The 2022-23 National Basketball Association (NBA) regular season has been historic in many ways, featuring one of the tightest MVP races in recent years, six(!) players scoring over 30 points per game (PPG), an intense down-to-the-wire standings race, and a historic trade deadline. After a stellar regular season filled with storylines and suspense, the NBA world now shifts its focus to the upcoming playoffs.
Denver Nuggets vs Minnesota Timberwolves (Denver wins 4-2)
The Timberwolves have not had the ideal season, with their Rudy Gobert trade seeming like one of the worst in league history. Still, Minnesota could give the first seed a run for their money, provided that Gobert pulls through defensively against the reigning MVP Nikola Jokić, and the T-wolves shooters get into a rhythm. At the end of the day, however, Denver is just too balanced and deep to bet against, and Minnesota should take this loss and move on.
Memphis Grizzlies vs Los Angeles Lakers (Memphis wins 4-2)
The Lakers have looked like a completely different team since the trade deadline, but the Grizzlies have an experienced, albeit young roster that should be able to compete with the best of the best. Memphis will play without Steven Adams, taking away an elite screen setter and post defender, but their established dominance on both ends of the court should overwhelm the new-look Lakers, who are still looking for a team identity.
Sacramento Kings vs Golden State Warriors (Golden State wins 4-3)
The Sacramento “Beam Team” Kings have been electric this season, ending their 16-year playoff drought through a dominant offense, leading the league in points per game. However, despite the Warriors’ underwhelming and chaotic season, they are still the defending champs and have much more playoff experience than the Kings. The Warriors are a demoralizing team to play against once they get into their rhythm from outside their arc, and as long as the Warrior’s inconsistent post-defense holds up, Golden State will prevail against the young Kings.
Phoenix Suns vs Los Angeles Clippers (Phoenix wins 4-1)
Don’t let their relatively low seeding fool you, the Suns are title favorites. They won 64 games last year, and that was before they added Kevin Durant. The Suns are well-rested and don’t have to deal with the pressure of being the first seed square. They are undeniably one of the most talented offensive teams of all time, and provided Deandre Ayton plays the same way he did in the Sun’s 2021 playoff run, their defense should be elite as well. If the Clippers want any chance to win without Paul George, their shooting will be the key to their success. Their season will live and die behind the arc.
Milwaukee Bucks vs Miami Heat (Milwaukee wins 4-1)
The Bucks were without Khris Middleton last playoffs, but now he’s back and ready to bring another championship to Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been on top of the league for a while, and it’s not hard to see why given his otherworldly athleticism. Bam Adebayo guarding Giannis will be an interesting matchup, and I definitely trust playoff Jimmy Butler to get Miami at least one win, but against a much stronger Bucks team, it's hard to see them taking anything more than that.
Boston Celtics vs Atlanta Hawks (Boston wins 4-0)
The Celtics are top five in both offense and defense, and with an NBA Finals run already under their belt, they have all the tools necessary to beat Atlanta on both ends of the floor. The Hawks have been historically average this season, and while they are better than their record would suggest, I don’t see them taking even a game from the reigning conference champs.
Philadelphia 76ers vs Brooklyn Nets (Philadelphia wins 4-0)
The Nets are an interesting young team with a fun dynamic, but they’re only in this position thanks to their record before the trade deadline. Meanwhile, the Sixers have been on a tear. If Joel Embiid continues his dominance, we might be able to overlook the bench and scoring holes this team has at least for this round. The Sixers aren’t perfect, but they’re more than good enough to sweep the Nets clean out of the playoffs.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs New York Knicks (Cleveland wins 4-3)
This should be a fun, competitive series, in which an elite Knicks offense faces off against an elite Cleveland defense. The Knicks’ key to winning this series is out-rebounding Cleveland, and getting some hot shooting nights. On the flip side, Cleveland could also put the Knicks away with hot shooting and by suffocating New York’s paint scorers. This series is a coin toss, but the safer bet is Cleveland, led by an experienced playoff performer in Donovan Mitchell, who is surrounded by talented young players who will make the Cavs a force for years to come.