By Kevin Lopez and Pierson VanGorp
The NBA Playoffs are here ladies and gentlemen, and this year is possibly the most exciting playoffs we’ve seen in a while because there is truly no front runner for either conference to be in the Finals. There are questions for all the teams that have the potential to win and that’s what makes it fun this year.
Who will come up short this year and have to figure what the future holds and who will hold up the Larry O’Brien trophy and forever etch their names in NBA history? Here are our predictions for the 2023 NBA Playoffs
It’s really hard to just make a prediction this year because again, there truly isn’t a front runner and what I mean by that is that the teams you would consider contenders are mostly in the Eastern Conference. I think it’s hard to be a contender when you can lose in the second round, so let’s see where I have things going in the East.
Now to get the first round out of the way, I have the first seed Bucks beating whoever is in the eighth seed in a sweep, doesn’t matter if it’s Chicago or Miami, both teams are just not good enough and don’t have the pieces to even put up a fight against Giannis and the Bucks.
The next series is the Boston Celtics versus the Atlanta Hawks, again don’t really need to go into too much detail about this one. Sorry to all the Hawks fans that read the Collegiate, but your team is the definition of mid. Celtics in five.
Now the next series is kind of interesting, it’s the Philadelphia 76ers versus the Brooklyn Nets. Now it’s interesting because of the fact that James Harden, the second-best player on the 76ers, is currently injured and is playing through it, but clearly hasn’t been the same. The Nets have so much length and creativity to throw at Joel Embiid that it should be a fun series, despite that the Nets don’t have a chance to win, so I will say that this series will go five games, but it will be a hard fought one. 76ers in five.
It’s time for the one that will be the most watched series in the Eastern Conference for sure, the New York Knicks versus the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now in reality, it’s only interesting because it involves the Knicks and their delusional fans (yeah I said it) so that’s where it becomes fun and a playoff game in the garden will always be an event. Still, I think the Cavs are clear favorites and will win the series in the six, Donovan Mitchell, the star guard for Cleveland, is just going to be too much for the Knicks backcourt to compete against along with Darius Garland playing off of Mitchell and Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen causing chaos in the lane, the Knicks won’t have a chance. Cavaliers in six.
Now we’re onto the second round and let’s get the easy series out of the way first, the Milwaukee Bucks versus the Cavaliers. I think it will be a hard-fought series, but the Cavaliers run will end here as they just don’t have the experience and talent to keep up with Giannis. Bucks in six.
Then we have the Philadelphia 76ers versus the Boston Celtics, now a week ago I originally had the 76ers taking it all the way and beating the Celtics, but I don’t think I feel that way now. With Harden not feeling 100% and Embiid having a hard time staying healthy in the playoffs, I think it is the Celtics who will crush the 76ers and cause them to reevaluate their team over the summer. Celtics in five.
Now the conference finals, the final two teams in the East based on what I think will happen are the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks. Pretty popular choice between these two teams, but somebody’s got to come out of the East and both of these teams have all the talent and experience to be the one to do it. I think because of how well the Milwaukee Bucks have been playing as of late, that they will beat the Celtics in seven and go on to the NBA Finals and my reasoning is this: Khris Middleton should have tons of energy for the playoffs, and I think he will be the x-factor for the Bucks to take over games and to put them over the top. Bucks in seven going to the NBA Finals.
Moving to the Western Conference, it’s just all too close, like literally there’s a lot of underachieving, but can still win the title teams in the West.
Let’s start with the first round, we have the first seed Nuggets going up against either the young upstart Oklahoma City Thunder or the discombobulated Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Nuggets will beat either team handily, the Thunder because the team has no center, and they are young and the Timberwolves because they are banged up and struggling to stay cohesive. Nuggets in five.
Then we have the second seeded Memphis Grizzlies versus the seventh seeded Los Angeles Lakers. This is the toughest series because with all the trades the Lakers did at the trade deadline, they finally put it all together, while the Grizzlies kinda fell apart and then came back strong.
Still, for the Grizzlies with the loss of Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke, their best backup centers, I think the Lakers will come out on top due to their size and experience. Lakers in six.
Now we have the most entertaining matchup with the Sacramento Kings versus the Golden State Warriors. This is entertaining because we have the Kings, who have the best offense, return to the playoffs for the first time in 16 years and the Golden State Warriors, who are the reigning champions from last year, limping into the playoffs.
Can the upstart Kings beat the Warriors and advance to the second round for the first time since 2004? No.
With experience and know how, the Warriors will overpower the Kings and advance to the second round. Warriors in six.
Another fun four versus five matchups as the fourth seeded Phoenix Suns take on the fifth seeded Los Angeles Clippers. Both teams are interesting because they subplots within subplots on their team.
For the Clippers, can Kawhi Leonard stay healthy? Will Russell Westbrook cost them a game? When will Paul George return?
Then for the Suns, can Chris Paul contribute? Where does DeAndre Ayton fit into this? Kevin Durant went 8-0 when he played, does that matter?
I feel because the top end talent for the Suns puts them above the Clippers, they just have too many weapons, while the Clippers have too many questions. Suns in five.
The second round starts with the Suns versus the Nuggets, despite Denver holding the first seed they are underdogs in this series because Phoenix has Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.
How are they going to guard those guys? Can they guard them? I say no, even though I really want Denver to move on, I believe the Suns are just too talented to lose to the Nuggets. Suns in five.
Here is the series that will have everyone watching, the Golden State Warriors versus the Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron versus Curry, the first time these guys have played since the 2018 NBA finals.
The Lakers have the advantage in the front court, but the Warriors have the advantage in the backcourt. Who on the Lakers will guard Curry? That is going to be the reason the Warriors beat the Lakers; they just won’t be able to contain the Warriors shooting and their fastbreak scoring. Warriors in seven.
It’s the conference finals for the Warriors versus the Suns and it’s the first time that Kevin Durant will play against the Warriors since leaving in 2019.
This will be a back-and-forth series and it all comes down to who can get stops and gain momentum and I think the Suns have the ability to play both ends of the court and it all falls on Kevin Durant. I have the Suns winning in seven and moving onto the Finals facing the Milwaukee Bucks.
The NBA finals, where legends are made and stories are told and it’s a rematch of the 2021 NBA finals, and I think once again the Bucks are going to come out on top.
In the NBA finals, that’s when you can see who can play and who can’t, I just don’t think the Suns have the fifth guy and that has always been a factor in the finals. I think the Bucks have a complete team and options that will propel them over the Suns.
Bucks in six.
In the past few years, the NBA has seen its fair share of playoff shockers including the Warriors reclaiming the title in 2022, the Lakers defying the odds in the 2020 bubble, and Kawhi Leonard taking home the trophy in 2019. But I don’t think those seasons will compare to the postseason that is coming in a few days.
The two title teams for me are the Phoenix Suns and the Boston Celtics. The Suns have one of the best starting lineups in the league, led by forward Kevin Durant and guard Devin Booker. They also have a veteran point guard in Chris Paul along with former first overall pick Deandre Ayton at center. Lastly, the Suns are led by head coach Monty Williams who led the team to the finals in 2021.
The Suns face the Los Angeles Clippers in round one, which would be an extremely close series with both teams healthy, however, the Clippers have a few injuries including star forward Paul George. In a competitive five game series, the Suns will win due to Booker torching the Clippers defense while Ayton has a field day in the paint. Kawhi Leonard will give Phoenix fits at first, but he isn’t the same player that he was four years ago.
Focusing on the other parts of the Western Conference, first, I believe the Denver Nuggets will beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in a clean four-game sweep. Most Valuable Player award candidate Nikola Jokic will feast against a Minnesota team who lacks a true scorer and defender in the paint. The T-Wolves may keep one or two games close, but they will come out of the series winless.
The next series, between the No.3 seeded Sacramemento Kings versus the reigning champs, No.6 seeded Golden State Warriors may be the best first round matchup out of any series. The matchup that intrigues me the most is all-star center Domantas Sabonis versus forward Draymond Green. Sabonis is going to struggle defensively against the Warriors fast paced offense, but the Warriors will have trouble guarding Sabonis in the post. In a matchup of which coach can outcoach the other, I’ll take Golden State to win in seven games.
In the most publicized matchup of the first round, the No.2 Memphis Grizzlies face the No.7 Los Angeles Lakers. I can see this matchup going either way, but the fact that Lebron is on one of these teams plus the Grizzlies are missing depth including center Stevn Adams and forward Brandon Clarke makes me believe the Lakers will win in six games. The Lakers will play the best basketball they’ve played all season long as Anthony Davis averages over 30 points per game and Lebron averages a near triple double. Point guard Ja Morant will prove to be a star but cannot win on his own in this series.
Starting the second round, the Nuggets would face the Suns which would prove to be one of the most competitive series in the playoffs. The problem with the Suns in this series is that they will struggle to guard Jokic consistently, however, this will be the series where Kevin Durant proves he’s still one of the best scorers in the game, as he averages over 30 PPG. Denver will take the series to seven, but they will lose in their own building to end the season.
The Lakers facing the Warriors would bring the NBA excitement it has lacked in a few years: a Steph versus Lebron playoff series. Golden State will be at full strength and the Lakers will be one of the streakiest teams in the NBA. For me, this is another seven-game series, but the home court advantage will affect the outcome of the game. The Warriors will win in seven games, as Curry steps up along with underrated play from center Kevon Looney and guard Klay Thompson.
In a conference finals matchup between KD and Steph, I see this series going one way only: the Suns dominating the Warriors, a dying dynasty. Curry will see success early in the series, but when the Suns start doubling Curry and forcing another player to beat them, they will be in trouble. The Warriors will take Game one, but struggle to win a game for the rest of the series. In a Booker and Durant masterclass, the Suns win in five games to reach the NBA Finals.
Now for the Eastern Conference, I went back and forth with my prediction, but it became clear in that process that the Boston Celtics will make it out of the East once again. How does that journey happen?
The first series, between the No.1 seed Milwaukee Bucks and the No.8 seed Miami Heat, will be a bloodbath for one team only. Milwaukee wins in four games as Giannis proves to be too much for a disappointing Heat squad.
In the four versus five matchup, the Cleveland Cavaliers will take on the New York Knicks. The only chance New York has of winning is if Brunson and Randle play the best basketball they’ve ever played while stopping both Jarret Allen and Evan Mobley in the paint. Unfortunately for the Knicks, we don’t live in a dream world so the Cavaliers will win this series in five games. Donovan Micthell and Mobley will both be unstoppable for Cleveland.
The Philadelphia 76ers take on the Brooklyn Nets in what will be a lop-sided series. Brooklyn only made the playoffs due to Durant and Kyrie Irving playing for chunks of the season, but one player that has shined as of recent is forward Mikal Bridges. He is good enough to win a game for the Nets, but that is the most they can do, as the 76ers win in five games.
In the final first round series for the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics will throttle the Atlanta Hawks in four games. The Hawks have been in talks about trading many key pieces after the season so it will not surprise me if Boston beats them by double-digits in every game.
Milwaukee against the Cavaliers will prove to be an exciting series, as the Cavs have a perfect plan to stop Giannis. Mobley and Allen in the paint will give the Bucks a tough time, but their 3-point shooting will be lethal and give them enough momentum to win the series. Khris Middelton and Jrue Holiday will provide an offensive spark along with Giannis and Brook Lopez holding down the paint. I have the Bucks winning in six games.
On the other side of the bracket, Philly faces Boston in what will be a blockbuster series featuring some of the best players in the league. Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum will go back and forth with haymakers, and while I believed the Sixers could pull off the upset, I don’t see Embiid and Harden winning games in the clutch against a well-oiled machine in the Boston Celtics. I’m not sure if the Celtics have an answer for Embiid, however, Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon will be pivotal in the series.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics will face the Bucks in a bloodbath between titans. Giannis will be nearly unstoppable, but with a healthy Robert Williams, I believe the Celtics can pull off the series win. This feels like a seven-game series to me due to the talent on the court mixed in with unique coaching. Again, Jaylen Brown will have a breakout series and prove he is the best second option in the NBA.
In a Celtics versus Suns finals matchup, I believe the Suns would get out to an early 1-0 start led by Booker and Paul in game one. The next two games will see a combination of incredible scoring by the Celtics mixed with big time mistakes by the Suns. Losing two games will cost the Suns, as they will lose in seven games to the Boston Celtics.
Led by Brown and Tatum, the Celtics will be your 2023 NBA Finals Champions.