The second round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs is in full swing and tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers look to take a 3-1 series lead over the defending champion Golden State Warriors while the Miami Heat aim to protect home court and put the New York Knicks in a 3-1 hole heading back to Madison Square Garden.
The last time a No. 7 seed reached either Conference Finals was in 1987, when the seventh-seeded Seattle SuperSonics got swept by the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Since the NBA instituted a 16-team Playoff format in 1984, no Conference Finals has seen two No. 7 seeds in it. Los Angeles and Miami have the chance to make history.
Here’s everything you need to know for both of tonight’s matchups, beginning with the Eastern Conference:
- Who: #5 New York Knicks (1-2) at #8 Miami Heat (2-1)
- When: 6:30 PM CT
- TV: TNT
- Radio: ESPN NY 98.7, WQAM 560, WRTO MIX 98.3 FM
- Line: Heat - 4.5 | Total: 208.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
- Immanuel Quickley (ankle)
- Jericho Sims (shoulder - out for season)
- Jimmy Butler (ankle)
- Caleb Martin (back)
- Udonis Haslem (illness)
- Haywood Highsmith (knee)
- Tyler Herro (hand)
- Victor Oladipo (knee - out for season)
What to Watch For
The Miami Heat are now 7-1 when Jimmy Butler is on the floor. They are 0-1 when he is sidelined. Butler is a winner and the heart and intensity with which he plays trickles down to his team and emanates from a championship-caliber culture from the top-down.
For Miami, limiting New York’s top scorers is imperative. Julius Randle missed game 1 but came back strong in Game 2 before going cold in Game 3. He is the Knicks No. 1 option and dating back to the regular season, when Randle failed to score 20 or more points, the Knicks went 10-11. Moreover, when he failed to shoot 40% or better from the field, the Knicks went 6-13.
As for New York, the Heat are already without their second-best scorer in Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry has been relegated to a bench role. Taking away Butler’s offensive potency would obviously help them greatly.
Further, giving Bam Adebayo free range outside of 15 feet to shoot — where he shoots only 18.2% dating back to the regular season — and playing deny once inside that range would hopefully disrupt his mid-range game. Easier said than done.
The Knicks thrive playing fast or slow and with their revamped bench, can get offense in either unit. Their bench will have to outplay the Heat’s to give them as good a shot at evening the series as they can possibly get.
As for the Western Conference matchup:
- Who: #6 Golden State Warriors (1-2) at #7 Los Angeles Lakers (2-1)
- When: 9:00 PM CT
- TV: TNT
- Radio: ESPN LA 710/KWKW (s), 95.7 The Game
- Line: Lakers - 2.5 | Total: 227.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
- Andre Iguodala (wrist)
- Patrick Baldwin Jr. (toe)
- Ryan Rollins (foot)
- LeBron James (foot)
- Anthony Davis (foot)
- Mo Bamba (ankle)
What to Watch For
LeBron James took a more reserved approach to start Game 3 and rode the hot hands of D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Davis before putting his stamp on the night.
For the Lakers, the key will always be limiting the Warriors’ outside opportunities. As the most lethal 3-point shooting team in NBA history, the Warriors can put a game out of reach and also close the widest of margins in a matter of minutes when they get hot from deep.
Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr has shuffled his lineup as always, opting to go with JaMychal Green as the starting center over Kevon Looney in their last two outings.
Looney has put up gargantuan rebounding numbers in these playoffs, consistent with his output and skill level throughout much of Golden State’s dynastic run as a key rotational piece. If Looney continues to relieve Green, Lakers Head Coach Darvin Ham will have the luxury of letting Anthony Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt — the latter being one of the most underrated offensive rebounders in the league — run rampant on the boards.
For the Warriors, it’s never a good idea when James’ teammates get the hot hand. We’ve seen Golden State pull out victories over James-led teams at the highest levels time and time again when James had put forth some of his most impressive stat lines.
Conversely, when James’ teammates are not in rhythm, it takes away from his self-professed natural inclination to pass first and get his troops involved.
It is no coincidence that in every game of the 2023 playoffs that the Lakers have won to date, James was not the leading scorer and had much help from Davis and company, whereas in every game that L.A. lost — save their 116-99 first-round loss in Game 5 to the Memphis Grizzlies which saw him go 5-17 from the field for 15 points — James shouldered the offensive load.