2023 NBA Playoffs: First Round Matchups Previews & Play-In Predictions
The NBA playoffs are almost here, and the excitement is building as teams gear up for the first round matchups and the highly anticipated play-in tournament. Let’s take a closer look at what to expect from this year’s NBA postseason action.
(4) Suns vs. (5) Clippers Round 1 Preview
Lets start in the West with the 5th Seed Clips and the 4th Seeded Suns, one of the most highly anticipated matchups in the first round. This 4 & 5 matchup between these two Pacific division rivals is picture-perfect and I expect this series to go six or seven games. The two teams have faced each other four times this season and are tied at 2-2 in their head-to-head record, setting the stage for an exciting and unpredictable series.
The Suns come into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed with a 45-37 record, while the Clippers are the No. 5 seed with a slightly lower record of 44-38. The Suns made a big splash at the trade deadline by acquiring Kevin Durant, instantly elevating their championship hopes. Book leads the Suns in scoring, while the impact Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton have this postseason will ultimately determine how far the Suns get.
The Clippers, on the other hand, are looking to get a taste of some championship success after landing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George via free agency in 2019. However, the real question mark for the Clippers is the status of Paul George, who has been out with an injury. The Clippers will need George healthy and playing at his best to take down the Suns, who many consider to be the best team in the Western Conference despite their seedings.
The odds for the series heavily favor the Suns, with sportsbooks giving them a (-600) chance of winning compared to the Clippers’ (+400). The Suns have been in championship mode ever since losing in the West semifinals last season, and with the addition of Durant, they look like a team poised to make a deep run in the playoffs.
The Suns and Clippers are set to face off in what promises to be a thrilling series, with both teams looking to solidify themselves as legitimate championship contenders. The series could ultimately come down to the health of Paul George, making his status a key factor to watch throughout the series.
(3) Kings vs. (6) Warriors Round 1 Preview
The Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors will meet in the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs as the 3-6 pairing in the Western Conference. The matchup between these two teams promises to be an intriguing one, with plenty of history between the organizations and two vastly different teams going head-to-head.
The Kings, led by former Warriors assistant Mike Brown, have finally made it to the playoffs after a 16-year drought. De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis have been the stars for the Kings, but it’s the contributions of role players like Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, and Keegan Murray that have helped the team succeed this season. Sacramento’s owner, Vivek Ranadive, was once a minority shareholder in the Warriors and would undoubtedly love to knock off his former team in this series.
On the other hand, the Warriors come into this matchup as the defending champions, but they have not been as dominant as they were last year. However, they have started to regain their championship form in recent weeks. While their road record leaves something to be desired, they are nearly unbeatable at home. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green leading the way, the Warriors have never lost a playoff series when their core group has played every game.
The Kings and Warriors have faced each other 470 times in their history, with the Warriors holding a 249-221 edge. However, the Kings have won four of the last five regular-season matchups between the two teams. In this series, the key matchup will be between the Kings’ backcourt of Fox and Huerter against the Warriors’ guard duo of Curry and Thompson. Additionally, the battle in the paint between Sabonis and the Warriors’ big men will also be a crucial factor in the series.
Overall, this matchup has plenty of intriguing storylines and potential for an upset by the Kings. However, the Warriors are still the favorites in this series due to their championship pedigree and experience in the playoffs. With that being said, DO NOT SLEEP ON THE KINGS.
West Play-In Preview & Prediction: (7) Lakers vs (8) Wolves
On Tuesday, the No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers and the No. 8 seed Minnesota Timberwolves will face off in a highly anticipated NBA play-in tournament. This matchup will determine which team will advance to the Western Conference playoffs and which team’s season will come to a close.
The Lakers’ season has been a rollercoaster ride, with injuries and internal turmoil causing some bumps along the way. Despite this, LeBron James and Anthony Davis remain formidable forces on the court, leading the team in points and rebounds. Head coach Darvin Ham has had to navigate these challenges and adjust to a new role after taking over for Frank Vogel this season.
The Timberwolves, on the other hand, have fought hard to secure their spot in the playoffs, winning their last three games of the season. However, they will be facing the Lakers without the talented Jaden McDaniels, who fractured his hand from punching a wall. Additionally, Rudy Gobert’s outburst in the Timberwolves’ regular-season finale may have left the team feeling uneasy heading into the play-in tournament.
While the Lakers have a 2-1 edge in head-to-head matchups with the Timberwolves this season, this play-in game is anyone’s to win. Lakers fans will be looking to James and Davis to lead the team to victory, while Timberwolves fans will be hoping that Anthony Edwards can continue his impressive scoring streak.
The opening odds favor the Lakers with a -6.5 spread and a moneyline of -255. The over/under is set at 227.5, indicating that it could be a high-scoring game.
Overall, this matchup promises to be a thrilling and intense game that could go down to the wire. The Lakers will be looking to redeem themselves after a disappointing end to last year’s playoffs, while the Timberwolves will be eager to make their mark in the postseason.
Firstly, they have a more experienced and well-established roster, led by superstar players LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Despite facing injuries and setbacks throughout the season, the Lakers have shown resilience and have managed to make it to the play-in tournament.
Furthermore, the Lakers have a better record than the Timberwolves and have a head-to-head record of 2-1 against them this season. They also have a more effective offense, averaging 112.4 points per game compared to the Timberwolves’ 109.4.
Defensively, the Lakers have also been solid, ranking in the top 10 in the league in points allowed per game. They will be looking to shut down the Timberwolves’ young star Anthony Edwards, who has been averaging 23.8 points per game this season.
Overall, the Lakers have the experience, talent, and the motivation to advance to the next round of the playoffs. They will need to play with intensity and focus in order to overcome the Timberwolves, but they have shown they are capable of doing so in the past.
THE PICK: Lakers win and advance to play the Grizzlies while the wolves will battle the winner of (9) NOLA vs (10) OKC.
West Play-In Preview & Prediction: (9) Pelicans vs (10) Thunder
The New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder are set to face off in a crucial play-in game for the Western Conference playoffs. The Pelicans come into the game with a slightly better record at 42-40, while the Thunder finished the regular season at 40-42. The two teams split their head-to-head matchups this season, each winning one game.
One big factor for the Pelicans will be the absence of their star player, Zion Williamson, who is expected to miss the game due to injury. However, the Pelicans still have a strong supporting cast, including Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, who can step up in Williamson’s absence. The Thunder, on the other hand, will rely heavily on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to lead them to victory.
The opening odds favor the Pelicans, with a spread of -4.5 and a moneyline of -195. The over/under is set at 232, indicating that this could be a high-scoring affair.
The winner of this game will move on to face the loser of the Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Los Angeles Lakers matchup, with the winner of that game earning the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and a chance to face the No. 1 seeded Denver Nuggets in the first round.
So why will the Pelicans win? Despite the absence of Williamson, they still have a talented roster that can compete at a high level. They also have the home-court advantage and a strong track record of performing well in clutch situations. Additionally, the Thunder have struggled on the road this season, with a record of just 15-26 away from home. All of these factors could give the Pelicans the edge they need to secure a victory and advance to the next round of the playoffs.
THE PICK: Pelicans win and advance to play Timberwolves. Then, the Pelicans will take down the Wolves and punch the last playoff ticket in the West!
Now, lets look at the matchups in the Eastern Conference. First, lets start with another 4 and 5 seeded matchup.
(4) Cavaliers vs. (5) Knicks Round 1 Preview
The Cleveland Cavaliers and the New York Knicks will face off in the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs, with the Cavaliers holding home court advantage as the No. 4 seed. Cleveland has been building around their young core, but the addition of superstar scoring machine Donovan Mitchell has given them a proven playoff performer to help push the squad forward. While the Cavs have aspirations for a deep playoff run, their first goal will be to win a playoff series, something they haven’t accomplished since LeBron James left in 2018.
The Knicks, on the other hand, made a quick turnaround after a disappointing 2021-22 season and have plenty of reason to be optimistic. Their leading scorer, Julius Randle, suffered an ankle injury late in the year, but the hope is that he will be back for this series. Jalen Brunson, the star free agent addition for New York, has been playing at an elite level and has helped elevate the team’s performance. With a young core and plenty of draft capital going forward, the Knicks have a bright future ahead of them. However, they will first need to win a playoff series, something they haven’t accomplished since the 2012-13 season.
The head-to-head record between these two teams is in favor of the Knicks, who won three out of the four matchups in the regular season. However, the playoffs are a different beast, and both teams will be looking to prove themselves in this series. The Cavaliers are the favorites to win, but the Knicks have the talent and the potential to pull off an upset. Ultimately, the series will come down to which team can execute their game plan and play to their strengths.
(3) 76ers vs. (6) Nets Round 1 Preview
The Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets will face off in what promises to be an exciting first-round matchup of the 2023 NBA playoffs. Philadelphia holds the No. 3 seed and home-court advantage, while the No. 6 seed Nets are looking to pull off an upset.
The 76ers have had a very solid regular season, with Joel Embiid having an MVP-worthy season, leading the team in scoring and contributing to their perfect 4-0 head-to-head record against Brooklyn. However, the Sixers have struggled with injuries in the past, and there are always concerns about Embiid’s health going into the playoffs. Additionally, James Harden, who was acquired by the Nets in a midseason trade, has a mixed track record in the postseason. The Sixers have the talent and depth to make a deep playoff run, but it will all come down to whether they can put everything together and meet expectations.
On the other hand, the Nets have had a rollercoaster of a season, with major trades and injuries affecting their lineup. Despite this, they managed to secure a playoff spot, and with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving now gone, they have a young core ready to step up. The Nets have nothing to lose and can play with a carefree attitude, making them a dangerous opponent for the 76ers. If the Nets can push the series to its limits, it could be a tougher matchup for the Sixers than many expect.
While the 76ers are the clear favorites to win the series, the Nets are not to be underestimated. If they can come together and play at their best, they could potentially pull off an upset. However, it’s more likely that the Sixers will advance to the second round, where they will have their eyes set on a deeper playoff run.
East Play-In Preview & Prediction: (7) Heat vs (8) Hawks
In the first play-in game of the 2021-22 NBA season, the Atlanta Hawks face off against the Miami Heat to determine who takes the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. These two teams are familiar with each other, having met four times in the regular season and playoffs last year. Miami came out on top in five games during the postseason, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of Hawks fans.
Although Miami is the favorite heading into this game, the Hawks have Trae Young and a talented roster, making anything possible. The Hawks rested their starters in their previous game against the Boston Celtics to keep them fresh for this matchup. Young is undoubtedly the Hawks’ best player, and missing the playoffs would endanger his reputation.
The Hawks have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the league this season, often fluctuating around the .500-mark. They finished the season with an even record of 41 wins and 41 losses. Despite making aggressive moves in the market, the team has not evolved much since their conference final appearance last year.
Miami is at a crossroad, either growing and making a big noise in the playoffs or facing dissolution during free agency. They had a mediocre season instead of being one of the top three contenders for winning the East, as many predicted. The Heat have a diverse offense but are terrible on the offensive side of the ball. They have the worst field goal percentages and offensive rebounding in the league, making their defense their only saving grace, the second-best in the league in points per game.
In their previous meetings this season, Miami leads the series 3-1. However, the Hawks lost by a narrow margin in their two games in Miami, indicating that they can compete against the Heat. The pressure on Miami is much greater than on the Hawks, which could be a significant factor since the Heat team looks as if it could break down at any given moment.
THE PICK: Ultimately, the prediction is to side with the underdogs and bet on the Hawks to win. Despite being the favorites, Miami’s poor offensive performance and inconsistency could work in the Hawks’ favor. Therefore, the pick is Atlanta Hawks (+175). I also believe the Heat will be playing, and then beating whoever wins the 9 and 10 matchup between the Bulls and Raptors, the last matchup we have to cover until the Play-In tournament commences.
East Play-In Preview & Prediction: (10) Bulls vs (9) Raptors
This marks the first time that the two teams meet in the post-season as well as the first time that either team takes part in the play-in tournament. Though they haven’t met in the playoff, the feeling of familiarity will be clear for Raptors fans as they take on former fan favourite DeMar DeRozan in the most high-stakes game of the year.
Whoever wins Wednesday’s game will travel to take on the loser of the 7-8 play-in game between the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat next Friday for a chance at the eighth seed and a playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Season Summary The Raptors and Bulls have had turbulent campaigns, with neither squad having surpassed two games above .500 for the entirety of the regular season. They’ve followed similar paths this season and were mirror images during the trade deadline. The Raptors sat four games under .500 when the Feb. 9, deadline passed and the Bulls weren’t much better at three games under the mark.
However, they both decided to toss aside the notion of selling away their players for picks or future assets and instead chose to bolster their squads. The loser may regret their decision to not sell at the deadline. Toronto leads the season series 2-1 with their last matchup ending in a 104-98 Raptors victory on Feb. 28. Key Players DeMar DeRozan, Bulls For the first time since being traded from Toronto, DeRozan is set to take on his former team in the post-season.
The beloved wing hasn’t missed a beat since leaving the team that drafted him, having been named to the past two All-Star games and receiving his second All-NBA selection last season. Since pairing up with Zach LaVine in Chicago, the 14-year wing has been stellar, averaging 26.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists the past two seasons. However, his issues come playoff time have also persisted. In the Bucks’ sweep of the Bulls last season, DeRozan’s scored only 20.8 points per game on 41 per cent shooting from the field, down a fair margin from his 27.9 points per game on 50 per cent from the field in the regular season.
If he wants to avoid a one-and-done in the play-in tournament, he’ll have to stave off his playoff demons in a city all-too familiar with his postseason struggles. Fred VanVleet and the Raptors similarly to DeRozan, shrunk in the playoffs last season, with VanVleet in particular averaging a paltry 13.8 points on 35% shooting from the field in the four games he appeared in against the Philadelphia 76ers. The point guard has been a mixed bag in his seventh season.
Though his scoring has kept pace with last season, he’s shooting a career-worst 34% from three. For a team as range deprived as the Raptors, who currently possess the fourth-worst percentage from deep at 34.2% since Jan. 1, getting VanVleet on a good day will be absolutely key. The offense still runs through VanVleet. His playmaking has improved this season while also limiting turnovers. Only three games ago against the Charlotte Hornets, he broke the Raptors’ single-game record for assists with 20. VanVleet will need to find steady footing against what has been the second-best defense (112.8 defensive rating) in the NBA since the trade deadline. As I said earlier, whoever wins this game will probably lose to the Heat if the Hawks do indeed upset them.
THE PICK: Whoever wins will lose their next game and be eliminated since neither rosters match up to Atlanta’s or Miami’s.
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