With just one week left in the regular season, here are my 2023 NBA Playoff predictions in the Eastern Conference. Like my piece for the West, I will cover the top six teams currently in the playoff picture and analyze their performance this year.
2023 NBA Playoff Predictions: Eastern Conference
The race for the first seed in the East has been a battle between the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. Though the former has secured the spot with a 58-22 record (the best record in the NBA). The Bucks have been on a tear, holding the longest win streak this season with 16 games. Injuries have been the most significant factor for them, particularly with their big three of MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo (31.1 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 5.7 APG), Jrue Holiday (19.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 7.3 APG), and Khris Middleton (15.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 5.1 APG). Even with these struggles, Milwaukee has the third-best defensive rating (110.5), thanks to the core of Holiday, Antetkounmpo, and Brook Lopez. They excel at contesting perimeter and three-point shots, and in turn, their 48.9 RPG ranks first in the league.
Prediction: Despite the Bucks being the current favorites to win, I think the farthest they’ll get is to the Conference Finals. This is an excellent squad; they have the defense, star power, depth, and experience, but the Celtics appear to be the team to beat in the East.
The Celtics have been the favorites to win the championship for the majority of the season. Although now they’ve taken a backseat to the Bucks by holding the second seed (55-25). But with an All-Star duo, incredible bench depth, and a top-five-rated offense (third) and defense (fourth), they have a strong case to win. Jayson Tatum (30.2 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 4.6 APG) and Jaylen Brown (26.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.4 APG) are both having career-best seasons. They’re arguably one of the top offensive duos in the league. Even when these stars have an off night, they can still count on multiple other options. Derrick White, Marcus Smart, and Malcolm Brogdon have been key offensive contributors. On the other end, they have reigning Defensive Player of the Year Smart, along with White and Al Horford.
Prediction: I think the Celtics have the edge over the Bucks and will advance to the Finals. Following their Championship loss last year to the Golden State Warriors, Boston should only be more determined to win. The Celtics are my pick to win it all.
MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid (33.3 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 4.2 APG) has led the Philadelphia 76ers to the third seed (52-27) in the East and the second-best offensive rating in the league (117.1). He’s been extremely dominant on offense, leading the league in points per game. His co-star James Harden (21.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 10.8 APG) is also having an excellent season, but multiple past disappointing playoff performances may come back to haunt him. Staying healthy may be another concern for Philadelphia, something they’ve struggled with throughout the season. Though they’ve managed to persevere thanks to their depth. Namely, Tyrese Maxey (20.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.5 APG) has displayed his ability to carry the offense and has shown flashes of strong defense. The 76ers have a strong momentum going, but they’ve struggled with defensive breakdowns lately.
Prediction: For most of the season, the Bucks and Celtics were locked as the top teams in the East. The 76ers have lingered just outside, and I think they’ll lose in the Conference Semi-Finals. Embiid will once again be carrying the team through the playoffs, but sometimes his lone efforts aren’t enough.
Acquiring Donovan Mitchell (28.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.4 APG) in the offseason boosted the Cleveland Cavaliers’ championship odds. They’re currently sitting at the fourth seed in the East (50-30) and hold the best defensive rating in the league (110.1). Evan Mobley’s (16.3 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG) and Jarrett Allen’s (14.4 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 1.2 BPG) shot-blocking and rebounding abilities have helped limit opponents to just 46.3 PPG in the paint (third-best). Cleveland has the seventh-best offensive rating (115.7), but they’ve struggled to find consistency. Mitchell and Darius Garland (21.6 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 7.8 APG) have carried most of the load, having little help outside Mobley, Allen, and Caris LeVert. It’ll be important for them to find a rhythm and have some of their bench step up in the postseason.
Prediction: Cleveland is an exciting young team with lots of potential. The Mitchell experiment is working extremely well, although they lack depth and reliable scorers compared to higher-seeded teams. They should be able to survive the first round, but I think they’ll be sent home in the Conference Semi-Finals.
New York Knicks
The Knicks are having an impressive season following a disappointing 11th-place finish last year. Julius Randle (25.1 PPG, 10 RPG, 4.1 APG) and RJ Barrett (19.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.7 APG) have bounced back and propelled New York to a top-five offensive rating (117). Randle recently suffered a sprained ankle and will miss at least two weeks, but Jalen Brunson (24 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 6.2 APG) can continue to carry the offense. The offseason acquisition has exceeded expectations on his new team through his playmaking and sharpshooting. Although, the Knicks need Randle to remain competitive. The supporting cast of Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, and Josh Hart has shown potential in increased minutes when these starters are out. Defensively, they rank 19th (114), and their perimeter defense has easily been exploited at times. However, they excel at limiting opponent paint points with a league-best 45.7 PPG.
Prediction: New York has taken tremendous strides in building a playoff team. Brunson has proved to be an excellent addition, and they need a few more pieces and improvements to make a deep run. Until then, I believe a first-round exit is in store for them this year.
At the beginning of the season, the Brooklyn Nets were seen as title contenders with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. When the roster drastically changed at the trade deadline, their championship odds dropped. They did receive some solid players out of the deal, namely Mikal Bridges (27.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.7 APG) and Spencer Dinwiddie (17.4 PPG, 4 RPG, 8.6 APG), but it likely isn’t enough to compete against the previously mentioned star-studded teams. Their offensive rating placed ninth before the All-Star break (115.4), but between then and April 5th, it ranks 23rd (113.6). However, their defense has slightly improved, thanks to Bridges and Nic Claxton’s stellar rim protection. Lately, the Nets have been on a roll, and it may be enough to clinch the final playoff spot over the seventh-seeded Miami Heat.
2023 NBA Playoff Prediction: A first-round exit is likely in store for this newly renovated team. Brooklyn lost their main offensive outlets in Irving and Durant and lacks star power. Ben Simmons is a whole other situation, and he was recently shut down for the rest of the year due to back issues.