After three upsets (by seeding) in the first round of the playoffs including the Heat over Bucks, we ranked the five best teams in the NBA Playoffs right now.
Let’s get this out of the way right now.
Ahem…off rip, no Giannis Antetokounmpo, you, as one of the best basketball players on the planet, are not a failure. But getting bounced by an eighth seed in five games after having the best record in the entire league is an unmitigated team failure. So, there is failure in sports, despite what you ranted about and what everyone wants to bend over backward and (hilariously) praise your words with reverence for its poignance, especially when a team has high expectations, such as the Milwaukee Bucks had at the start of the playoffs. Full stop.
Whew, had to get that off the chest.
Anyway, the 2023 playoffs have been something to watch and not predictable in the least. From the Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies shitting the bed to the Sacramento Kings putting up a valiant effort but having their beam dimmed by the Golden State Warriors, there have been plenty of upsets. For the first time, we’re left with literally seeds one to eight as we enter the Conference Semifinals.
Something, ain’t it?
That said, these rankings will get tighter. So, let’s not fail at our jobs and hit you with who we feel are the remaining powerhouses in the NBA’s postseason.
Despite getting spanked by the Denver Nuggets in their Game 1 loss, the Phoenix Suns still sit atop the remaining teams in the playoffs as the No.1 rated offense. They still have Devin Booker, who is tied for scoring in the playoffs (35.5) and leads the league in steals (2.3) on their roster, and they still have Kevin Durant who is seventh in the same category as Booker with 28.5 points. So, it’s a safe bet to say their loss in Mile High was an anomaly, especially when KD “damn near got half [the Suns] turnovers” with seven of the team’s 16. Hard to imagine that continuing to be a trend, but Phoenix is going to need others to step up.
Booker and Durant are both tied for playoff minutes at an astounding 42.6, which is more a testament to the lack of depth they have. That means Chris Paul’s 11 points and 20 percent from three isn’t going to cut it. That means their three-balls need to fall and not repeat the same horrid 30 percent from deep in Game 1. And that means Deandre Ayton needs to step up and get physical with Nikola Jokic if they’re going to make this series a competitive one. Scoring only 14 points and grabbing a measly seven rebounds while giving up 19 boards to The Joker isn’t going to lend to success against the number one seed in the Western Conference.
Golden State Warriors
Never underestimate the heart of a champion, let alone, in the context of the NBA Playoffs, the heart of a defending champion. We’ve waxed poetic about how the Golden State Warriors came into this second season as the No. 6 seed with the worst road record of all teams and won two important road games to knock off the third-seeded Sacramento Kings. And the most crucial road win came yesterday with a 120-100 drubbing in Game 7, the largest margin of victory for an away team in the playoffs thus far.
Steph Curry went completely nuclear, scorching the Kings with 50 points, which set a career-high in the playoffs, placed him 10th all-time in career playoff average (26.9), and has him sitting fourth in points per game in the playoffs (33.7). Now, from one California rival to another, the Dubs face a Los Angeles Laker team they lost three out of the four times they played during the season and will need more from Klay Thompson, who averaged 19 points during those games. But, the Warriors have homecourt during this Western Conference Semifinal series, and at the end of the day, you never want to underestimate the defending champs.
If there were a team that defined the concept that seeding doesn’t matter and all that’s needed is to get into the playoffs, it’s these Miami Heat. Because for the life of us, we’re still wrapping our heads around the fact that during the regular season, this team was one of the worst offenses in the league—25th in offensive rating and 30th in points—to being number one offense in points (121.3), number one in three-point percentage (42.9 percent) and fourth in rating (118.4) in these same playoffs. Oh, right, and that’s for a team that lost its first game in the Play-In Tournament only to salvage their season by winning their second to secure the eighth seed and, in five games, totally embarrass and eliminate the number-one seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who had the best record in the league. And that’s after being down valued scoring options Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo. Was that a lot to process? Because that was a lot to unpack.
Miami is 5-1 in the playoffs, and Jimmy Butler continues to add to his legacy, not only averaging 37.6 points in the first-round upset of the Bucks but tied with Devin Booker in leading the playoffs in scoring with 35.5. And lest not forget to mention how he walked into a hostile Madison Square Garden, scored a modest 25 points, and spent the waning minutes of the fourth quarter hobbling up and down the court with a rolled ankle and still willed his team to a Game 1 win against the New York Knicks.
Guess we can call the Nuggets’ Game 1 125-107 victory over the Phoenix Suns the “Jamal Murray Game” because the sixth-year combo guard lit up the Suns for 34 points, five rebounds and nine dimes, with a ridiculous 6-10 from beyond the arc. While Murray continued to add to the legend of “Playoff Jamal Murray” while doing the heavy lifting, MVP candidate Nikola Jokic was an absolute beast on the boards, grabbing 19 to add to his 24-points—albeit on lackluster 9-21 shooting. Solid contributions from Aaron Gordon (23 points, six rebounds, 75 percent from deep) and Bruce Brown off the bench (14 points on 63 percent shooting) just added to the Phoenix beatdown.
Denver completely outmanned Phoenix and had them in fits all night to where they were careless with the rock to the tune of 16 turnovers. They also stifled their 3-point capabilities, forcing Phoenix to shoot 30 percent from three. If the first game was any indication, after putting up 125 points like it was nothing, it will be a long series for the Suns. And the Nuggs–the second-ranked team in offensive rating in the playoffs–will have no issues dispatching their desert-dwelling opponent on their way to their second Western Conference Final in three years.
Beantown’s tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown continues to dominate the league. With Brown’s 32 points and Tatum’s 30 and eliminating the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 in the first round, the duo is 23-1 when both put up 30 or more in a game. Tatum’s performance in the series was just as impressive, putting up a double-double with 27.2 points, ten rebounds, and one hat tip shoutout-slash-apology to “the legend Janet Jackson.” The team ranks third in offensive rating and now faces a Philadelphia 76ers team that will likely not have Joel Embiid manning the center. In their season series, the C’s dominated the Sixers winning three of their four matchups, with “The Jays” averaging 21 points each during those games. The Sixers appear to be down bad and the first game didn’t tip off yet, but if you’re a Boston fan who loves to troll, use this nugget of a stat to bury any debates: Jayson Tatum has more postseason wins in his six-year career than the entire Sixers organization has in 15 years.