The 2023 NBA Playoffs second round is officially set. There have already been some great storylines.
The eight-seed Miami Heat defeated the one-seed Milwaukee Bucks in five games. The Bucks had the best regular season record and were the title-favorite going into the playoffs. The seven-seed Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in six games, closing them out emphatically by winning by 40 points. The defending champion Golden State Warriors closed out the Sacramento Kings in game 7, with Stephen Curry erupting for 50 points.
This year’s NBA playoffs already have storylines, drama, superstars, and, most importantly, parity and unpredictability. Here are the eight remaining teams in the second round of the NBA playoffs, their power rankings, and the reasoning behind each rank.
NBA Playoffs: Round 2 Power Rankings
8. Miami Heat
Last round’s ranking: 15 (+7)
Reasoning: The Miami Heat come in with the most significant jump of plus seven from last round’s ranking. It makes sense, as they were the biggest first-round upset, defeating Giannis Antetokounmpo and the number one-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in five games.
A significant reason the Heat were able to advance is Jimmy Butler, who is in peak “Playoff Jimmy” form. In the Heat’s five games against the Bucks, Butler averaged 37.6 points per game, including a historic 56-point performance in Game 4.
While the Heat still has the worst power rankings, it’s a testament to Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and the rest of the Heat roster that they overcame their steep underdog odds to advance past the Bucks, who had the best regular season record.
Give Miami credit; they are about as competitive of a team as an eight-seed gets and a resilient group. The Heat were underdogs going into the round 2 series against the Knicks. However, now they are slightly favored to win the series after winning game 1 on the road in New York.
Even though they won game 1, there are still some question marks surrounding this team.
They are undermanned on offense, as they miss Tyler Herro, who is out with a broken right hand. The Heat have some role players capable of stepping up, but the question is if they are reliable enough to do so when called upon under extreme pressure in the playoffs.
7. New York Knicks
Last round’s ranking: 12 (+5)
Reasoning: The New York Knicks were underrated going into the playoffs because they didn’t have a true “superstar.” However, their physicality suits Tom Thibodeau’s system and the NBA Playoff atmosphere.
New York went into the series against the Cleveland Cavaliers as underdogs, yet managed to advance to round 2 after winning the series in five games. The Knicks only have a little playoff experience, but they were the more playoff-ready team in the series.
They’ll have their work cut out against the Miami Heat and their gritty mentality. New York lost their home-court advantage by losing game 1 to the Heat, 108-101. They’ll have a chance to even the series in game 2 on Tuesday, May 2nd. That should be considered a must-win game for the Knicks. They don’t want to go down 0-2 without having yet played a game in Miami.
6. Golden State Warriors
Last round’s ranking: 6
Reasoning: The defending champion Golden State Warriors remain sixth in the Power Rankings. They didn’t make it easy on themselves to advance, pushing the series against the three-seeded Sacramento Kings to seven games. They were forced to win a game seven on the road in Sacramento and have had an unusually bad road record this regular season of 11-30.
However, Stephen Curry came to play, scoring a playoff career-high 50 points. That was also the most points ever in a game 7 playoff game. The good news for the Warriors is that the Lakers are the seven seed. Golden State will have the home-court advantage, where they have played much better.
But this hasn’t looked like the same Warriors team we have become so accustomed to seeing in years past. They need to limit their turnovers and defend better.
Still, they have a formula that has worked in the past, led by superstar Stephen Curry, who continues to add to his Hall of Fame resume.
5. Los Angeles Lakers
Last round’s ranking: 7 (+2)
Reasoning: The new-look Lakers team is more talented than their seven seed suggests. Led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Los Angeles is dangerous because their best players are elite and have prior playoff experience. However, the Lakers will go as far as their players outside James and Davis will take them.
Austin Reaves has come onto the scene lately and played aggressively as both a playmaker and a scorer. In addition, D’Angelo Russell is a confident player that isn’t afraid of the big moments. Time will tell whether this Lakers team is the correct recipe for them to make a deep playoff run, but they certainly have a chance as long as James and Davis are on the floor.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
Last round’s ranking: 4
Reasoning: This upcoming playoff series against the two-seed Celtics will be the most crucial matchup for any team this round. It’s finally the test that the 76ers have been preparing for all season.
Now is as good a time as ever for Philadelphia to make a Finals run. Joel Embiid is having an MVP season. In addition, the title-favorite Milwaukee Bucks already got eliminated in the first round, and James Harden has an impending free-agency decision.
The Boston Celtics are now the title favorites, so this could be their most formidable task yet. One unfortunate thing to monitor for Philadelphia will be the status of Joel Embiid, who is doubtful for game 1 with a knee injury.
3. Phoenix Suns
Last round’s ranking: 3 (+1)
Reasoning: The Phoenix Suns got lucky with Kawhi Leonard‘s injury, as that had the making of a tremendous first-round series. However, you can’t knock the Suns for Leonard’s injury and have to give them credit for taking advantage of the opportunity presented.
In the series against the Clippers, Devin Booker was showing why he’s arguably the best shooting guard in the league, averaging 37.2 points per game. Between Booker, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Ayton, the Suns have one of the best starting lineups in the NBA that can compete against anyone.
However, one of their main questions is their depth. The Suns will only go as far as their role players take them, which is one of the three keys mentioned in this article. Their lack of depth was displayed in game 1 against the Nuggets. The Suns lost 125-107. They’ll certainly have some adjustments to make going into game 2. But a popular saying is that a series doesn’t truly start until the home team losses.
2. Denver Nuggets
Last round’s ranking: 5 (+3)
Reasoning: If Philadelphia versus Boston isn’t the most anticipated matchup of the second round, then it’s Denver versus Phoenix.
Star point guard Murray may be the key to this series. We know what to expect from two-time MVP Jokić. But if Murray is back to playing as he did in the 2020 NBA Bubble, the Nuggets are much more dangerous. That was the case when the Nuggets won game 1. The Suns had no answer for Murray, who erupted for 34 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.
If Murray can continue his elite play, the Nuggets will be a tough out against any team in a seven-game series.
1. Boston Celtics
Last round’s ranking: 2 (+1)
Reasoning: The former number two seed in the power rankings, the Celtics are now the highest ranked after the Milwaukee Bucks were eliminated in five games by the Miami Heat. In addition, the Celtics are the most well-balanced team in the entire league.
Boston has star players in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They have defensive stoppers in DPOY, Marcus Smart, and shot blocker, Robert Williams. They have experienced veterans in Al Horford and Derrick White. And, to top it off, they have some of the best depth in the NBA, most notably sixth man of the year Malcolm Brogdon.
Because the NBA playoffs are superstar dependant, Boston will go as far as Tatum and Brown can take them. But the good news for Celtics fans is that they have all the necessary pieces surrounding their two superstars to allow them to succeed.