(Image via olympics.com)
Staff Writer: Colton Almeida
The All-Star break, trade deadline, and bulk of the NBA season have come and gone. We now begin to shift our attention toward the postseason as the calendar has turned to March.
The NBA Playoffs will officially tip-off on April 15th with the play-in tournament. The NBA Finals will start on June 1st.
So what teams am I buying, and which am I selling? Who are the league’s sleeper teams, and what players should we key in on?
Let’s answer these questions as we gear up for the stretch run.
In my eyes, there are three teams that have currently separated themselves from the rest of the pack, one that I will throw into the mix with some skepticism.
Starting with the Boston Celtics, who have had an absolutely stellar season. Sure, they have not been as red hot as they were at the start of the campaign, but they still boast an impressive 47-21 record.
That’s good for second in the Eastern Conference.
Who do they trail? That would be the next team in this category: the Milwaukee Bucks.
It should surprise no one that the Bucks are once again among the favorites to capture a championship. They did exactly that just two years ago and are poised to once again make a deep postseason run.
Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are surging once again at the right time. The superstar is averaging 31.2 ppg, 11.9 rpg, and 5.5 apg.
If their supporting cast can contribute consistently, there is no reason the Bucks can’t reach the Finals.
Next, we have the Phoenix Suns.
Two years removed from making a Finals appearance against those very same Bucks, the Suns have since become a mainstay among the Western Conference’s elite.
Led by veteran Chris Paul and stud-shooting guard Devin Booker, the Suns already had superstar talent.
Despite already possessing this level of talent, they went all in at the deadline and traded for future Hall of Famer Kevin Durant.
Durant has unfortunately suffered an ankle injury, but if he can get right for the postseason, the Suns will be a scary team that nobody will want to see.
Lastly, we have a team that I put here with great hesitancy. That team is the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets have repeated another steady regular season and find themselves atop the West standings.
Nikola Jokić is right in the thick of the MVP conversation again, and the team has tons of talent around him.
That being said, this team just feels like Nuggets teams of the past. Ones that have tremendous regular seasons followed by mediocre playoff showings.
We shall see if they can prove me wrong this time around.
The teams in this category are ones that I have simply lost all hope for this season.
The Miami Heat look like a shell of themselves, despite the continued success of Jimmy Butler. They should make the playoffs, but I cannot see a viable path for a deep run.
The Memphis Grizzlies have collapsed on the court, as well as off of it.
With the drama surrounding star point guard Ja Morant to a handful of key injuries, the Grizzlies are hitting obstacles at a bad time right now.
This team is one that I would stay away from backing to make a Finals run.
I am also going to throw in the Dallas Mavericks.
Despite trading for Kyrie Irving at the deadline, the Mavericks still feel as though they are missing pieces.
Luka Dončić is a top-five player in the league, there is no doubt of that, but the Mavs just do not come together as a team the way you’d hope.
My last category is sleeper teams. These are squads that are under the radar that could make some serious noise.
The first is a strange one because they aren’t really a sleeper.
In fact, you could argue that the defending champion Golden State Warriors are anything but. However, it has been a rocky road for the Dubs this season.
Steph Curry has missed significant time, and the team has been abysmal on the road. If they can improve away from home and stay healthy, I could see the Warriors right back in the Finals.
The Cleveland Cavaliers fascinate me.
There are some nights where I think the sky’s the limit for this team, while others leave a lot to be desired. Still, they boast one of the best defensive units and have some serious star power offensively.
They will not be an easy out.
It might be wild to include a current number two seed in this, but I will go ahead and do it.
The Sacramento Kings are a team we have grown accustomed to missing the playoffs year in and year out. This is not the same Kings team.
The Kings possess one of the league’s scariest offenses, and while they do not have loads of experience, they have a solid roster all the way around.
Players to Watch
There are several names that I am super excited to watch in the 2023 playoffs.
Kawhi Leonard of the Clippers has the ability to take that team to new heights.
Jayson Tatum will look to get the Celtics back to the Finals and avenge last year’s loss.
Joel Embiid has not led his team to a Finals appearance, but the 76ers look as solid as ever, and the path is certainly there.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be a fun watch if the Thunder get in.
Donovan Mitchell will see his first postseason not in a Jazz uniform as he leads the Cavaliers into the playoffs.
And I’d be remiss if I did not mention my favorite player, Stephen Curry, as an absolute must-watch come playoff time.
The postseason is right around the corner. The stretch run will showcase some thrilling races, and the playoffs are promising to be as electric as ever.
Clear your calendar and get set for the 2023 NBA playoffs!
*All stats and standings via Basketball Reference.