The NBA conference finals might be finished faster than anyone expected.
Faster than ever, too.
There has never been a pair of 4-0 sweeps in the third round of the NBA playoffs, but the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat are in position to change that. The Nuggets lead the Los Angeles Lakers 3-0 in the Western Conference finals; the Heat lead the Boston Celtics 3-0 in the Eastern Conference finals.
Denver can wrap up its series on Monday night in Los Angeles. Miami will aim to finish off a sweep on Tuesday, at home.
Since the NBA started calling this round the “conference finals” in 1971, the fewest games needed to decide the champions of the East and West was nine.
That happened on four occasions — 1974 (Boston beat New York 4-1 in the East, Milwaukee beat Chicago 4-0 in the West), 1986 (Boston beat Milwaukee 4-0 in the East, Houston beat the Lakers 4-1 in the West), 2015 (Cleveland beat Atlanta 4-0 in the East, Golden State beat Houston 4-1 in the West) and 2017 (Cleveland beat Boston 4-1 in the East, Golden State beat San Antonio 4-0 in the West).
By the way, the maximum number of games — 14 — were needed for the conference finals in 1979 and 2018, when everything was decided in Game 7s. In 1979, Washington beat San Antonio and Seattle beat Phoenix. In 2018, Cleveland beat Boston and Golden State beat Houston.
Denver can secure a spot in the NBA Finals as early as Monday night, if the Nuggets beat the Lakers and finish off what would be a four-game sweep. Game 4 of the Celtics-Heat series is in Miami on Tuesday night.
If a Game 5 of Nuggets-Lakers is necessary, it would be Wednesday in Denver. And if Game 5 of Celtics-Heat is necessary, it would be Thursday in Boston.
HOW TO WATCH
— The Western Conference finals are on ESPN.
— The Eastern Conference finals are on TNT.
— All games are scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.
— Team broadcasters will no longer air games. Everything after the first round is exclusive to national windows and not available for local telecasts.
— The NBA Finals on ABC begin June 1. That will not change even if the conference finals end earlier than many might have anticipated.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
— Miami’s 26-point win over Boston in Game 3 on Sunday night was the biggest win by a No. 8 seed in NBA playoff history. The previous record was a 25-point win by Golden State over Dallas in 2007.
— The Heat are one win from tying the record for wins by a No. 8 seed in a single postseason. New York had 12 wins as a No. 8 seed in 1999.
— Denver’s win in Game 3 of the West finals was the Nuggets’ 11th victory of this season’s NBA playoffs. That’s a club record; the Nuggets won 10 playoff games in 2009.
— This is the fourth time LeBron James has faced a 3-0 series deficit. All three of the previous such situations were in the NBA Finals, and came when he was with Cleveland — 2007 against San Antonio, 2017 against Golden State and 2018 against the Warriors. The 2007 and 2018 series became sweeps; Cleveland extended the 2017 one to five games.
“You need 16 wins to win a championship, and we’ve got five more to go. The Lakers are in our way, and they’re going to do everything in their power to come back and fight. They’re not going to just lay down and let us beat them on their home floor.” — Denver’s Jamal Murray, on the Nuggets’ mindset going into Game 4 of the West finals.