Teams to watch for in this year’s NBA Playoffs: who will win it all?


As the NBA’s 82-game regular season concludes, NBA players and fans nationwide gear in for the thrills of the NBA playoffs.

Ten teams in each conference remain in contention. The bottom four of each compete against each other in the NBA’s recently established play-in tournament for the 7th and 8th seeds, beginning April 11th. Once the play-in tournament ends and the 1-8 seeds in each conference are finalized, the race for the NBA title ensues. With heated matchups in both conferences, we are in for great basketball and unpredictable results. Here is an analysis of the most noteworthy teams and their chances of making it to the finals.

NSN also conducted a poll asking NN students and staff their NBA final picks.

Chicago Bulls

No three players in the NBA have spent more time together on the court this season than Lavine, Derozan, and Vuecivic. The three share ten all-star appearances and make up 56% of the Bull’s salary cap space. Chicago has not been plagued by injury, controversy, or any unforeseen circumstances to excuse their mediocre 40-42 record. It just isn’t clicking. If the Bulls heat up in the Play-In tournament against the Raptors, Hawks, and Heat they can earn seeding in the playoffs, but even so, any momentum they garner will come to a screeching halt in the first round against a more dominant and consistent Milwaukee Bucks or Boston Celtics. Don’t expect to see the same roster in Chicago next season.


Sacramento Kings

On March 30, the Sacramento Kings clinched a playoff berth for the first time in fifteen years. The dynamic duo of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis have led a young and energetic team to the third seed in the Western Conference. Yet, I have no faith in them come playoff time. While their youthful play earned them wins in the regular season, their lack of experience will work against them in the playoffs as well as their defensive weakness that will get exposed by elite offensive teams. I’m struggling to see them getting through the Golden State Warriors in the first round, let alone whoever they could meet in the conference semifinals and conference finals. It isn’t courageous to bet on Goliath, but I can’t see David pulling it off. The Kings making the playoffs will be their real win ultimately.


New York Knicks

Similarly to the Kings, the Knicks’ playoff appearance is their win. Over the past twenty years, the New York Knicks have only made the playoffs six times and haven’t won a playoff series since 2013. Standing as the fifth seed, the Knicks are at their best state in years but unfortunately, it will not be enough to make it through a top-heavy Eastern Conference. They likely won’t even make it past their first-round Cavaliers matchup. However, at the ages of 22, 26, and 28, the Knicks’ big three of RJ Barrett, Jalen Brunson, and Julius Randle show no sign of losing steam anytime soon. At last, Knicks fans have something to look forward to.


Cleveland Cavaliers

At the end of the day, the Eastern Conference is between the Bucks, Celtics, and 76ers. The Cavaliers got off to the 2022-2023 season with a strong start and went all-in during the trade deadline, dealing Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, rookie Ochai Agjabi, and future first-round picks for Donnovan Mitchell. With a bonafide scorer, the Cavs have established themselves as a pillar of the East but will ultimately crumble against the Conference’s top three seeds, although not without putting up a fight.


Miami Heat

The past few years have been turbulent for the Heat. In the offseason of 2019, the 76ers dealt Jimmy Butler to the Heat and the Heat saw immediate success with the pairing of veteran Jimmy Butler and rising stars Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo, reaching the finals in 2020 but losing in six games to the Lakers. The next season they’d falter as the sixth seed, getting swept by the Bucks in the first round. Despite their struggles, they’d come back stronger than ever in the 2021-2022 season, earning the first seed in the Eastern Conference. Their season would end short, however, with a Conference Finals loss to the Boston Celtics. Fast-forward now and the Heat are fighting for a playoff spot in the play-in. Jimmy Butler has a tendency to level up in the playoffs and Miami may pick up the slack, but their post-season is going nowhere despite promising pieces. The Heat should be competing for the top of the conference but they’re not. Their window is closing.


Brooklyn Nets

It’s just a miracle they’re still in the playoffs. The Nets were the fourth seed when they blew up their core of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the trade deadline and remained the sixth seed months after. In return for the two pillars of the NBA, the Nets stockpiled sturdy pieces such as a breakout Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Spencer Dinwiddie. They’re an impressive bunch but when they collide with the 76ers in the first round, they will be squashed. Their future is not bleak though.

[The Golden State Warriors] also got the best shooter in history, Steph Chef Curry.

— Brandon Nguyen, junior

Golden State Warriors

If there is something that any NBA fan should know by now, never bet against the Golden State Warriors. Undeniably the dynasty of our generation, the trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green boast three NBA championships between 2015-2018 and another in 2022 when everyone thought their chokehold on the NBA had come to an end. The Warriors 2022-2023 season has not been without stumbling. Draymond Green’s punch of Jordan Poole threw off their chemistry, Andrew Wiggins’s unexplained months-long absence has left a hole in their team, and their abysmal 11-30 away record is alarming. But it is hard for me to look at the team that has done it again and again and counts them out. 

“They’re the defending champions, they got experience and their bench/role players got better,” junior Brandon Nguyen wrote in a response to an NSN poll. “They also got the best shooter in history, Steph Chef Curry.”


Los Angeles Lakers

Starting the season off 2-10, it seemed like the Lakers would miss the playoffs yet again. Throughout the first half of the season, the Lakers would be middle in between the bottom seeds of the Western Conference. Anthony Davis missed games, the addition of Russell Westbrook didn’t mesh well with the team, and LeBron James could not carry a team with no depth no matter how well he played. At the deadline in an act of mid-season desperation, the Lakers flipped Westbrook in return for D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasly, and Jarred Vanderbilt. These new pieces along with the emergence of guard Austin Reaves would bolster the Lakers into playoff territory despite some absence of LeBron. The Lakers fall into the play-in and just barely miss the playoffs. The Lakers will likely steamroll past the Western play-in teams of the Thunder, Pelicans, and Timberwolves and pose a serious threat to the opponents beyond. Their biggest opponent is injuries. Anthony Davis is infamously injury prone and neither he nor LeBron play back-to-backs in the regular season anymore. The Lakers are scorching hot since the deadline, but their playoff run would come down crashing if one of either James or Davis got injured. Don’t turn your back on their title odds, but don’t put money on it either.


Los Angeles Clippers

There is a part of me that has serious stock in the Clippers going all the way. Though their depth is shaky, Westbrook has made much improvement since joining the team in February and has aided them significantly. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are 24-14 this season when playing together, and playoff Kawhi Leonard is a player that no team wants to run into. The main roadblock for the Clippers is Paul George’s potentially season-long absence. Facing the Suns in the first round without Paul George is a brutal position, but if they can get past that and get Paul George back for the second round, they have a path to the finals. In the meantime, however, the Suns would have to underperform. At their best, they’re a top contender, but the stars would have to align for it to work out. Reflecting nearly four years since they moved, the clock is ticking for the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George Clippers.


Memphis Grizzlies

Despite the best efforts of the media to bring him down for his off-the-court behavior, Ja Morant is still unstoppable on the court, quickly becoming a top point guard in the league. With the second seed and a young, balanced, team full of depth, the Grizzlies are in a strong position for contention in a balanced Western Conference. Like the Kings, they are young and a bit ripe, but they may finally take the leap this year after a Conference semi-finals loss to the Warriors last year. If they get stuck against the Lakers, they may face some trouble, but any other play-in team would be an easy first-round win and a hopeful semifinals and conference finals.


Philadelphia 76ers

The clock is also ticking for Philadelphia, who have made it to the Eastern Conference semi-finals four times since 2018 but have never made it to the Eastern Conference finals, let alone the NBA finals. Embiid, who is in a heated race for the 2023 MVP, has led the 76ers to many winning seasons, now aided by the more recently acquired James Harden. Yet, they haven’t truly reaped the fruits of the labor, consistently having their sights set on the championship but falling short. This season may be their chance, but the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks are juggernauts. 


Denver Nuggets

Like the 76ers, the Nuggets have been right in the picture but not quite there for years. Led by Jokic, a two-time and potentially three-time MVP, and a deep squad surrounding him, the Nuggets are as dominant as ever this year with the first seed in the West. Logistically, the Nuggets are the likeliest pick in the West to win it all. But knowing that they have a history of underperforming in crucial games, I’m inclined to have hesitance toward their chances. This playoff is must win for Jokic.


Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis is the most dominant player in the NBA and he has been for years. Though they struggle on some fronts such as defense and their recent 41-point loss to the Celtics is alarming, their driving force of Giannis could very well scorch any team in their path. The Celtics are good on defense, but I’m not sure if they have an answer for him over a 7-game-period.

“I think the Milwaukee Bucks simply based on the fact they have a solid consistent roster,” staff member Daisy Castillo wrote in a survey response. “Plus Giannis!”


Boston Celtics

Recovering from the hangover of their loss in last year’s NBA finals, the Celtics have bounced back. The duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are playing the best they ever have and their depth has strengthened. Although the threat of Giannis looms over them, the Celtics are the better team. Their defense is better, their depth is better, and they have more scoring options. The Bucks have the best record in the league at 58-24, but their flaws may be exposed against a well-rounded Celtics over a 7-game series. I have the Celtics making it to the finals.

[The Celtics] appear to be more motivated than any other team. You can see it in their focus, determination and tenacity — and the way they play as a team. Furthermore, if they are shooting well, they can blow out any opponent.

— James Behling, staff

“I have been a big time Bucks fan for more than 50 years, but the Celtics are on a mission. Two years ago they lost to the Bucks. Last year they lost to the Warriors,” staff member James Behling wrote in a poll response. “They appear to be more motivated than any other team. You can see it in their focus, determination and tenacity — and the way they play as a team. Furthermore, if they are shooting well, they can blow out any opponent. Case in point: last week they beat the Bucks by 41 points in Milwaukee.”


Phoenix Suns

When KD is on the court for the Suns, they are 8-0. Though the sample size may be small, it is enough to know that he has clicked with Phoenix. Newly acquired Kevin Durant and Devin Booker are some of the best scorers in the league and Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton are two tremendous complementary pieces. If the trend of their success continues, they are a force to reckon with in the Western Conference even as the fourth seed. I don’t know if any team can stop them. I have the Suns making it to the finals.

“They have many new additions to their team that are considered very valuable,” freshman Zaina Khan wrote in a poll response. “Their team has a lot of potential and I think they will use it this year.


My picks for the 2023 NBA Finals are the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns.