Capsule previews of the Eastern Conference and Western Conference finals:
No. 1 MILWAUKEE BUCKS (60-22, 8-1) vs. No. 2 TORONTO RAPTORS (58-24, 8-4)
Season series: Milwaukee, 3-1
Schedule: Wednesday and Friday at Milwaukee; May 19 and 21 at Toronto; May 23 at Milwaukee; May 25 at Toronto; May 27 at Milwaukee.
TV: All games on ESPN, all starting at 8:30 p.m. EDT except a 7 p.m. start to Game 3 in Toronto.
Story line: The Bucks are seeking their first trip to the NBA finals since 1974, and the Raptors are looking to get there for the first time. Milwaukee has rolled through the playoffs, sans a Game 1 thumping by Boston in the second round. Toronto rallied from a 1-0 series deficit in the first round against Orlando and a 2-1 deficit in the second round against Philadelphia — then needed Kawhi Leonard’s highlight-reel, bounce-four-times-off-the-rim, jumper over Joel Embiid at the buzzer to win Game 7.
Key matchup: Leonard vs. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Leonard has arguably been the best player in the playoffs, and Antetokounmpo is a frontrunner for the regular season MVP award. Leonard has been on this stage before, many times, with a Finals MVP award on his resume. He’ll have to test Antetokounmpo, who has never been this deep into a post-season.
Numbers of note: Antetokounmpo and Leonard both missed one of the four games in the regular-season series; Antetokounmpo averaged 27 points when he played, Leonard averaged 22. Toronto has to get more from its starting guards — Danny Green averaged seven points against the Bucks in the regular season and Kyle Lowry was a staggering 1 for 20 from 3-point range, shooting 23% from the floor overall.
Prediction: Milwaukee is super talented, but Toronto rates the experience edge. Raptors in 7.
No. 1 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (57-25, 8-4) vs. No. 3 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (53-29, 8-4)
Season series: Tied, 2-2
Schedule: Tuesday and Thursday at Golden State; May 18 and 20 at Portland; May 22 at Golden State; May 24 at Portland; May 26 at Golden State.
TV: All games on TNT, all starting at 9 p.m. EDT.
Story line: Just when the Warriors seemed vulnerable, they go into Houston, without Kevin Durant, and get a series-clinching win that proved once again how they’re built for this time of year. Golden State is bidding for a fifth consecutive trip to the NBA finals, and Portland is in the West finals for the first time in 19 years. Getting Durant (calf strain) and DeMarcus Cousins (quadriceps) back at some point in this series would only make the Warriors tougher. The Blazers won a road Game 7 in Denver to get here, and will have two things going for them — tons of confidence, and no burden of outside expectations.
Key matchup: Golden State’s Klay Thompson vs. Portland’s CJ McCollum. Both guards are coming off massive efforts in their respective second-round series clinchers. They’re not second options; both are basically 1A or 1B for their teams. They’ve earned that. McCollum was exceptional in the Game 7 win at Denver; the 37 points was second-most in NBA history by a road player in a victorious Game 7.
Numbers of note: The teams haven’t meant since prior to the All-Star break, so there’s no super-recent base for comparison. Jusuf Nurkic, out for the rest of the year with a broken leg, hurt the Warriors and averaged 20.3 points against them. Lillard was sensational against Golden State in the four regular-season meetings, averaging 28.3 points. McCollum shot only 37 per cent, with the defensively brilliant Thompson responsible for some of that. If Durant can’t go early in the series, that’s another 20 shots for Thompson and Stephen Curry to share.
Prediction: Steph keeps bragging rights over brother Seth Curry, a Portland reserve. Warriors in 5.