By Zach Jacovini
With the 2022-2023 NBA regular season officially ending and the playoffs underway, it is time for the chase for the Larry O’Brien Trophy to begin. With elite teams in both the Eastern and Western Conferences this year, there is a multitude of teams with enough talent to make a run through the playoffs and capture the ever-elusive NBA title. Will the Golden State Warriors repeat once again as NBA champions? Will the Boston Celtics redeem their finals loss last season and win this year? Will the Philadelphia 76ers finally make it past the beginning rounds and capture an NBA title? All these questions and more will be answered soon enough, and below are some predictions for some of the most highly anticipated matchups of the first round.
Los Angeles Lakers versus Memphis Grizzlies
The Pick: Grizzlies in six
With the Los Angeles Lakers massive improvement post all-star break, many people are expecting the Lakers to go on a long playoff run. With stars like the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in LeBron James, and two-way star Anthony Davis, the Lakers have the talent to compete with anyone. This is especially true considering the talent they added at this year's trade deadline, such as point guard D'Angelo Russell. However, in this series, it is doubtful that the Lakers will have anyone that can prevent point guard Ja Morant from getting into the paint. However, due to the Grizzlies missing center Stephen Adams, expect them to have issues rebounding the ball, and because of this the Lakers bigs will be able to take advantage and they will steal two games. However, in the grand scheme of things, the Lakers do not have the talent to match up with the Grizzlies, and they will lose in six games.
Golden State Warriors versus Sacramento Kings
The Pick: Warriors in seven
The Sacramento Kings have had a phenomenal season, breaking the longest active playoff drought in the NBA. Their reward? Playing the defending champions in the first round, facing off against stars such as point guard Stephen Curry, shooting guard Klay Thompson and power forward Draymond Green. The Warriors are not your usual six seed, and because of this, many betting markets have them favored over the three seeded Kings. While the Kings’ deep roster will allow them to take a few games from the defending champions, ultimately the youth of the Kings will be their downfall versus a more experienced Golden State squad. Expect point guard De’Aaron Fox to play well in this series, but a long Kings playoff run will not happen this year.
Philadelphia 76ers versus Brooklyn Nets
The Pick: Sixers in five
In perhaps the most lopsided matchup of the first round, expect the Philadelphia 76ers to pull out a gentleman's sweep of the Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn is a young, rebuilding team, and without the help of point guard Kyrie Irving and small forward Kevin Durant, whom the Nets traded away, it is likely this team would not have made the playoffs. With that being said, the Nets do possess talent in players such as Mikal Bridges, Seth Curry and Cameron Johnson. However, this talent is not enough to top the Sixers star studded duo of Joel Embiid and James Harden. If the Nets are to pull off an upset in any games, expect the Nets to possibly win one in Brooklyn, and the Sixers to close the series afterwards at home.
Phoenix Suns versus Los Angeles Clippers
The Pick: Suns in seven
Kevin Durant versus Russell Westbrook in the first round of the NBA playoffs — you cannot ask for much more than that as an NBA fan. The Suns look to begin a deep playoff run after trading for Kevin Durant, while the Clippers look to finally deliver on a title that fans expected from the moment Kawhi Leonard teamed up with Paul George. With George missing this series due to injury, expect the Suns to come out and play very well in front of their home crowd. However, the Clippers will compete and go on to make this a good series. While Leonard is an incredible player, the Suns have the best player in the series in Kevin Durant, and because of that, they will win the most competitive series of the first round, winning a thriller that takes seven games to complete.