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NBA Daily: The Conference Finals Are Almost Here

It’s time to gear up for the final leap before the NBA Finals gets here, writes Spencer Davies.

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Do you ever wonder why the first round of the playoffs is the most exciting?

Teams are juiced. The players are running on adrenaline and the aura surrounding the game. Going home early is something that all 16 participants dread as they strive toward living another day in the race for an NBA Championship.

And then, once that’s over, comes the conference semi-finals—a place where the pressure increases that much more. Bodies start getting beat up. Mental toughness is tested. Those that haven’t been there, tend to display uncharacteristic traits. And those who have, show how much experience truly means.

That doesn’t mean that the games aren’t hard fought. They’re highly competitive. But there’s always a factor or two that separates the elite from the good.

Take one example: the New Orleans Pelicans pummeled the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 to get right back into their series after falling into a 2-0 hole, but the defending champs immediately responded with a metaphorical right hook in the form of Kevin Durant mid-rangers.

The Toronto Raptors are the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a ton of talent and great leadership, yet a change in style and a newfound confidence still haven’t mattered against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, as if they tremble in fear at the sight of wine and gold.

If Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid had just taken care of the basketball on Saturday afternoon, we could be looking at a 2-1 series between the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics. But that didn’t happen, and Marco Belinelli’s foot wasn’t an extra foot behind the arc — so Al Horford and Jayson Tatum took advantage in overtime to go up three games to none.

And of course, we can’t forget the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz, who had exchanged blows before heading back to Salt Lake City, a place where the team with the league’s best regular-season record simply overmatched a depleted group of believers into dejection.

After everything that has happened throughout the year, it’s all but certain that we’ll be seeing what most predicted would be the final four in the conference finals.

The Cavaliers, despite the roller coaster ride of a season, are right back into the championship conversation with The King being The King. Kevin Love is slowly but surely returning to form and Cleveland’s started to show more self-belief with each game on both ends.

Regardless of who’s been playing and what key pieces have fallen off with injuries, Brad Stevens has coached the Celtics into arguably the most dangerous team remaining in the postseason. Since his return in the opening round, Marcus Smart’s impact is driving Boston. Terry Rozier has stepped up to the challenge, as have Jaylen Brown and the rest of the bunch.

Behind James Harden and Chris Paul, along with Clint Capela’s stellar two-way play, the Rockets have started to find the groove that they had over their 82-game campaign. Getting Luc Mbah a Moute back into the mix made them all that more dangerous as a defensive ball club as well.

Stephen Curry still isn’t back in his true form yet, but the Warriors have made the world realize that they’re still the top dogs in all of this. Durant was previously mentioned, but Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala are playing out of their minds and have been the proverbial straw that stirs the drink in the playoffs.

So there you have it. The four series aren’t technically over yet, but the writing is on the wall. It’s time to gear up for the final leap before the NBA Finals gets here.

Buckle up. It’s going to be a fun ride.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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