NBA Playoff Preview

Cavan Nicholas, Contributing Writer

With the NBA season wrapping up, fans around the world prepare to watch their favorite teams suit up in the NBA playoffs. All 30 teams battled it out all season to earn a spot in this year’s playoffs, but only one team will prevail. The long season answered many questions, but left one unanswered. Who will finish the season as NBA champions? 


#1 Denver Nuggets vs #8 Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves entered this past offseason as a young but optimistic team searching for one last piece of the puzzle. Center Karl Anthony Towns, and shooting guard Anthony Edwards were leaders of the team at the time, but understood the value of bringing in another guy. They finally agreed on a blockbuster trade which would send them center Rudy Gobert in exchange for a haul of players. Gobert has been a solid defender this season, but showed little offensive ability. This past Sunday, Gobert lost the respect of many fans and people inside the organization. He had a heated argument with teammate Kyle Anderson which resulted in Gobert throwing a punch towards Anderson. Gobert was suspended for one playoff game and he has the Timberwolves organization worried for what’s to come. The Denver Nuggets feel they can use the Timberwolves’ anger against them. The Nuggets have last year’s MVP Nikola Jokic ready to dismantle the defense of the Timberwolves. The Nuggets finished the year 53-29 and hope to push the momentum into the playoffs. The series begins Sunday at 10:30 EST.

#2 Memphis Grizzlies vs Los Angeles Lakers

After defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves in the play-in game, the Lakers will face the Grizzlies for the 4th time this season. The Lakers won two of the three matchups this season and came in ready for a controversial Grizzlies team. The Grizzlies have faced hate from all around the league when forward Dillon Brooks made comments towards other players and when Ja Morant posted on social media while holding a firearm. Even with the controversy, the Grizzlies have consistently won thanks to Ja Morant’s 26.2 PPG (points per game). However, the Grizzlies have a challenge ahead: playing as the higher seed against one of the greatest players of all time, LeBron James. James and the Lakers used the trade deadline to boost their roster, adding lock-down defender Jared Vanderbilt and former Laker D’angelo Russell. Since the trade deadline the Lakers are 17-9, much improved from how they started. In a matchup of a young star vs an older all time great, Ja Morant and LeBron James will battle for a spot in the second round. The series begins on Sunday at 3:00 EST.

#3 Sacramento Kings vs #6 Golden State Warriors

The Sacramento Kings come into the series as one of the biggest surprises of the NBA season. This is the first time in the playoffs since 2006 for the Kings and after finishing 30-52 last year, fans carried low expectations for Sacramento coming into this season. The Golden State Warriors, on the other hand, are the complete opposite making the playoffs in 8 of the past 10 seasons. As far as these teams match up, they both score at high marks finishing in the top 10 for offensive efficiency (Kings #1 and Warriors #9). Kings all stars De’aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis average 25.0 PPG and 19.1 PPG respectively look to lead the Kings offense in their playoff push. Kings scoring will be a tough task given they are facing 2017 Defensive player of the year, Draymond Green. The Warriors will look to be powered by Steph Curry who is the all time NBA leader in three point field goals. The series begins Saturday at 8:30 EST on TNT.

#4 Phoenix Suns vs #5 Los Angeles Clippers

The Phoenix Suns vs the Los Angeles Clippers has intrigued most NBA fans due to the star power on both teams. At the trade deadline the Suns gave away Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson to the Nets while receiving former MVP Kevin Durant in return. The Suns were in the championship series, but lost just two years ago. They felt they were one key piece away from winning it all this season. Suns shooting guard Devin Booker is also a highly regarded NBA player making the all-star games three times during his career. The Clippers face one of the most skilled teams in the league, but have some star power themselves with an all time great defender Kawhi Leonard, and 2017 MVP Russel Westbrook. Paul George, the starting shooting guard for the Clippers, averages 23.8 PPG, but will unfortunately be missing game 1 with a knee injury. Leonard’s Clippers look to make the western conference finals for the first time in his time with the Clippers, while Kevin Durant and the Suns search for Phoenix’s first ever championship win. The series begins on Sunday April 16th at 8:00 EST. 


#1 Milwaukee Bucks vs #8 Miami Heat

The Miami Heat have fought their way into the playoffs despite losing their first play-in game to the Hawks. Miami has a very talented roster highlighted by 33 year old Jimmy Butler. Butler averaged 22.9 PPG this season, but is known for his increased production in the playoffs. In the final play-in game, Butler scored 31 points to earn the victory over the Chicago Bulls. Fans around the league have strong opinions, including Hingham High School’s Andrew Sullivan who said, “Sometimes you need a lunchbox player, someone who you know will show up consistently. That man is Jimmy Butler.”  Unfortunately for Jimmy Butler, his opponent is a defensive nightmare.  The Milwaukee Bucks have former defensive player of the year Giannis Antetokounmpo and two other players that rank in the top 10 for defensive player of the year voting (Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday). The Bucks are scary defensively and they a diverse roster, filled with many players of great skill. Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo run an excellent two man game, Brook Lopez is a dominant paint defender, and Javon Carter gives the Bucks great bench production. The coaches of both these teams are highly respected by other teams in the league. Miami Heat coach, Eric Spoelstra, brought his team to the finals in 2020, while Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks head coach, had his team in the finals in 2021. The series begins Sunday at 5:30 EST.

#2 Boston Celtics vs Atlanta Hawks

The Celtics waited patiently as the Atlanta Hawks battled the Miami Heat to earn the 7 seed. Atlanta came out on top with a 116-105 victory thanks to great rebounding from Clint Capela and consistent bench scoring. To beat the Celtics the Hawks strengths from the Heat game must carry over. Clint Capela who averages 11.0 RPG (rebounds per game) and had 21 rebounds last game needs to come with the same energy in order to keep the ball in the Hawks position. Star Hawks player Trae Young will also have to continue to be a threat if they want to beat the Celtics. Celtics fans are well aware of the effect Young can have on the game given he averages 26.2 PPG this season. Will Carr, a Celtics fan from Hingham High, expressed his opinion saying “Trae Young is amazing and he is one of the few players in the NBA who can single handedly take over a series.” On the other side of the court is the Boston Celtics, who are eager for revenge this season after falling to the Warriors in the NBA finals last year. The Celtics have a deep roster consisting of two all stars (Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown), last year’s defensive player of the year (Marcus Smart), and a 6th man of the year candidate (Malcolm Brogdon). One of the main leaders for the Celtics team is head coach Joe Mazzulla. He came in as interim head coach in September, but quickly was given a contract after helping lead the Celtics to the best record in the east at the time. Now the Celtics are the 2nd seed in the east and prepare for the Hawks series which begins on Saturday at 3:30 EST. 

Celtics’s Jayson Tatum and Hawks’s Trae Young after a February game. (Bob DeChiara / USA TODAY Sports)

#3 Philadelphia 76ers vs #6 Brooklyn Nets

In recent years the Philadelphia 76ers are infamous for their inability to make large runs with such good rosters in the playoffs. The NBA PPG leader, Joel Embiid, and 2018 MVP James Harden will pair up against the Brooklyn Nets who although are left with no all stars, have some of the best depth in the NBA. Since trading away two of the 2010’s best players at the trade deadline the Nets are 10-13, but they are looking to pull off a big upset against the 76ers. The 76ers are top 8 in both offensive and defensive efficiency while the Nets are outside the top 10 in both. In order to get the win the Nets are going to have to make the 76ers uncomfortable on the court. The 76ers finished the year with the 4th slowest pace in the NBA so the Nets will most likely speed the tempo of the game pushing the 76ers out of rhythm. The series will begin on Saturday at 1:00 PM EST.

#4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs #5 New York Knicks

One of the stories of trades during the NBA offseason was the Cavaliers choice to trade for star guard Donavan Mitchell. He averaged a career high of 28.3 PPG this season including an in game career high where he scored 71 points against the Chicago Bulls. The Cavaliers finished the season with a 51-31 record and their first playoff appearance without Lebron James since 1998. The free agency stories of the offseason included the signing of Jalen Brunson. Jalen Brunson received a 4 year 26 million dollar contract this offseason and he has lived up to it. After averaging just 16.3 PPG last year, he has averaged 24.0 PPG  this season. The Knicks must overcome the Cavaliers #1 defense in the league while sitting outside the top 10 in PPG themselves. The winner of this series will earn themselves a spot against the winner of the Bucks and the Heat/Raptors/Bulls. The series begins on Saturday at 6:00 PM EST.