The 2023 NBA playoffs are heating up as eight teams find themselves entrenched in the semi-conference finals. In the East, the fifth-seed New York Knicks are taking on the eighth-seed Miami Heat. On the other side of the Eastern bracket, the second-seed Boston Celtics battle against the third-seed Philadelphia 76ers. In the West, the first-seed Denver Nuggets are facing off with the fourth-seed Phoenix Suns. In addition, the other side of the Western bracket features the seventh-seed Los Angeles Lakers against the sixth-seed Golden State Warriors.
There is a uniqueness to this year's NBA playoffs, as many of the final teams entered as lower seeds. Both the Lakers and Heat made the playoffs through the play-in tournament, and yet they have now positioned themselves to make a run at the championship. Because of this, predictions for the conference finals have been all over the place. As the semi-conference finals wrap up, here's a look at our NBA playoffs 2023 predictions for the conference finals.
Knicks Vs. Heat
Winner: Miami Heat
The Miami Heat currently hold a 3-1 lead against the New York Knicks and it is likely that the Heat will be able to hold onto this lead and advance. While the Knicks showed great improvement this year, in large part due to their free agency signing of Jalen Brunson, the Heat's playoff experience has gotten the better of the Knicks in this series. New York impressed in their series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, the Heat have been in full control of this series since Game 1.
With Jimmy Butler leading, the Miami Heat's defense has suffocated the Knicks throughout the series. In Game 3, the Knicks only scored 86 points and have barely cracked the 100-point mark in most games. Along with this, the Heat's mix of experienced veterans such as Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry and young newcomers such as Gabe Vincent and Max Strus has played their individual roles perfectly. Despite being the eighth seed, Miami has figured it out come playoff time. The Heat made the NBA Finals as a fifth seed in 2020, so Miami is no stranger to winning as an underdog. Although there's no telling what the Knicks have in store, our NBA playoffs 2023 predictions for the semi-conference finals are leaning towards the Heat.
76ers Vs. Celtics
Winner: Philadelphia 76ers
Perhaps the most competitive series so far has been between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics. The 76ers recently won two straight and took a 3-2 lead heading into Boston for game 6. Led by MVP Joel Embiid and James Harden, the 76ers' star power has been on full display throughout the series. While the Celtics' own stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have also played well, it is the difference of Embiid that will propel the 76ers into the next round.
The MVP has scored 30 or more points in the last three games of the series and Boston has been unable to find a way to stop him. While it seems this series may go to game 7, with Embiid healthy, it appears the 76ers will be hard to beat twice in a row. Because of their crucial game 5 victory, the 76ers look to be in full control of the series. Barring injury, the 76ers look like they will win this one. It is difficult to count the Celtics out, but it is even harder to bet against Joel Embiid.
Lakers Vs. Warriors
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have been a curious case this year. Despite injuries and on-court struggles, much like the Heat, they found their rhythm at the right time. Both Anthony Davis and Lebron have played in top form throughout the playoffs. Along with this, mid-season acquisitions D'Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Rui Hachimura have played significant roles in the Lakers' late-season successes. While the Golden State Warriors are tough, a grueling seven-game series against the Sacramento Kings may have left the Warriors without much gas in the tank.
As the Lakers currently hold a 3-1 lead in the series, it seems that they will go on to win. Coming off a tough seven-game series, it appears that the Warriors do not have enough to overcome such a tall task. The Lakers' offense has clicked all series and shows no sign of slowing down, as Lebron and AD combined for 50 points in game 4. The Lake Show will look to close out Golden State in the Bay Area in game 5.
Nuggets Vs. Suns
Winner: Denver Nuggets
The Phoenix Suns overloaded their roster with a trade for Kevin Durant at this year's trade deadline in hopes of winning an NBA Championship. However, behind Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets currently hold a 3-2 lead and look ready to finish the series. Jokic posted a triple-double in game 5 and it seems that the Nuggets are on the brink of playing in the conference finals. While the Suns have been impressive in this series, an injury to Chris Paul has significantly hurt Phoenix's chances.
Role players such as Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., and Bruce Brown have been crucial for the Nuggets' success and the entire team is executing at a high level, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Aside from game 1, each of the following games has been a shootout, and without Chris Paul, it will be difficult for the Suns to go bucket for bucket with the Nuggets. Much like Joel Embiid and the 76ers, it is difficult to bet against Nikola Jokic, especially when his team holds a 3-2 lead. Because of this, the Nuggets will finish off this series in the next few games and become one step closer to an NBA Championship.