The regular season is done and dusted. Now, we’re working our way down to two teams and, eventually, a champion starting with Round 1 of the NBA playoffs.
Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
Both the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks made major moves throughout the last NBA off-season.
Donovan Mitchell seemed destined to land in New York before the Knicks pulled the pin and put all of their eggs in Jalen Brunson’s basket along with some young talent. Instead, Mitchell ended up in Cleveland before playing out one of the best seasons of his NBA career to average 28.3 points per game. However, a lot of the success of those moves will be measured on the result of this round.
Mitchell v Brunson is the headline act of this series. They’ve played major roles in elevating their respective teams to this point and will decide which team elevates at least one round higher this season. From an overall standpoint, it’s a classic offence v defence matchup.
The Cavaliers finished the regular season with the best defence in the NBA allowing only 110.6 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, the Knicks rank third in offence scoring 117.8 points per 100 possessions. It’s a matchup that should produce a stellar series. A series the Cavaliers should win given how important defence is in the playoffs and the fact they themselves also play with a Top 10 offence.
Cleveland are $1.42 and -5.5 favourites to win Game 1.
Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
The Philadelphia 76ers swept a couple of different versions of the Brooklyn Nets 4-0 throughout the NBA regular season. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons all started for the Nets in the first game…
While plenty will tip the 76ers to finish the year 8-0, the Nets have ridden a motivated and versatile lineup to a 13-15 finish to the season, and they’ll no doubt be eager to cause a monumental upset. Spencer Dinwiddie has the firepower to win a game himself. Mikal Bridges is producing at a level offensively few thought he was capable of to average 26.1 points per game since joining the franchise. The Nets are capable.
Joel Embiid will back himself against the small-ball roster, though. He’s averaging an impressive 33.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game to be the MVP favourite down the stretch. However, if Brooklyn can shut him down in Game 1 or Game 2 and pick up an early win, and if we consider the playoff history of James Harden, this series could be anything.
Nic Claxton, it’s over to you.
Nic Claxton has some WORDS for Joel Embiid following the Nets loss Vs. the Sixers. pic.twitter.com/ErR0FGhaAm
— Hoops Graphic (@HoopsGraphic) January 26, 2023
The Nets will need to overcome their status as $3.70 and +8.5 underdogs if they’re to cause an upset in Game 1.
Phoenix Suns v LA Clippers
So much of this series depends on the health of Paul George.
With him and the LA Clippers might have enough on the perimeter to make life difficult for Keven Durant with the ball. Without him and it’s difficult to see the Clippers keeping up with this high-powered Phoenix Suns offence with Durant and Devin Booker causing havoc.
Kevin Durant tonight:
8-0 as a Sun‼️🔥 pic.twitter.com/W981sJ9I32
— Booker Muse (@DevinBookerMuse) April 7, 2023
The Suns haven’t spent a lot of time together. In most instances, that’s a major cause for concern. Just look at how the Nets struggled to gel in their limited time together. However, Chris Paul, Booker and Deandre Ayton are familiar with each other. As one of the best facilitators in NBA history, Paul is a great option as a floor general if he can get a few more series out of his 37-year-old rig. His game has gone downhill in every facet, but you can’t rule him out of finding something special as the fourth guy in a stacked rotation.
Russell Westbrook has done some nice things for the Clippers but will more than likely be a liability towards the end of games. Kawhi Leonard, while capable of a lot more than his 23.8 points per game suggests, will need to produce a superhuman effort to raise the Clippers and their 16th-ranked 115 offensive rating high enough to keep up with the new-look Suns.
It all hinges on George, and even then, the Clippers will most probably be chasing the Suns.
As it stands, the Suns are significant $1.33 and -7.5 favourites to win Game 1.
Sacramento Kings v Golden State Warriors
You almost have to feel a little bit sorry for the Sacramento Kings. They’ve navigated an incredible regular season to finish up as the 3rd seed in the Western Conference and ended their 16-year playoff drought. After finishing up the 2021-22 season ranked 25th offensively, Sacramento’s 2022-23 offensive rating is good for the best in the NBA scoring 119.4 points per 100 possessions. However, they now find themselves going up against the defending NBA champions.
While the Golden State Warriors haven’t been at their best, you’d be a fool to write them off. They’ve been here and done it all before. If there is a team that knows how to flick a switch at this time of the year and put it all together for a run towards the NBA Finals, it’s the Warriors. They’ll back themselves against a Kings defence ranking 26th in the league heading into the playoffs, too.
The Original Death Lineup — all in the same Playoff Series once again! pic.twitter.com/KYJrZX2VPk
— WarriorsMuse (@WarriorsMuse) April 10, 2023
What we do know about this series is that the three-ball will fly throughout. Twenty players made 200 or more three-point shots during the regular season. Five of them – Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole, Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray – will feature in this series. Curry is the greatest shooter of all time while Murray just set the rookie record for threes in a season. Prepare yourselves for perimeter chaos in a series that will be determined by which team can make the most of their hot streaks. Advantage: Warriors.
Despite finishing as the higher seed and playing Game 1 at home, the Kings are only slight $1.86 and -1.5 favourites. Of note, the Warriors ended the regular season as the worst road team against the spread:
“Strangely, the Warriors were the worst team against the spread on the road covering only 11 of their 40 road games (27.5%).” – Week 25 In Review
NBA Playoffs TBC
The NBA’s Play-in Tournament will determine the remaining playoff series matchups.
In the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks will play the 8th seed while the Boston Celtics will line up against the winner of Atlanta Hawks ($2.80/+5.5) @ Miami Heat ($1.44/-5.5).
Over in the West, the Denver Nuggets are waiting on the 8th seed while the Memphis Grizzlies will play the winner of Minnesota Timberwolves ($3/+6.5) @ Los Angeles Lakers ($1.40/-6.5).