NBA Conference Finals Predictions, Odds and Picks

By Max Bennett

May 15, 2023

Image Courtesy of Alamy


Denver Nuggets (1) v LA Lakers (7)

Result: Denver Nuggets swept LA Lakers in 4 games, 4-0 (first ever NBA Championship Finals for Denver)
Result: Miami Heat edged Boston Celtics in 7 games, winning 4-3 after being 3-0 ahead.

After ruthlessly despatching the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, the fairytale is still alive in La La Land.

After starting the season with an unbalanced roster that made no sense, going 2 and 8 in their first 10 games, and standing 13th out of 15 teams in the Conference as recently as February, the roster upgrades added to the elite play of Anthony Davis and LeBron James has seen the LA Lakers sneak into the playoffs through the play-in before beating the 2nd seeded Memphis Grizzlies and the defending champs Golden State.

Latest NBA Championship Odds - Updated May 30th

Denver Nuggets: 1.25
Miami Heat: 4.00

Odds correct at time of publishing, and courtesy of Playup

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What a great story. But we’re not here for great stories, we’re here to make money, and the Denver Nuggets are being criminally underrated by punters dazzled by the purple and gold glow of LeBron, Hollywood and the history and romance of the Lake Show.

The Lakers undoubtedly improved after changing up their roster and ending the Russell Westbrook experiment, but Denver have been the best team in the West all season. They may have taken their foot off the gas in the closing weeks of the regular season, but they’ve looked great so far in the postseason, ruthlessly despatching Minnesota and Phoenix behind their two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.

There’s no doubt that this series will be a battle of the big men, with Jokic going head to head with AD. Joker holds the strength advantage but Davis is quicker, and if they cancel each other out, the Lakers still have LeBron to rely on and, remarkably given where they came from, a deeper roster.

But how do you stop Jokic? He had three triple doubles in the 4-2 defeat of the Suns, surpassing Wilt Chamberlain to register the most postseason triple doubles by a center in NBA history. He’s so comfortable shooting and playmaking from the top of the key that AD will get dragged away from the basket, where he’s been a shot blocking machine.

Jokic’s power could well impact this series another way too, with AD being basketball’s equivalent of a glass jaw. He’s always picking up injuries, going to the locker room, complaining of an elbow here and an eye gouge there. When he went to the locker room after taking a blow to the head in game 5 of the Warriors series and was seen leaving in a wheelchair, you could see Shaq in the studio biting his tongue, just knowing Davis would be back for the next game but withholding his real feelings just in case.

Western Conference Finals Winner Odds - Updated May 22nd

Denver Nuggets: 1.38 in to 1.20 in to 1.04
LA Lakers: 3.15 out to 4.50 out to 11.00

Odds correct at time of publishing, and courtesy of Playup

While you can’t predict injuries and anyone can suffer them, the potential for AD to go down with some ailment or other just makes me want to side with the Nuggets all the more. In the last round we backed Denver and said don’t be surprised if one of the overplayed Phoenix stars suffers an injury. Chris Paul went down with a series-ending groin injury that was the beginning of the end there, and the same could happen again.

The season series doesn’t tell us much in this one. It was split 202, but all four games were done by the second week in January, long before the Lakers overhauled their roster.

Denver will be playing their fifth Conference Finals and have never advanced, losing three of the four times they’ve made it this far to the Lakers including the last time, in 2020.

That overall regular season record means they’ll have home advantage, and having gone 40 and 7 including the playoffs in the Mile High City, it’s an uphill task for LA knowing they have to win at least one road game.

LeBron is still LeBron, but he’s been slowing down of late. Whether that’s a permanent thing or he’s still getting 100% after his injury remains to be seen, but the Lakers need the 38 year old to be as good as ever if they’re to have a chance. D’Angelo Russell has the ability to get hot, but then so do Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr for Denver.

This will be a battle, and Denver need Murray and Porter Jr to be at their best at both ends of the floor while their ‘others’ like KCP and Bruce Brown need to step up, but I like the Nuggets here. They have a rest advantage and home advantage, and the fact that the public money will be siding with LeBron and the Lakers just sweetens the deal.

PREDICTION: Nuggets win 4-2
UPDATE (May 23rd): Nuggets win 4-0 ✅

Eastern Conference Finals

Boston Celtics (2) v Miami Heat (8)

Boston finally put the Philadelphia 76ers to bed on Sunday night to set up another Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, their third in four years.

The Philly series looked in the balance right up to half-time of game 7, when Jayson Tatum led an offensive explosion to blow out Philly. And while Boston have the most talent and home court advantage throughout the rest of these playoffs, that habit of blowing hot and cold that both Tatum and the Celtics in general seem to have developed will be a worry for Celtics fans.

Tatum looks the best player in the world at times - none more so than in putting 51 on the Sixers in Game 7 - but he’s also been ice cold at times, especially at the start of games.

When Boston click though, they look unbeatable. Lockdown defense and a three-point oriented offense that sees bombs raining in from everywhere is hard to beat.

Eastern Conference Finals Winner Odds - Updated May 22nd

Boston Celtics: 1.45 out to 4.20 out to 8.00
Miami Heat: 2.75 in to 1.45 in to 1.08

Odds correct at time of publishing, and courtesy of Playup

On paper, the last team you’d expect to trouble Boston is the 8 seed. But this is no normal 8 seed, with Miami taking their place in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year and third time in four years.

No team has lost less than Miami’s three defeats in the opening two rounds as they put an indifferent regular season behind them with some amazing performances from ‘playoff’ Jimmy Butler. Kyle Lowry has found some form in the postseason, and Bam Adebayo, who can go missing, has stood up when needed most.

The Miami Heat are just the second 8 seed to make it to the Conference Finals since the playoffs switched to 16 teams in the 1984 season, and the first since the Knicks in 1999.

It’s hard to see anything other than a fairly easy Celtics win in this series. They’re better offensively, better defensively, have better star players and more depth.

The only thing that can beat Boston is themselves and this should be a sweep unless the Celtics lose focus.

PREDICTION: Celtics win 4-0
UPDATE (May 30th): Heat wins 4-3 ❌

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