lakers and their superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis will now take on No. 4 seed Houston Rockets and James Harden and Russell Westbrook in the best-of-seven semifinal encounter.
In the other semifinal, No. 2 seed Los Angeles Clippers and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will battle the No. 3 Denver Nuggets and Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.
Are the Lakers and the Clippers on collision course for the West finals for the first time ever?
Or, can the Rockets and Nuggets sustain the momentum of their thrilling Game 7 victories over the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz in the first round, respectively.
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 4. Houston Rockets
Led by the superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers are the heavy favorites. They are fully-rested after eliminating the Portland Trail Blazers in five games in their first round showdown at the spectator-free quarantine bubble at the Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
The Rockets of scoring leaders James Harden and Russell Westbrook are coming off a dramatic Game 7 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in their first-round series.
The performances of the four superstars should define the result of this semifinal series and how long it will go.
James can be unstoppable as tomorrow against the Rockets.
Against the Blazers, James averaged a triple-double of 27.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 10.2 assists while shooting 60.0 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from beyond the arc in entertaining five games.
James and Davis will have to play consistently and deliver MVP-like numbers every game as the Lakers depend largely on them.
Kuzma, Dwight Howard, Javalee McGee, Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope provide a great supporting cast.
The Rockets will also rely heavily on Harden (34.1 points, 8.9 assists, and 8.3 rebounds) and Westbrook (14.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.0 assists) to get a big game.
Robert Covington, Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker and Jeff Green hope to shoot the lights out in the bubble.
It will be the Lakers’ height and length against the Rockets’ three-point shooting.
As per NBA, this will be the ninth meeting in the post-season between the two storied franchises with the Lakers winning five of the previous eight.
In the pandemic-disrupted 2020 season, the Rockets hold a 2-1 edge over the Lakers.
The Rockets surprised the Lakers, 121-111, one day after adopting a small-ball policy that saw them part ways with center Clint Capela in exchange for Covington last Feb. 6.
The two teams split the other two meetings with the Lakers beating the Rockets, 124-115, behind 31 points and 12 assists from James and 23 points from Kyle Kuzma at Denver last Jan. 18; and the Rockets toppling the Lakers, 113-97, with Harden finishing with 39/12/8 in a seeding game at Orlando.
Prediction: Lakers in 6.
2. Los Angeles Clippers vs. 3. Denver Nuggets
Both Leonard and Murray are doing it all in these playoffs and the Clippers and the Nuggets will surely look for these two guys when push comes to shove in this semifinal matchup.
Leonard was clearly the star of the show in the Clippers’ first-round playoff win over the undermanned Dallas Mavericks.
Leonard averaged 32.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.3 steals in six games against the Mavs and Serbian sharpshooter Luka Doncic.
NBA experts even called Leonard a “one-man wrecking crew against the seventh-seeded Mavs.
Can the Nuggets find an answer to Leonard?
Surely, Denver has its own superstar in Murray, who averaged 34 points per game in the first six games against the Jazz.
Last Tuesday, he finished with 17 points in the Nuggets’ series-clinching 80-78 victory in Game 7 over the Jazz.
The other key players to watch are George, Ivaca Zubac, Marcus Morris Patrick Beverly of LA and Gary Harris, Jerami Grant, and Torrey Craig for Denver.
The Nuggets defeated the Clippers , 114-104, in their first meeting behind Jokic’s double-double of 30 points and 15 rebounds in Denver last January.
The Clippers evened the score with an 132-103 win at Staples Center with George scoring a game-high 24 points.
The third and final meeting of the season came in the seeding games, with the Clippers winning 124-111 behind big games of George (27 points), Leonard (26 points) and Lou Williams (23 points).
Prediction: Clippers in 6.
NOTES — Happy birthday to PBA legend and my kumpare Pido Jarencio, who celebrated lasr Sept. 5.
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