OPINION: NBA playoff potential

Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green (23) hands Portland Trailblazers’ Gary Payton II (00) his 2022 NBA Championship ring during a pre-game ceremony before their NBA game at the Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022.

With the 2023 NBA regular season officially over, the hunt for a championship begins for the league’s top teams, and it’s time to look at who has the most potential to reach the NBA Finals.

Eastern Conference
In the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks remain the favorite to take home the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in this year’s playoffs. The Bucks ended the regular season with a 58–24 record and were able to hold onto that No. 1 seed.

Entering the playoffs as the reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Boston Celtics secured the No. 2 seed with a 57–25 record. Last year, the Celtics fell 4–2 to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Currently, Boston has the best point differential in the league with 6.5.

Small forward Jayson Tatum leads the Celtics in points, averaging 30.1 points and 8.8 rebounds. Tatum is currently predicted to land a spot on the All-NBA First team this year.

One of the other three teams predicted to represent the East in the Finals is the Philadelphia 76ers. Led by MVP candidate center Joel Embiid, the 76ers finished the season with a 54–28 record. Philadelphia currently has the third-best defense in the league, allowing only 110.9 points per game.

Seen as an underdog, some fans believe the Cleveland Cavaliers could have a Cinderella-story run. Led by former Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, the Cavaliers currently have the best defense, allowing only 106.9 points per game, and the second best point differential, at 5.3 in the league.

Western Conference
While many believe that there are only a few contenders in the East, the West looks to have more opportunity.

The Denver Nuggets have the No. 1 seed in the conference with a 53–29 record but because of their troubled history in the postseason, many do not see them as an NBA Finals contender.

The Phoenix Suns look like the team to beat in the West, with a lineup consisting of superstar forward Kevin Durant, all-star guard Devin Booker and NBA veteran Chris Paul. While they sit at only No. 4 in the conference, the team has looked significantly stronger since Durant returned to the lineup. The Suns appeared last in the Finals during the 2021 season, where they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Suns will face the Los Angeles Clippers on April 16 at 6 p.m.

The reigning NBA Finals champions, the Golden State Warriors, are currently slated to take on the No. 3-seeded Sacramento Kings. Despite finishing sixth in the conference, the Warriors strong playoff history makes them contenders for the title.

The odds for the 2023 NBA Finals will depend on various factors, including team performance, player injuries, and how well the in-season/off-season acquisitions perform on their new teams.

This year’s NBA playoffs is about as unpredictable as it gets, with three strong NBA MVP candidates and teams from each conference having the best odds for this year’s title. The 2023 playoffs will be one worth watching.