As we approach the end of the season and the beginning of the NBA playoffs, both excitement and disappointment begin to sit with fanbases around the league. Some of the typical championship contenders remain the cream of the crop, but the current playoff picture looks far different from years prior.
The Western Conference is, still, extremely clustered. Seeds four through 11 are all within five games of each other. There’s less parity in the East, but the play-in seeds remain jumbled. With less than two weeks remaining in the season, let’s take a deep, detailed look at the NBA playoff picture.
Here’s a look at the current play-in standings in the Eastern Conference (standings accurate as of March 30, 2023).
- #7) Heat 40-37
- #8) Hawks 38-38
- #9) Raptors 38-38
- #10 Bulls 36-40
Play-in matchups: Bulls @ Raptors, Hawks @ Heat
It’s worth noting that the Nets own the sixth seed, although they are just 1.5 games ahead of Miami. Either the Nets or Heat could occupy the seventh seed by the time the season ends.
Here, we have some solid matchups. The Heat easily put away the Hawks in the first round last year, although they clearly aren’t on that level anymore. Meanwhile, both the Raptors and Bulls have had disappointing seasons, and one will get dumped after the first play-in game. The Wizards own the 11th seed, but remain two games behind Chicago.
- #7) Timberwolves 39-38
- #8) Lakers 38-38
- #9) Pelicans 38-38
- #10) Thunder 38-39
Play-in matchups: Thunder @ Pelicans, Lakers @ Timberwolves.
This conference is far more jumbled. The Timberwolves find themselves in a play-in spot, yet are just one game behind the sixth seeded Warriors. They’re also just a game and a half out of the fourth seed.
Still, Minnesota will face the Lakers in their first play-in matchup. The Warriors has had a very up-and-down season, as has Los Angeles. The Pelicans and Thunder is a matchup of two teams going in very different directions. Bpth teams are young, up and coming franchises, and they’ll be battling for a spot in the playoffs here.
The Mavericks sit a full game behind the Thunder, and the Jazz are one and a half games back.
Current NBA Playoffs Matchups
- (1) Bucks vs. #8 seed.
- (2) Celtics vs. #7 seed.
- (3) 76ers vs. (6) Nets
- (4) Cavaliers vs (5) Knicks
The Bucks and Celtics have led this conference from the very beginning of the season. Both of these teams stand out apart from the rest of the competition, and both will be heavy favorites over whichever play-in team they face. Milwaukee could face the Hawks, Raptors or Bulls, while Boston would likely face Miami or Atlanta.
The Nets have been a bit of a surprising team. After trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, most expected them to tank. However, some players have blossomed in the new system, and they’ve risin to contention. They’d pose a tough matchup against a 76ers team that has been in a bit of a freefall recently.
Finally, the Cavs and Knicks present a very even matchup. Both teams are very similar, and this series has a good chance of going seven games.
- (1) Nuggets vs. #8 seed.
- (2) Grizzlies vs. #7 seed.
- (3) Kings vs. (6) Warriors
- (4) Suns vs. (5) Clippers
This conference is incredibly clogged, and by the time the season ends these standings could look very different. The Nuggets and Grizzlies have been the top two in this conference for most of the season, and they’ll face one of the play-in sides.
The Kings and Warriors are a very interesting matchup. Golden State has had the Kings’ number for quite awhile now, but Sacramento is a different beast this season.
The Suns and Clippers have both had plenty of ups and downs this season, but remain right in the thick of the playoff race. A playoff series between these two might be one of the better matchups around the entire league. Both teams have star power and large expectations, and it would be a very intense first round matchup.
NBA Playoffs Storylines
Young, New Playoff Contenders
One of the biggest aspects to this postseason is the new up-and-coming franchises that will be new to the playoff landscape. We will see a couple of them on display this season.
In the Western Conference, the Kings and Thunder are the two most surprising playoff contenders. Sacramento recently clinched their playoff berth for the first time in 17 years. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City has accelerated their rebuild far quicker than anybody might have guessed as they contend for a play-in spot.
In the East, the Cavaliers remain the new darlings in the playoff scene. Cleveland made the play-in last year, but couldn’t advance. This year they’ve earned a playoff series. The Nets have been in the playoffs before, but their new, young core will be leading the playoff charge for the first time as well.
Continuance of NBA Playoffs’ Rivalries
Rivalries are vital to the NBA’s popularity. The league thrives off of rivalries, and those that occur in the playoffs make for a legendary atmosphere. This year, we have a ton of potential rivalry matchups.
In the West, the most well-known squabble is between the Warriors and Grizzlies. Both teams have made their dislike for the other clear, and as it stands, there is a very real chance this can be a first, or second round matchup.
The Celtics and Heat played each other in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. That game came down to the final seconds in game seven, in one of the most evenly-matched series’ in recent memory. If Miami comes out of the play-in as the seventh seed, this re-match will be a first round matchup.
One of the brightest parts about the playoffs in general is the creation of these rivalries. We’ll see some very exciting, tough matchups this time around, and some of those will create rivalries that extend into next season.