NBA: 2023 NBA Playoffs

Check out a send off to each of the first-round exits and our predictions for each of the Conference Finals.


Western Conference

The first round is officially over, leaving behind four teams in the West. We saw two underdogs and two higher-seeded teams move on. Before our personal predictions for the Western Conference finals, we’ll send off each eliminated team.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves lost to the Nuggets in five games, and their outlook is vastly different depending on who you ask. Pessimists will call the Rudy Gobert trade a failure, criticize Karl Anthony Towns for not showing up in the postseason, and point to general bad vibes—Jaden McDaniels broke his own hand in frustration and Gobert punched teammate Kyle Anderson in the play-in. Optimists will point to Anthony Edwards’s continued ascension, making this year’s All-Star team and looking like a true superstar. The Wolves enter the offseason with perhaps more questions than answers, but ultimately they are a relatively young team with tantalizing potential.

Memphis Grizzlies

For those who don’t believe in karma, may I introduce you to the 2022-2023 Memphis Grizzlies. For a “dynasty” that’s “fine in the West” and likes to “poke bears,” they sure went out spectacularly, losing to the Lakers by 40 points in a Game 6. From a distance, Memphis’s future still looks bright; they have a young core of superstar Ja Morant, future all star Desmond Bane, and Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson, Jr. In addition, their loss to the Lakers appears excusable—they played a series against Anthony Davis without two of their best frontcourt players. But ultimately, the brash trash talk and off-court antics proved to be too much of a distraction. Instead of a bright offseason, the Grizzlies seem to be focusing on team maturity, something emphasized in several exit interviews. Shockingly (or perhaps not), the team has announced that it will not re-sign (under any circumstances) instigator, defensive pest, and 23.8% 3 point shooter Dillon Brooks. Big changes are coming for Memphis this offseason, and we’ll see if Draymond Green’s words to Dillon Brooks prove prophetic: “The dynasty starts after you, not with you.”

Sacramento Kings

Like the Grizzlies, the Kings are a young, bright team led by a speedy superstar point guard. Unlike the Grizzlies, the Kings enter the offseason with nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to regret. In their first postseason appearance in almost seventeen years, they pushed the defending champs to seven games—no easy feat. Mike Brown has turned this franchise around, and De’Aaron Fox is really that guy. Sacramento is keeping most of its core together, already-outstanding rookie Keegan Murray is destined for growth, and Sacramento has shown that it can commit to playing defense. The Kings look forward to proving that their third place finish isn’t a fluke and hope to light the beam even more next season.

Los Angeles Clippers

A trade deadline trade led indirectly to the formation of a Big Three in LA, but this time with the Clippers: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook. With a deep bench behind them, the Clipper superstars looked to upset the title favorite Phoenix Suns. The Clippers got bitten by the injury bug, preventing Paul George from playing in Game One, but Kawhi’s 38 points and Westbrook’s energy got the Clips a win. It all went downhill from there. Kawhi’s injury stripped the team of its arguably best defensive stopper and scorer. Even the bench’s strong play and Westbrook’s return to superstar form couldn’t stop the Suns, and the Clippers finished another disappointing season. The most frustrating thing about this team is the what-ifs—it looked like they could upset the Suns even without Paul George. But in the end, even with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard sitting out for most of the season due to load management, the Clippers couldn’t put it together. With both oft-injured stars under contract, the Clippers are almost forced to run it back; this time, however, they’ll have trade deadline additions Westbrook, Bones Hyland, Eric Gordon, and Mason Plumlee with them for the entire season.

Western Conference Prediction: Warriors vs Nuggets

As of writing, the Nuggets are up 2-1 on the Suns, while the Warriors are down 2-1 against the Lakers.

The Warriors are indecipherable this season; their defense has seen its ups and downs, their road record is pathetic (but not when it matters?), and their role players are alternatively game-changers or no-shows. The Warriors have had trouble with the Lakers’ paint presence, but their shooting (boosted by the Lakers’ drop in shooting percentage) seems like it can keep up. An 11-0 run in the final minutes of Game 1 almost resulted in a wild comeback, and if the Warriors can clean up some issues guarding pick and rolls involving Anthony Davis, they can take the series.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, are playing peak team basketball. It seems that on any given night, Jamal Murray could go for forty, Jokic could notch yet another triple double, Mitty alum Aaron Gordon could drop 20 points to go with stellar defense, or Michael Porter, Jr. could make five threes. This team is deep and connected, the polar opposite of the top heavy, iso-dependent Suns. If the Nuggets keep up the pressure on the road, they might waltz into the Conference Finals.

Eastern Conference

Coming out of the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, we saw two upsets: the 8th-seed Heat beating the Bucks and the 5th-seed Knicks eliminating the Cavaliers. In addition, the two top seeds in the Celtics and Sixers also moved on. Let’s take a look at the future of each eliminated team, and then predict the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks had a surprisingly disappointing season this year. As the number one seed, many had them as favorites to win the finals. But with the magic of “Playoff Butler” we saw them get dismantled by the Miami Heat. Giannis being injured in Game 1 and 2 of the series did not help either. He was obviously not himself in the remaining games but still managed to get 38 points and 20 rebounds in their overtime loss. Many called this season a “failure” but in Giannis’ words, “You work towards a goal—it’s not a failure. It’s steps to success.” He is definitely speaking the truth as Giannis and the Bucks will most likely be back as one of the top seeds in the East next season. As long as Giannis continues to play at an MVP level, supported by DPOY candidate Brook Lopez, the best perimeter defender in Jrue Holiday, and a veteran like Khris Middleton,  we will continue to see the Bucks dominate the East. 

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers had a very good season this year. Considering they did not even make the playoffs last year, they ended the regular season as the 4th seed but fell to the New York Knicks. This series was highlighted by defense and bricks, with neither team averaging over 100 points per game for the series. However, the Cavaliers have a bright future ahead of them. With Donovan Mitchell playing at an All-NBA level, they will be back next season in the playoffs. Obviously, the highlight of this team is their defense. With Evan Mobley and Jarret Allen in the front court and Donovan Mitchell leading the perimeter, it’s hard to score on the Cavs. Sadly, it is hard for the Cavaliers themselves to put up points, so they should add another offensive piece in the off-season. They’re not title contenders yet since the team is so young, but in a few years they could be a juggernaut in the East. 

Brooklyn Nets

At the start of the season, the Nets were on a roll with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving who paved the way to a top seed position and sure-fire title contenders. However, as we all know, that did not work out. At the trade deadline they lost both KD and Kyrie and all hope was lost for the season. However, there was one unforeseen star that they acquired from these trades: Mikal Bridges. Seemingly overshadowed by Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton on the Suns, this electric two way player averaged 26-5-3 on the Nets. Even though they were swept by the dominant Sixers, Nets fans should still be excited for their future. They have six first round draft picks and two second round draft picks over the next couple of years, to hopefully build a homegrown playoff contending squad.  

Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks put up a good fight in the first round against the much better equipped Boston Celtics squad. The series went to six games as Trae Young splashed an ice-cold game winning 3 pointer in game five. Looking at the future, Hawks fans honestly don’t have that much to root for. Trae Young played sub-par this season, not even earning an all-star selection, while Dejounte Murray was not the electric two way guard he was expected to be. Last offseason, the Hawks traded three first round picks for Murray, just for the team to move from the 8th seed in last year’s playoffs to the 7th seed this year. In our opinion, the best course of action for the Hawks is to attempt to trade Trae Young and try their hand at rebuilding. As we saw last offseason, Young himself does not even seem fully committed to playing for the Hawks. When asked about a potential trade, he responded, “It could be false, could be true, you never know.” This reply clearly hints that there are is some merit surrounding the rumors about moving Young.

Eastern Conference Finals Prediction: 76ers vs. Knicks

Nobody ever thought the Knicks would make it this far at the beginning of the season. However, the addition of a star point guard in Jalen Brunson and a 3-point shooting big in Julius Randle, have propelled the team up the rankings in the East. After a Game 1 loss to the “Himmy” Butler and the Heat, Jalen Brunson shouldered all of the blame, saying he needed to play better. Coming into Game 2, that is exactly what he did. Brunson carried the Knicks to beating the Heat with a comeback victory, proving that as long as Brunson and Randle play well, this is win for the Knicks. Moreover, Butler got injured in Game 1 and did not play Game 2, so he may not be himself in the next few games of the series. The Heat need all they can get from Butler to win, but if he is not playing at full capacity, the Knicks should handle the Heat in six games. 

The 76ers have a slightly harder matchup in the second round against the former NBA Finals contenders Boston Celtics. However, in Game 1 with Embiid out due to a knee sprain, we saw the 76ers beat the Celtics with the heroics of one man. That man was James Harden who entered a time machine and took himself back to his hay days in Houston where he was dropping 36 points a game. In Game 1, Harden carried the 76ers on his shoulders and dropped 45 points with a clutch 3-pointer to give his team a two point lead at the end of the game. Considering this was a road game for the 76ers, it looks like they will be winning this series. With MVP Embiid coming back, Houston Harden, and Tyrese Maxey, the 76ers look like the better team compared to the Celtics. The Celtics have holes in their defense that the 76ers were able exploit. For example, since old man Al Horford can’t defend guards, Harden attacked him all night. The 76ers will beat the Celtics then cruise through the Knicks to reach the NBA finals.