NBA Playoff Power Rankings: Lakers return to juggernaut form

Follow The Money's Mitch Moss and Pauly Howard react to the L.A. Clippers blowing another lead against the Nuggets to force a Game 7, win or go home scenario to face Lakers in the West finals.

The second round of the NBA playoffs have nearly reached their conclusion with the Nuggets and Clippers set to conclude their series with a Game 7 on Tuesday.

An entertaining Round 2 thanks to how tight the Raptors and Celtics’ series was and the incredible resilience of Denver, the Conference Finals that will get going later this week promise to be competitive ones, at the very least.

Before those series get going, however, here’s a look at the teams that are still in contention in this week’s edition of the Sportsnet NBA Playoff Power Rankings.

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1. Los Angeles Lakers

After some skepticism on our part in this space, there’s no longer any denying that the Lakers look every bit the juggernaut they looked to be during the regular season.

Boasting the best overall net rating in the post-season as a whole with a plus-nine points per 100 possessions difference the Lakers have continued to play excellent defence, are getting more than enough from their superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis and, most importantly, are drilling their three-pointers again with the team shooting 37.7 per cent from three-point range in their second-round series with the Rockets, highlighted by a 42.3 per cent and 50 per cent marks from role players Danny Green and Markieff Morris, respectively.

2. Miami Heat

The Heat finished off the Bucks and, strangely, looked to have the most difficulty with them without their presumptive two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So far this post-season, the Heat’s combination of balanced scoring and hard-nosed defence has proven to be a recipe for great success, but the in Celtics, they will see a team with very similar offensive balance and an equal amount of grit, making for what should be a very fun Eastern Conference Final.

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3. Boston Celtics

After failing to close out the Raptors in that instant-classic double-overtime Game 6, Boston finally managed to finish the job in Game 7 and can now certainly say they have been battle-tested heading into their conference final matchup with Miami.

As mentioned before, this Celtics-Heat matchup has all the makings to be a good one because, like Celtics-Raptors, both teams play a similar style predicated on defence first.

It’ll be interesting to see how the seven-game grind-fest with Toronto may impact Boston against a very well-rested Miami team, but given the step Jayson Tatum took against the Raptors, there’s a good chance that the Celtics will have the best player in the series now.

4. Denver Nuggets

Down 3-1 and exactly where the Nuggets want their opponents to be.

That appears to be the case for Denver as, just like in the first round against Utah, it’s managed to dig its way out of going down 3-1 in the second round versus the Clippers and is now looking to finish the job off on Tuesday.

The Nuggets have a special kind of resilience led by Canadian Jamal Murray’s indomitable spirit. And, with no one on the Clippers capable of checking Nikola Jokic why can’t they break up the all-L.A. conference final?

5. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers’ defence was outstanding over the first four games of their second-round series against the Nuggets, only giving up 103.4 points per 100 possessions, but in the last two games that saw Denver storm back, the Clips are surrendering a dreadful 116.2 points per 100 possessions and appear to be incapable of guarding even a chair at this point.

So while anything can happen in a winner-take-all Game 7, the Clippers aren’t trending in the right direction heading into Tuesday’s affair.

Eliminated: Houston Rockets/Milwaukee Bucks/Toronto Raptors

The Rockets’ grand “micro-ball” experiment got squashed by the Lakers and they now face an off-season with very little and with about $264 million owed to two players in James Harden and Russell Westbrook over the next three seasons there isn’t a lot of flexibility to had to improve the roster, and with Mike D’Antoni out it’s fair to wonder if this “micro-ball” style may even still work under a new coach.

For the Bucks, their No. 1 concern for them will be convincing Antetokounmpo to sign an extension so he doesn’t hit the open market in 2021 where he’s sure to garner interest from just about every team in the league with cap space. There are many other areas Milwaukee will need to address, but none more important than ensuring their superstar is with them for the long-haul here.

And as for the Raptors, this promises to be an interesting off-season, to say the least. Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are all unrestricted free agents, plus OG Anunoby is up for an extension as well, a key future decision that will need to be made as well.

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