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NBA Playoffs Conference Semifinals top performers: Jokic has Suns on the ropes

Nikola Jokic helping the Nuggets go up 2-0 on the Suns, Anthony Davis' 30/20 game, and more - we recapped the best individual performances from the opening games of the conference semifinals.

The Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers are off to strong starts in their series, while some interesting developments in the East have the Boston Celtics tied with the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks also deadlocked at 1-1 with the Miami Heat

The Milwaukee Bucks were favored to win the NBA championship when the playoffs began, but the title was already up for grabs among a whole host of legitimate contenders, and now things are even more wide open following Milwaukee’s first-round exit at the hands of the Miami.

As of right now, the Nuggets are looking especially capable of capitalizing on this opportunity, as they are playing like the top seeds with a 2-0 lead over the Phoenix Suns.

Let’s look at how things stand as Game 3s and one more Game 2 in the conference semis loom on the horizon.

No MVP, but Jokic keeps on winning 

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic may not have won a third consecutive NBA MVP Award (that went to Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid earlier this week), but Jokic won’t mind. 

He has bigger and better things to worry about, like a first-ever NBA title. 

Denver has taken one step toward that goal after sweeping the Minnesota Timberwolves, and it is halfway to taking an even bigger step with a 2-0 advantage over Phoenix. 

The Nuggets took care of business at home in the first two games, winning 125-107 and 97-87. 

Jokic totaled 24 points, 19 rebounds and five assists in the series opener. 

He was even better in Game 2, delivering 39 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block. 

If Jokic keeps getting this kind of help from Jamal Murray (34 points in Game 1) and Aaron Gordon (19.5 PPG so far in this series), the Suns’ path to a comeback could be difficult – especially with Chris Paul (groin) likely sidelined for at least the next two games.

Lakers take Game 1 at Golden State 

The Golden State Warriors had a lot of momentum after winning Game 7 on the road against the Sacramento Kings, but Stephen Curry and company could not sustain it in the conference semifinal opener against the visiting Los Angeles Lakers. 

Perhaps most encouraging for the Lakers is how they won. Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole all drained six three-pointers, LeBron James scored just 22 points on 9-for-24 shooting and L.A. still won. 

Anthony Davis did basically whatever he wanted to do on the floor, finishing with 30 points, 23 rebounds, five assists and four blocks as the Lakers prevailed 117-112.

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Knicks bounce back to tie Heat 1-1 

A matchup between the Knicks and Heat is a classic rivalry series. It would only be appropriate if it went a full seven games. 

If that’s what basketball fans want to see, early returns are encouraging. 

The series is tied 1-1 after Miami got the job done 108-101 in the opener only to see New York hit back for a 111-105 victory in Game 2. 

Jimmy Butler has been the story of the series – and really of the entire playoffs – so far. 

Butler averaged an amazing 37.6 points per game against Milwaukee in the first round and in Game 1 at Madison Square Garden he delivered 25 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals. 

However, the 33-year-old suffered an ankle injury late in that contest and missed Game 2. 

As of Thursday afternoon, his status for Game 3 in Miami is uncertain. 

Celtics respond to first punch thrown by Harden, 76ers 

The other Eastern Conference semifinal series is all even, as well. 

Unlike the case with Miami and New York, however, one of the first two games involving Boston and Philadelphia was not competitive. 

Facing a borderline must-win situation having lost the opener at home, the Celtics destroyed the 76ers 121-87 behind 25 points from Jaylen Brown and 23 courtesy of Malcolm Brogdon. 

It’s safe to say that this series has been bizarre. 

The Sixers won Game 1 by four points even without Embiid (James Harden scored 45). 

With Embiid on Wednesday, they lost by 34 – and they lost by 34 even though Celtics star Jayson Tatum made a grand total of one shot from the floor. 

There is only one day off between Game 2 and Game 3, so both Embiid and Tatum will try to regroup and pick up the pace for their respective teams on Friday night in Philly. 

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