2023 NBA Playoff Predictions


Caiden Lujin, Editor

The 2023 NBA playoffs are set to be full of parity after one of the closest regular season finishes of all time. In the western conference alone, teams ranked fourth through tenth are separated by just five games. A day out from the beginning of all the action, I attempt the impossible: to predict the seemingly unpredictable playoff bracket.

#1 Milwaukee Bucks over #8 Miami Heat (4-1)

Beginning with presumably the more clear-cut side of the bracket in the east, we’ve got a matchup that looks much better on paper than how it will likely play out. The Heat have had Milwaukee’s number in past years, most notably 2020 in the bubble season when they upset the Bucks in five games, but back on top of the conference yet again, the Bucks should have no problem slowing playoff Jimmy Butler.

#4 Cleveland Cavaliers over #5 New York Knicks (4-3)

How fitting that the series both teams had the most preparation time for is also the one with the most evenly matched personnel. The Cavs, who had their playoff spot ripped away from the talons of the Atlanta Hawks a year ago, now sit in a top-four spot with the acquisition of superstar guard Donovan Mitchell bolstering their championship aspirations. The Knicks, on the other hand, are in the midst of red-hot performances from their two lefties Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle. Expect this one to be a rockfight, with the pendulum able to swing either direction through those seven games.

#3 Philadelphia 76ers over #6 Brooklyn Nets (4-1)

It’s been two separate seasons in one for this Nets team – from starting the season with a surefire shot at the title with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to shipping the two stars to Phoenix and Dallas respectively. Mikal Bridges went from role player to the head of the snake in Brooklyn, but the soon-to-be-MVP Joel Embiid and company will pose too much of a threat to the undersized Nets, who are likely only in this position because of their padded record before the trade deadline.

#2 Boston Celtics over #7 Atlanta Hawks (4-0)

I foresee brooms being brought out in Boston this series in a season Hawks fans are probably just ready to forget. The Celtics have been dominant all season behind Jayson Tatum’s MVP-level consistency and are on a much different trajectory than Atlanta, who finished worse than last year’s record despite the addition of all-star Dejounte Murray. I do not think the Hawks have the discipline or defensive ability to contain Boston in the half court, and, fresh off a finals run in 2022, I expect the Celtics to be ready to get out of the first round handily

#1 Denver Nuggets over #8 Oklahoma City Thunder (4-0)

To open up the west side of things, Denver/OKC is a matchup that no NBA fan, analyst, or casual watcher could have predicted at the beginning of the season. The Thunder, who found themselves at the bottom of the standings in nearly every preseason prediction, now sit in a top-8 spot and the right to play in this year’s NBA playoffs, despite being the youngest team in the entire league with an average age of 23.14. I expect Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to have a huge series, but overall, Nikola Jokic and the versatility of the Denver Nuggets are going to be much too tall a task for the young Thunder, who will gain valuable playoff experience nonetheless.

#4 Phoenix Suns over #5 LA Clippers (4-2)

This series has a lot of moving parts that go into the final prediction, but as things stand now, I find it hard to believe the Clippers will overcome the loss of their other half of a superstar duo in Paul George. Funny enough, the Clippers played this Suns team on the final day of the regular season, albeit a watered-down version, with control over their own seeding destiny. If they had lost intentionally, they would be looking at a date with the highly inexperienced Sacramento Kings, rather than the nightmare of a playoff matchup that is this Phoenix Suns team. There’s only one Kawhi Leonard, and either Kevin Durant or Devin Booker will be the beneficiary of not receiving his assignment. Not to mention, Chris Paul is still seeking his first ring and Deandre Ayton was instrumental when these teams matched up in 2021.

#3 Sacramento Kings over #6 Golden State Warriors (4-3)

Your eyes do not deceive you. I see the Sacramento Kings, who are in the playoffs for the first time in 17 years, taking down the defending champion Warriors in a series I believe will be the most exciting of any of the eight first round matchups. Though the Kings have little to no playoff experience across the board, the season they have put together, surprising the league by not only making the playoffs, but jumping all the way up to a top three spot in one of the most competitive conferences we’ve seen in recent memory is enough a prerequisite to taking down the mighty Golden State. The Warriors have struggled on the road this season, and that first playoff game in Golden 1 Center is going to be a spectacle like no other, that I believe will propel the Kings to a second round ticket.

#2 Memphis Grizzlies over #7 Los Angeles Lakers (4-2)

Kings/Warriors may look the most electric first round matchup for now, but do not be surprised if this one takes its place. The Grizzlies have been locked into the 2-seed for what feels like 75% of the season, and the Lakers’ 7th place finish comes from an inspired in-season turnaround following the many moves made by GM Rob Pelinka at the trade deadline. For most fans, a good rule of thumb in years past has been simple with the Lakers: don’t bet against LeBron in the first round. However, the 2021 Phoenix Suns taught us dethroning The King in the first round is far from impossible, and if any team wants this matchup, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies. Either way you slice it, this series is going to have the trash talk, rivalries, and extracurriculars, all in between what should be a brilliant display of starpower and great basketball. I think Ja Morant and the young Grizzlies are ready for another second round appearance, though, taking down the Lakers in six games.

If you have not been watching this year’s NBA product, now is the time to get in, because we are primed for a race more wide open than many fans can remember. For almost a decade, every NBA Finals resulted in either a LeBron James or Golden State Warrior appearance, and this year, I can see a multitude of other things happening before either of those do.

The 2023 NBA playoffs tip Saturday at 12 p.m., with the Nets heading to Philly for game one.