The Larry O’Brien Championship trophy for the NBA Champions.
Now that the final regular season game of the year is done, it is time to look towards the playoffs and, ultimately, the championship. The Golden State Warriors, the defending champions, are coming off of a rough season in which they barely clinched the final playoff spot to avoid participating in the play-in tournament. Meanwhile, teams from the Eastern Conference are looking dominant, with the likes of the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics coming from years in which they won 58 and 57 games, respectively. LeBron and the Lakers will attempt to rekindle the magic of their 2020 NBA Finals win but will have to fight their way into the playoffs, starting in the play-in tournament. While many analysts and fans predicted an extreme season filled with high win and loss totals, due to teams tanking for Victor Wembanyama, this season turned out to be balanced. No team won over 60 games, and no team lost more than 60 games. With this in mind, let’s jump into my predictions for the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
Starting with the Western Conference, the number one seed is the Denver Nuggets. Despite having two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets still need to advance past the Western Conference Finals, only getting there once, where they were defeated in five games by the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. As for their current season, I do not see the Nuggets ready to contend for a championship. So far, we haven’t seen enough from Jokic or Jamal Murray to consider them title contenders. The Nuggets will defeat a play-in team in the first round but will lose in Round 2 to the Phoenix Suns
Next is the number two seed, the Memphis Grizzlies, where a budding rivalry between the Grizzlies’ Dillion Brooks and Warriors’ Klay Thompson and Draymond Green makes for spectacular battles, and I expect this to be the case in the coming playoffs. What remains to be seen is if they will make an actual rivalry out of it, and defeat the Warriors this year. They are loaded with talent, especially star point guard Ja Morant, however, recent news reveal that their starting center Stephen Adams will miss the playoffs. The Grizzlies will defeat a play-in team, then lose to the Warriors in the second round.
Following the Grizzlies are the number three seed, the Sacramento Kings. The Kings own the best offense in the league, backed by their fast point guard DeAaron Fox and All-Star power forward Domantas Sabonis. They averaged an impressive 120.7 points per game as a team in the regular season, but similar to the Warriors, they had a somewhat lackluster defense that gave up the third most points in the Western Conference. Despite this, the Kings have a strong, young roster built to contend now, and in the near future. However, I just can’t see them getting past the Warriors, who have playoff experience (four titles in eight years) and are coming off a strong past 10 games, of which they have won eight. If we also consider the fact that the Warriors are getting Andrew Wiggins back, it is a no brainer. The Kings will lose to the Warriors in six games during the first round.
The number four seed is the Phoenix Suns. The Suns have the most fearsome trio in the league currently, including Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Chris Paul. What they lack in depth, they make up for with star power. In addition to their top three, they have a solid center, DeAndre Ayton, and overall they are a team built to contend this year, as they have the top defense in the West and the sixth best defense overall. The Suns will defeat the Clippers and the Nuggets, but lose to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
The Los Angeles Clippers are seeded fifth. The Clippers are a great team, led by stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, with an improving Russell Westbrook and Ivica Zubac backing them up. So long as they can avoid any injuries, the Clippers are a formidable team in the playoffs. However, Paul George has been injured for a while and is expected to miss at least the beginning of the series against the Suns. The firepower of the Suns is too much for the Clippers to handle, and they will lose to them in the first round.
The defending champion Golden State Warriors are seeded sixth. The Warriors have been the NBA’s most successful team for the past eight years, winning four titles, and cementing themselves as one of the best dynasties ever. However, the Warriors struggled in the regular season, with stars Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins missing extended periods of time due to injuries and familial issues, respectively. The Splash Brothers can still make a massive impact on the game, nonetheless, indicated by Curry’s multiple games with over 50 points and Klay Thompson leading the league in threes this past year. Despite their lackluster defense and regular season, you can never count the Warriors out. They have returned from back-to-back poor seasons to win championships even when every analyst thought their championship window closed. The Warriors will shock the world and make a run to the Finals, but lose to the Celtics in 7, a rematch of last year.
For the play-in bracket for the Western Conference, I have the LA Lakers defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves to face the Grizzlies, and the Pelicans defeating both the Thunder and the Lakers to face the Nuggets. I have both teams losing in the first round of the actual playoffs.
On to the Eastern Conference, where the Milwaukee Bucks are seeded first, owning the NBA’s top 2022-2023 season record with a record of 58-24. The Bucks are coming from a dominant year in which their star PF and perennial MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged over 30 points and over 10 rebounds. It was also supposedly a down year for him, despite leading his team to the number one record. They also have Khris Middleton, who is coming off of an injury but still looking strong. Backed by agile point guard Jrue Holiday, the Bucks are serious contenders this year and in the future. The Bucks will win until they run into the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, who they will lose to in five games in the past.
The Boston Celtics are seeded second and were the runner-ups last year. Boston is led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who are both hungry to avenge their loss in last year's finals. Tatum is having a season for the ages and was, at one point, an MVP front-runner behind Nikola Jokic. The Celtics have both an incredible offense and an incredible defense, with many great options on their roster, such as Blake Griffin and Al Horford, as well as former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart. Boston is an incredible team, and they will be strong contenders for this championship. The Celtics will avenge their loss from last year and defeat the Warriors in the 2023 finals.
Next is the third seed, the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers are the third best team in the league and have my MVP favorite, Joel Embiid, as the heart and soul of their roster. Embiid averaged an otherworldly 33 points and 10 rebounds per game this past year. I see the 76ers as great contenders in the playoffs this year, but they are hindered by the lack of a secondary star to pair with Joel Embiid. The 76ers will lose to the Celtics in the second round.
The fourth seed is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland is a young team with budding stars Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, and Donovan Mitchell, who are all 26 and under. However, I think that the Cavaliers are built more for the future than for now, so I cannot foresee a significant title run this year. Their lack of playoff experience will almost certainly be a major factor in each series they play in. The Cavaliers will lose to the Knicks in the first round.
Occupying the fifth spot are the New York Knicks. The Knicks have their star, Julius Randle, and young talent, RJ Barrett and Jalen Brunson, to complement him. In addition, they have a great shot-blocker in Mitchell Robinson and have the fifth best offense in their conference. Overall, the Knicks are a decent team that could certainly make some noise, given the correct circumstances. The Knicks will defeat the Cavaliers in the first round but get defeated by the Bucks in the second round.
Last, but not least, is the sixth seed, the Brooklyn Nets. Having traded away all their big names at the deadline, including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Nets had to rely on their already good record to grant them a playoff berth. The Nets do not have any bona fide stars. Instead, they have great roleplayers, such as bucket-getters Cam Thomas and Mikal Bridges, in addition to center Nix Claxton, who was second in field goal percentage in the regular season. As a result, I can’t see the Nets impacting the playoffs this season. The Bucks will sweep away the Nets in the first round.
For the Eastern Conference play-in bracket, I have the Hawks and the Raptors earning themselves a spot in the actual playoffs.
Overall, I anticipate the 2023 playoffs will be extremely exciting and lead to a new champion, the Boston Celtics. They will become the league leaders in championships, edging out the Lakers by one ring, 18 titles to 17.