As the 2023 NBA playoffs rapidly approach, some teams are beginning to clinch their spots. Based on the current standings, here is an analysis and my predictions for each Western team in the playoff picture.
2023 NBA Playoff Predictions: Western Conference
The last few playoffs ended in disappointment for the Denver Nuggets, but this season may be different. They finally have their key players healthy, with Nikola Jokic (24.9 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 9.9 APG), Jamal Murray (20.1 PPG, 4 RPG, 6.2 APG), Michael Porter Jr. (17.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG), and Aaron Gordon (16.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.9 APG) only missing some games. Jokic, who may three-peat as MVP, has guided the Nuggets to the best record in the West (51-24) and leads the league in triple-doubles (29). Denver also holds the second-best offensive rating in the league (117.8), excelling at playmaking and efficiency (50.9 FG%). Though, their defence remains their main issue, especially in the paint.
Prediction: I think the Nuggets have the potential to make it to the Finals with a solid chance of winning the championship. Even with their defensive shortcomings, Denver is one of the strongest teams in the West. The Phoenix Suns seem to be their main competition, but their chemistry and injury history are concerning.
With or without Ja Morant, the Memphis Grizzlies have been able to win. The guard recently missed some time while serving a suspension, but the team managed to go 6-3 in his absence and hold the second seed (47-27). Still, they’ll need him to make a serious championship run. Averaging 26.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 8.1 APG, Morant has been their main offensive spark, especially with his ability to get into the paint. He’s also had plenty of help from Desmond Bane (21.2 PPG, 5 RPG, 4.2 APG), a solid three-point shooter and playmaker. Though Memphis’s greatest strength lies in their defence, and they’re a top-three team in steals (8.3) and blocks (5.8) per game. Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr. (18 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3 BPG) has been their anchor along with Dillon Brooks.
Prediction: Injuries have taken a toll on the team – especially with the loss of Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke – but they’ve still thrived. The Grizzlies have great potential and I can see them making it to the Conference Finals. I don’t think it’s their year for a trophy, but they’re getting close.
Certainly one of the more surprising teams this year, the Sacramento Kings currently hold the third seed in the West with a 45-30 record. Not only do they have the best offensive rating in the league this season (118.9), but all-time. Leading scorer De’Aaron Fox (25.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 6.1 APG) is the NBA’s best player in the clutch and his explosiveness and speed make him difficult to defend in the paint. Alongside him, Domantas Sabonis (19.2 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 7.2 APG) has developed into an excellent playmaker and a double-double machine, tallying a league-most 61 so far this year. However, their defence is the opposite, ranking 25th in the league (116.5).
Prediction: Regardless of how far they make it in the postseason, the Kings are on the verge of ending a 16-year playoff drought. That alone makes this season a success. The biggest question facing this team is if their regular season success can continue. But, with their defensive issues and lack of experience, I think a first-round exit is very possible.
Following their acquisition of Kevin Durant (29.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 5.3 APG) at the trade deadline, the Suns suddenly became favourites to win the title in the West. Although multiple injuries have limited him to play only three games with Phoenix, adding a player of his calibre is enough to turn any team into contenders. He’s reportedly on track to return Wednesday, joining the core of Devin Booker (28.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 5.4 APG), Chris Paul (13.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 9.1 APG), and Deandre Ayton (18.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG). They did lose two key depth players, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, to the Brooklyn Nets, but the Suns remain the fourth seed in the West (40-35). They’ve struggled a bit as of late, but things should start to turn around when they’re back to full strength.
Prediction: Durant’s injury history and team chemistry raise some questions, but if he and their stars can stay healthy I think the Suns can make it to the Conference Finals. However, if they match up against the Nuggets I believe they’ll be sent home, but they should be able to handle the rest of the West. Phoenix has made some deep runs in the past without Durant, so his addition is a significant boost.
Los Angeles Clippers
Injuries have been the Los Angeles Clippers’ greatest enemy this season, from Kawhi Leonard’s (23.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4 APG) knee issues and injury management to Paul George’s (23.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 5.1 APG) recent knee sprain. Although, George is reportedly out for at least two-three weeks, so he could return for the postseason. On the flip side, they have one of the best benches in the NBA. At the trade deadline, they acquired Bones Hyland, Eric Gordon, and Mason Plumlee and later signed Russell Westbrook. The Clippers have struggled with consistency, but as the season has progressed they’ve made improvements to their offence and defence.
Prediction: My biggest concern for Los Angeles is injuries, mainly with George and Leonard’s availability, but they have a talented roster and plenty of postseason experience. They should at least make it to the Conference Semi-Finals, but I can’t see them going further.
The last team that currently avoids the Play-In Tournament is the Minnesota Timberwolves, holding a 39-37 record. The main storyline that sums up their season thus far is the Rudy Gobert (13.8 PPG, 11.6 RPG) experiment. Early in the year, he struggled to find his place on the team and in the frontcourt alongside Karl-Anthony Towns (20.5 PPG, 7.9 PRG, 5.1 APG). While they’ve made some adjustments, it still seems they have some kinks to work out. Their most reliable player has been Anthony Edwards (24.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.5 APG), who helped carry Minnesota through the 51 games Towns missed after suffering a calf strain. Though Mike Conley, Kyle Anderson, Jaden McDaniels, and Naz Reid all stepped up. Overall, the focus for the Timberwolves right now should be to find consistency, and fast.
Prediction: With all the struggles Minnesota’s had this season I think a first-round exit is in store for them. The team is still figuring out their identity and Gobert is still coming into his own. Since the return of Towns the team has been doing well, but can they keep it up?