Analyzing the 1st Round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs

Now comes the real thing. It’s off with the warm-up games (aka: the regular season), and it’s on to the real games (aka: the playoffs). From hereon, it’s every game counts as the best teams step forward to do battle in the playoffs.

The post-season – or the playoffs – are a different animal from the regular season. Teams get to focus on a single opponent for 7 long, grueling matches. Teams hang on to their best players in the game for longer periods. Teams find match-up advantages, use them to the hilt; until the other team responds with a solution of their own. Coaching then becomes far more significant as teams go mano-a-mano; and opposing players get closer to one another like they were with their own wives.

As the playoffs starts, we go to the different match-ups to see who’s likely to step forward to the next round, and what these teams need to do to get there. Here then are the 8 match-ups and my predictions on what is likely to happen that will make or break each team’s post-season dreams.

West (4) Phoenix Suns vs (5) LA Clippers will be the battle of 2 former NBA Finals MVP in Kevin Durant (with the Warriors in 2017 and 2018), and Kawhi Leonard (with the Spurs in 2014 and the Raptors in 2019). This could be the most exciting match-up to watch in the first round.

The addition of Kevin Durant in the Sun’s starting line-up is a huge game-changer, not just for this series, but for the entire Western slugfest, and perhaps going straight to the Finals. With a fearsome foursome of Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton, this is a juggernaut that will be difficult to defend. Their only weakness will be a shallow bench, having sacrificed much of their depth in the trade for Durant. Health and injuries will be the Suns’ main issue. Can this fearsome foursome stay healthy till the end?

Facing them will be the trio of Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook (another former MVP) and Paul George. Except that George is injured and is not likely to play in the first half of the series. The Clippers have a much stronger support roster with the likes of Norman Powell, Eric Gordon and Terrence Mann capable of exploding; while big men Ivika Zubac, Mason Plumlee and Nick Batum provide the muscle underneath. If this becomes a physical game with fouls a-plenty, the Clippers will have the advantage.

The main factors in this match-up will be George’s availability after his injury, Westbrook’s compatibility having transferred just recently, and the foul situation, which could lengthen or shorten playing time for the Suns’ fearsome foursome. Prediction: Suns in 6.

West (3) Sacramento Kings vs (6) Golden State Warriors will be the battle of the grizzled vets of coach Steve Kerr versus the upstarts under Coach Mike Brown, Kerr’s very own assistant and protege with the Warriors. This will be a match pitting a team that’s ‘been there-done that’, and a team that wants to ‘be there, do that’.

Do we still need to talk about the defending champs, which have won 4 of the last 8 seasons in the NBA? With Hall of Fame-bound Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, plus next gen gunner Jordan Poole? Who all know the difference between the warm-up games in the regular season and the playoffs? And how to pace themselves to peak in time for the playoffs? Whose combined basketball IQ are off the charts, and who revolutionized modern-day basketball by emphasizing the use of the 3-ball and introducing the concept of small-ball? Nuff said.

But the upstarts didn’t get the 3rd seed lying down either. Although the Kings are joining the post-season party for only the first time in 17 years, these guys worked hard at it, honing their chemistry and building a tough defense. They have a pair of All-Stars in D’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, plus Coach Brown and former Warrior Harrison Barnes who know how Coach Kerr and his Warriors play. Plus equally proficient 3-point gunners Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray.

The main factor here will be the Warriors’ experience. There are interesting match-ups here between Curry and Fox, and even Coaches Kerr and Brown; but the Warriors should get this done in 5 games, despite the Kings being the higher seeds.

West (2) Memphis Grizzlies vs (7) LA Lakers will be another battle pitting experience versus youth, with basketball’s King Lebron James and his court clashing with a speed team led by the brash Ja Morant.

The LA Lakers are a rejuvenated team, having done a major make-over during the trade deadline. Lebron and Anthony Davis Jr now have a support cast capable of providing a deeper playoff run, with D’Angelo Russell taking over the PG position relinquished by Westbrook; Jared Vanderbilt, Rui Hachimura providing more defense; and Malik Beasely, Austin Reaves and Dennis Schroder providing additional firepower. Lebron is obviously aging, and AD, on the other hand, is so injury-prone. This makes the support pieces all the more valuable as they need to be able to provide Lebron and AD more time to rest. In order to stay off injuries.

Who can stop Ja Morant? This is a human dynamo that will need a barricade of sorts to deny penetration to the basket. And what about the rest of the pug-nosed crew of Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr? The Griz lost a valuable piece in starting center Steven Adams to injuries, which is why they will need to rev up the speed even more.

Once again, it is a duel between experience and maturity against youth and dazzling speed. This time around, I will go with Grizzlies’ youth squad, which have been in the playoffs enough times to know the drill. The Griz in 6.

West (1) Denver Nuggets vs (8) Minnesota Twolves It will be interesting to know how the Twin Tower formula concocted by the Twolves will answer the bell in the series against the top-seeded Nuggets. The Twolves will be literally long on talent, with Karl Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Anthony Edwards and Mike Conley taking the lead, but they are an on-again, off-again team with too much inconsistencies.

And against the Denver Nuggets, the Wolves will be simply overmatched. With the 2-time MVP Nikola Jokic backed up by a now-recovered Jamal Murray, plus the fully-rested Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr, and the championship experience of Kentavious Caldwell Pope, this is a complete team that led the West comfortably in the regular season.

The Timberwolves gambled on the Twin Towers approach to winning when Gobert joined KAT, but it hasn’t been tested enough times to determine a clear trend. The Twolves will have their hands full in handling the versatility and cunning ways of that reigning MVP, Jokic. The Nuggets, however, will have an answer for the Twolves style of play.

Nuggets in 6 against the Twolves.

East ((4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (5) New York Knicks This should be the most competitive among the match-ups for the first round, with 2 new Western Conference transferees in Donovan Mitchell and Jalen Brunson attempting to play messiah for both teams.

Mitchell, coming by way of a blockbuster trade with the Utah Jazz, has clearly upped his level of play, helping the Cavs to the playoffs for the first time since Lebron left Cleveland. He has fellow all-star guard Darius Garland, big men Jarrett Allen and Ewan Mobley for support. They have a young team. This team however, will need more bench depth if it wants to go deep in the playoffs.

Brunson signed in with the Knicks as a free agent after a successful stint with Luka Doncic and the Mavs. With the Knicks, he once again showed his positive contribution, pushing the Knicks to the playoffs after missing it last year. Brunson’s – and the Knicks’ – fate in the post-season will depend much on the availability of all-star Julius Randle, who was out with an injured ankle recently. Brunson has been able to elevate the team’s playing stats significantly, which is the main reason the Knicks ar back in the playoff wars. With RJ Barrett, Obi Taupin, Josh Hart and Evan Fournier, this team will be a hard nut to crack as well. They are a young team as well, but deeper and faster.

If Randle is healthy, this series will be determined by which team leader – Mitchell or Brunson – will be able to influence the team more positively. It will depend on the teams’ chemistry, as well as the overall reaction to the leaders’ call to arms. Cavs in 7.

East (3) Philadelphia 76ers vs (6) Brooklyn Nets This series will be one between the Hardened and the No Longer Hardened. When James Harden left the Nets for the 76ers in exchange for Bill Simmons and others, it turned out to be a one-sided trade.

The Nets are a totally different team with the exit of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. From a title-ready team 3 years back, this team has fallen out of grace to a sorry would-have-been. Its top players Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie are simply some notches below the level of play of MVP-candidate Joel Embiid and former MVP James Harden.

The 76ers will overpower the Nets in 4.

East (2) Boston Celtics vs (7) Atlanta Hawks The Celtics – Hawks series will be a fight between the losing finalists of last year NBA Finals and the Eastern Conference Finals 2 years ago. Simply put, this will be fight between a current top contender, versus one pictured on the mend.

Boston is clearly ahead in so many aspects here, from ceiling to wing and under-the-paint coverage to whatever. The Celtics will overwhelm the Hawks with their height advantage, with the Hawks unable to use their speed against an equally speedy and younger team. With All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Green, plus steady support from Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Derrick Williams, Robert Williams, this is a team that can adjust accordingly to the style of play the Hawks will throw at them.

The Hawks will rely on Trae Young’s speed and shooting. Shut him down, and the Hawks are minus an arm and a leg. Young’s defense, on the other hand, will be targetted by the Celtics. The Celtics will win this in 4 games.

East (1) Milwaukee Bucks vs (8) Miami Heat The series will be a replay of the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals. But while the Bucks were able to move even higher in the 2021 season, winning it all, the Heat would flounder after that.

The Bucks are a well-equipped and well rested team right now, having clinched the playoff spot early in the season end. They have a perrenial MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokoumpo, plus Kris Middleton and defense specialists Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez. Plus strong vet add-ons in Jae Crawder and Goran Dragic. They will be a difficult team to handle for the Heat, which has been blowing hot and cold in the past games.

Even in their winner-take-all game against the Chicago Bulls, the Heat were behind on points in the last quarter before taking the lead only in the last 2 minutes. This does not auger well for them.

The Bucks will take this 4-0.

There you have it, folks. My bets moving forward to the next round are the Phoenix Suns, the Golden State Warriors, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets in the West; and the Cleveland Cavs, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks in the East. Who you got?

Cover photo courtesy of YouTube. Other pics courtesy of Skysports, Sports Illustrated, Pinterest, Abante Tonite,Sportsnaught,, Miami Herald and the Toronto Star. For a closer look, just click on the pics.


  1. Charles, I do think the Knicks-Cavs series should be the most entertaining of the first-rounders in the East. The fact the Kings won Game 1 vs, the Warriors last night certainly makes me think that will be the entertaining equivalent in the West. I do think the Lakers can take down the Grizzlies, but I don’t know about them advancing any further.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bruce, my predictions are in tatters on the very second day, with the Bucks, the Griz and the Suns all losing. It just goes to show that the competition, especially in the west, is going to be too tough to call. It will be health and breaks that will seal the win in the west. Wow!!! This is going to be a thrilling ending here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Charles, folks around here were just assuming the Sixers couldn’t get past the second round. My comeback is always “let’s see how the injuries play out.” If this is the year where the Bucks and Celtics get bit by the injury bug instead of us, there may be a path for Philly to the Finals. Injuries can turn these NBA series around instantly.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. that’s very true, Bruce. Health will be a big factor in this year’s very competitive playoffs. a week or 2 without a star could set back the aspirations of a team like the Bucks, most especially in the west, with the likes of Clippers (without Paul George). The Suns, for instance, are so shallow, after sacrificing their depth in order to acquire Kevin Durant. Hence, health becomes such a big deal for a team like the Suns.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Game 2 was good! The Sixers started out lethargic, but in the end, showed the Nets they were simply better in more ways than 1. Maxey and Harris should give Embiid and Harden some breathing space to keep them fresh for the next rounds.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I was somewhat surprised with the Clippers/Suns game and REALLY pleased with the Kings effort versus the Warriors. I have no dog in either fight but it’s great to see good basketball.

    and of course, you know I’m happy with Jimmy and the Heat right now, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! As I said to Bruce in another chat, my predictions have gone awry already. Where’s my credibility now? Buhuhu! Well, it goes to show that we have such balanced teams now, and that on a good day, underdogs can give the faves a run for their money. Truly is a season of wild unpredictable endings! and I just love it!

      Liked by 1 person

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