The NBA postseason is here, with 20 teams still fighting for the 2022-23 title.
And after a campaign of blockbuster trades, record scoring numbers, the end of a historic playoff drought and a wild race to the finish to decide play-in tournament seeding, who is going to win this thing?
The No. 1-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets sure hope home-court advantage throughout the postseason helps. (Having MVP-caliber big men doesn’t hurt, either.)
The defending champion Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics, the teams that battled in last season’s NBA Finals, took drastically different roads back to the postseason. Golden State, thanks to some bizarre home-road splits, snuck into the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. Boston cruised to the second-best record in the NBA behind All-Star wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown; the Philadelphia 76ers, who boast the MVP favorite in Joel Embiid, weren’t far behind in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, no squads transformed their postseason outlooks better than the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Lakers. Phoenix sits at No. 4 in the West, but it became a popular Finals pick after acquiring superstar Kevin Durant at the trade deadline. The Lakers remade their roster at the deadline and finished with the NBA’s second-best record after the All-Star break.
And then there are the dark horses, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Sacramento Kings — who made their last trip to the playoffs before the iPhone was invented.
It’s sure to be a thrilling ride to the Finals. Here’s everything you need to know to get started, including the biggest stars, stats and storylines for all 20 teams.
Note: 2023 NBA title odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.
MORE: NBA playoffs schedule, news | Play-in info
The Milwaukee Bucks might have their deepest team ever
The Bucks won the championship in 2021, but players have called this year’s team the deepest yet. Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday each recorded their best seasons in a Bucks uniform, the team added Jae Crowder at the trade deadline without trading away any major rotation players, and Joe Ingles is shooting 40.9% from 3 in his return from a torn ACL.
Giannis is ready after a dominating, yet disappointing, 2022 playoff run …
This postseason is an opportunity for Giannis Antetokounmpo to further cement his legacy as one of the greatest players of his generation. After winning 2021 Finals MVP and pushing Boston to seven games in the playoffs in 2022 without forward Khris Middleton, Antetokounmpo carried the Bucks to the league’s best record by averaging 31.1 points on 55.3% shooting with 11.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists — the first player to put up those numbers since Wilt Chamberlain.
… and his star sidekick is regaining his form
Injuries derailed Middleton in last season’s playoffs and into this season. He appeared in just 33 games, but after joining the starting lineup in March, he averaged 19.9 points and seven assists on 47% shooting for an 11-game stretch. Middleton has a player option on his contract for next season, but the way he finishes Milwaukee’s postseason run will be worth watching.
Why Tim Legler would pick Bucks over Celtics in NBA playoffs
Tim Legler explains why he favors the Bucks to beat the Celtics if the two teams meet in the playoffs.
A middling offense could be their Achilles’ heel
The Bucks’ biggest flaw last postseason was an inability to score consistently as their offense ranked second to last among the 16-team playoff field in offensive efficiency. Milwaukee was league average (15th in offensive efficiency) again and largely carried by one of the best defenses in the league. Will the Bucks have enough offense to carry them?
— Jamal Collier
The Boston Celtics fell back to earth after two months of domination …
Over the first two months, the Celtics led the league in offense. It’s been a different story since, as the Celtics rank 9th in offensive efficiency since Dec. 8 — predictably because they went from leading the league shooting 40% from 3-point range before dropping to 36.6%.
… but they still boast two elite scorers
Jayson Tatum (30.1) and Jaylen Brown (26.6) became the second pair of Celtics to average 25 PPG in the same season, joining Larry Bird and Kevin McHale in 1986-87, and Tatum became the first Celtic ever to average at least 30 points. Tatum and Brown have scored at least 25 points in the same game 33 times this season — the most by a duo since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2000-01, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Perk: Celtics should be ‘praying’ they don’t see the Heat in the first round
Kendrick Perkins sees a potential upset brewing if the Celtics and Heat square off in the playoffs.
No team in the East lets it fly like the Celtics
Boston has been overly reliant on jump-shooting and the numbers prove that. While Boston is second in the league (behind only Golden State) in 3-point attempts per game, the Celtics rank 28th in free throw attempts per game, with more than half of them coming from Tatum and Brown.
Brown’s future will be Boston’s offseason focus
Boston has most of its core players signed long term and installed Joe Mazzulla as the permanent coach earlier this season. But what will happen with Brown this summer? The All-Star wing and pillar of the franchise can become a free agent after the 2023-24 season — whether he and Boston can agree on an extension is the biggest question facing the franchise this offseason.
— Tim Bontemps
The Philadelphia 76ers have a star duo that just made history …
Joel Embiid and James Harden became the first pair of teammates to lead the league in scoring (Embiid with 33.1 per game) and assists (Harden with 10.7 per game) since George Gervin and Johnny Moore with the San Antonio Spurs in 1981-82. Embiid is also the first center to win consecutive scoring titles since Bob McAdoo did so in three consecutive seasons from 1973-76, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
… using one of the league’s most unstoppable plays
The 76ers generate 17.5 points per game directly off plays where Embiid sets an on-ball screen for Harden, by far the most among any combination in the NBA, per Second Spectrum tracking. The duo also averaged 1.14 points per direct pick on these plays, which ranks in the top 10 among combinations to run at least 400 plays together.
A deep run could be near — if the guards can hold up on defense
The 76ers have lost in the second round of the playoffs four times in the past five seasons. In the other, they were swept out of the bubble by the Celtics. Philly has gone 12 straight playoff appearances without reaching the conference finals, the second-longest active drought in the NBA, trailing the Washington Wizards (17), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. One key to get there will be the defense of Harden and Tyrese Maxey. There’s little question the two of them can score with any backcourt tandem in the NBA. But will coach Doc Rivers be able to play them together against elite competition?
Philly is headed for a high-stakes summer
There are few teams with more pressure to produce entering the playoffs than Philadelphia. Much of that stems from the fact Harden can opt out of his contract and become a free agent this offseason, putting a potential shelf life on how long this team will be together. A short playoff run could put the future of Rivers under a microscope, too.
The Cleveland Cavaliers‘ best player has a 71-point game and a flair for playoff dramatics …
Donovan Mitchell, who passed LeBron James for the most 40-point games in a season in Cavaliers history with 12, was a seamless fit in his first year with the Cavaliers. He has the most playoff experience on this Cavs roster, which will lean on his scoring. Mitchell’s 28.3 postseason points per game is the seventh highest in NBA history.
… but their stars are largely unproven in the postseason
The Cavs, who reached the postseason without James for the first time since the 1997-98 season, have one of the youngest teams in the playoff field, hence and one of the most inexperienced in this setting. Darius Garland and Evan Mobley will be making their postseason debuts while Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert each have a pair of first-round exits on their résumé. Cleveland’s stellar regular season has put some expectations on its playoff performance even though its players are largely unproven on this stage.
Clutch time has not been the best time
Despite having go-to scorers like Mitchell and Garland, the Cavs haven’t often had the smoothest execution down the stretch of games. They rank 20th in clutch-time offense and 19th in effective field goal percentage during clutch situations this season.
Cleveland has a revolving door in the fifth spot
The Cavs’ top four — Mitchell, Garland, Allen and Mobley — are as talented as perhaps any roster in the league, but how they use the fifth spot in the lineup is worth watching. Isaac Okoro has been the starter most frequently, but LeVert often is on the floor to close games. Getting something from that spot and the rest of the bench could be an indicator of how Cleveland can advance.
The New York Knicks are facing the one that got away
What else could we talk about here but the showdown between Mitchell and the team that was expected to acquire him all offseason? The trade that sent Mitchell to the Cavaliers certainly wasn’t expected, as Mitchell, who grew up in the New York metropolitan area, was seemingly destined to be a Knick. Could he be the player to end their season?
They have a (mini) big three
Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett have scored 20-plus points in the same game 12 times, tied for the most by a Knicks trio with Willie Naulls, Richie Guerin and Johnny Green in 1961, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Randle, meanwhile, became the first Knick to average 25 points per game since Carmelo Anthony in 2013-14. (Randle’s sprained ankle cost him the final two weeks of the regular season)
Their big man creates the most second chances in the East
Everyone thinks about the offensive production provided by both Brunson and Randle, but an underrated weapon for the Knicks is Mitchell Robinson‘s offensive rebounding. Robinson is second to Grizzlies center Steven Adams in offensive boards per game, snagging more than four per contest.
Assists haven’t been part of the game plan
New York is last in the NBA in assist percentage, and by a significant margin. That reliance on individual shot-making certainly hasn’t been a bad thing, as the Knicks finished the season fifth in offensive rating. That marks the first time the Knicks have been in the top 10 in offensive rating since they finished third overall in the 2012-13 season. But two years ago, the Knicks lost in a relatively simple five games to the Hawks in the first round as New York’s offense — which was overly reliant on Randle — ground to a halt. The addition of Brunson was supposed to be enough to mitigate that, but they’ll need to prove they have enough diversity to score effectively against the NBA’s best defense in Cleveland.
The Brooklyn Nets‘ blockbuster trade netted them a potential star …
Mikal Bridges, who joined Brooklyn at the trade deadline in the Kevin Durant deal, had 11 30-point performances after doing so just twice in 365 games with the Suns.
… who is getting his first taste of leading a playoff team …
Bridges will have plenty of opportunities to elevate his game even further — and he’s already earned the trust to keep learning on the fly. While point guard Spencer Dinwiddie has shown an ability to both take — and make — big shots late in games, Bridges will have the spotlight on him most as he continues to grow into a potential All-Star.
… and just made history as the NBA’s iron man
Bridges became the first player to appear in 83 games in one season since Josh Smith in 2014-15 (with the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets). Bridges is the 42nd player to play 83 or more games in a regular season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, with Walt Bellamy playing in a record 88 regular-season games for the Pistons and Knicks during the 1968-69 season.
Dinwiddie is back at home with his former team
Dinwiddie’s 8.5 APG since returning to Brooklyn ranked sixth in the NBA during that span among qualifying players, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That’s after ranking 43rd in APG at 5.3 per game before joining the Nets after playing alongside Luka Doncic with the Dallas Mavericks.
— Nick Friedell
The Miami Heat are one of the slowest teams in the postseason
The Heat are 29th in the league in pace at 96.8 possessions per game (only the Cavaliers have fewer). They are slow and methodical compared to the rest of a league that loves to get up and down the floor.
Jimmy Butler is having a career second half …
The Heat have had the same issue throughout an up-and-down season — who else will step up and help Butler? The 33-year-old swingman remains in the best post-All-Star-break stretch of his star-crossed career. He averaged 26.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists in March.
… and he gets better in the playoffs
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Butler is one of two active 20 PPG scorers with at least 100 playoff games who has raised their PPG, RPG and APG in the postseason. The other is Clippers star Paul George.
Miami’s coach just made history, and he might not be done
Erik Spoelstra became the only coach in franchise history with at least 700 career wins this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. His playoff résumé is just as good, with 96 career playoff wins — eighth-most in NBA history. And with a series win in 2023, he would move into a tie for fifth.
Big offseason decisions could be looming
This postseason run will likely serve as another reminder for Heat czar Pat Riley that this roster, as currently constructed, needs an overhaul over the summer. Veteran guard Kyle Lowry still has a year and almost $30 million left on his current deal. Duncan Robinson still has three years and almost $60 million left on the $90 million extension he signed in 2021. Tyler Herro‘s $120 million extension still hasn’t even kicked in.
The Atlanta Hawks made some odd history in 2022-23
From Jan. 21 to April 5, the Hawks pulled off something no team had done in NBA history. For 33 consecutive games, Atlanta managed to stay within one game of .500. No other team had done that for more than 25 games in a row, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Trae Young has an up-and-down playoff history
In his first playoff run in 2020-21, Young was spectacular, averaging 28.8 PPG and 9.5 APG. “Broadway Trae” took down the Knicks with three 30-point games at Madison Square Garden, then helped the Hawks to a seven-game win over the Sixers before an injury slowed him down in the conference finals against the Bucks. In his second playoff run in 2021-22, Young averaged 15.4 PPG and 6.0 APG on 31.9% shooting (18.4% on 7.6 3-point attempts a game).
The Hawks made a midseason coaching change …
The Hawks fired coach Nate McMillan in late February and immediately targeted former Jazz coach Quin Snyder. Since he took over on Feb. 28, the Hawks are averaging 123.3 points per game — only the Bucks (123.4) have averaged more since then. Snyder won three playoff series with the Jazz over the past six seasons and will be looking to improve on his 21-30 career playoff record.
… that has worked wonders on the boards
Utah was top five in offensive rebounding the last two seasons under Snyder, and that has carried over to Atlanta. Since Snyder took over, the Hawks are second in offensive rebounding percentage and first in second-chance points. Prior to Snyder’s hiring, the Hawks were 17th in offensive rebounding percentage and 15th in second-chance points.
— Andrew Lopez
The Toronto Raptors like to run, while the rest of their offense lags behind …
Among teams that reached the postseason, Toronto ranks last in points per play in half-court offense, per Cleaning the Glass. The Raptors compensate by getting out into transition more often than anyone else, but no team ranked so low has won a playoff series since the 2013 Indiana Pacers, who were 25th but reached the conference finals with a stout defense.
… but they have one of the league’s premier defensive stoppers
O.G. Anunoby has a special combination of three traits rarely found together: a high steal rate, top-tier on-ball defense and shot creation on offense. Just three other rotation players (Alex Caruso, Herbert Jones and De’Anthony Melton) have both defended players with an average usage rate of 26% or higher (via analysis of Second Spectrum tracking) and have a steal rate of .02 or better. None of the other three defensive specialists averages more than 10.1 PPG.
Nick Nurse will reflect on future after the season
Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse says he will take a few weeks after the season to figure out his future.
They have offseason questions at guard and beyond
Toronto has to decide on whether to bring back unrestricted free agents Gary Trent Jr. (sure to decline an $18.9 million player option) and Fred VanVleet. For now, the Raptors have little salary committed beyond next season, which could allow them to pursue a max free agent to pair with former Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. Just how big the next deals for Trent and VanVleet are could hinge, in part, on their postseason performances.
Overall, the Raptors still haven’t picked a direction. Yes, Toronto added Jakob Poeltl at the deadline, but that move doesn’t preclude a bigger one to either send out Anunoby or Pascal Siakam or add another star to the mix.
— Kevin Pelton
The Chicago Bulls‘ All-Star guard is playing like one again
After a slow start to the season and missing four of the team’s first 11 games coming off offseason knee surgery, Zach LaVine has been playing at an All-Star level again, especially in the second half. After the All-Star break, LaVine averaged 27.0 points on 53.2% shooting (39.4% from 3) to help the Bulls secure a spot in the play-in tournament.
They don’t shoot many 3s …
Chicago’s lack of 3-point shooting has consistently been the biggest flaw of this roster and the one it will have to overcome to make any noise in the playoffs. The Bulls finished last in the NBA in both 3-point makes and attempts, living on a heavy diet of midrange shots from their best players. DeRozan has made 317 midrange shots this season, 134 more than any other player in the NBA, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. LaVine’s 116 midrange field goals, meanwhile, rank 11th in the NBA.
… and have a major offensive void at point guard
The Bulls are going to have a hole at point guard considering the uncertain future of Lonzo Ball. He missed the entire 2022-23 season and then had a third knee surgery since last January, putting his 2023-24 season in jeopardy as well. Patrick Beverley has been solid as the team’s starting point guard since the All-Star break, but his production has re-emphasized the need for the team to address the position if it wants to be competitive next season.
Chicago’s trio could be breaking up this summer
The Bulls invested a lot of their future in order to build a roster around LaVine, DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, and they didn’t expect to find themselves in the play-in tournament. If this team can’t improve on last year’s first-round exit, the Bulls could have some decisions to make this offseason with their roster, especially considering that Vucevic will be a free agent this summer.
The Denver Nuggets are welcoming back a bubble superstar
The last time we saw Jamal Murray in the playoffs, he was a rising star in the Orlando bubble, averaging 26.5 points, 6.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and shooting 45.3% from behind the arc in leading the Nuggets to the Western Conference finals in 2020. Murray has missed the past two postseasons rehabbing a torn ACL, but he appears to be in a good rhythm as he returns to the playoffs, catching fire for stretches of recent games. Nikola Jokic absolutely needs his co-star to have huge playoff performances again if Denver is going to make another run to the conference finals.
The back-to-back MVP was decimal points away from history
Jokic averaged 24.5 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 9.8 APG per game this season, barely missing out on becoming the third player in NBA history, and first non-guard, to average a triple-double for an entire season. Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robertson remain the only two players to accomplish the feat.
No team in the league shoots it better than the Nuggets
The Nuggets led the league in overall field goal percentage at 50.4%, and they were the only team to shoot above 50% from the field. That’s the highest team field goal percentage since the 1994-95 Jazz at 51.2%, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Mike Malone calls out ‘soft’ Nuggets
Nuggets head coach Mike Malone was disappointed with his team’s effort in a loss against the Rockets.
Denver hasn’t been able to figure out the non-Joker minutes
When Jokic hits the bench, the minutes the second unit gives coach Michael Malone could be the difference between winning and losing. Malone has been trying to stagger Murray with the second unit of Bruce Brown, Jeff Green, Zeke Nnaji and rookie Christian Braun. This allows Murray to be aggressive and score while playmaking as well. The unflappable Braun could be key for the Nuggets’ bench.
— Ohm Youngmisuk
The Memphis Grizzlies are looking to back up the talk
The Grizzlies have made themselves a target with their big mouths. That is especially true with the Warriors — who taunted the Grizzlies after winning the title last season despite the fact that Golden State moved past Memphis two series earlier — but everyone wants to beat the Grizzlies. You’d better believe that Ja Morant‘s bold “Fine in the West” declaration, uttered to ESPN’s Malika Andrews in December, remains fresh on many players’ minds.
Dillon Brooks is here, for better or worse
Brooks is an essential ingredient to the West’s stingiest defense. The Grizzlies frequently refer to him as the league’s best wing defender, and he typically takes the toughest assignment, from point guard to power forward. But Brooks’ decision-making, whether it’s his antagonistic antics or shot selection, can be problematic. He was suspended for one of Memphis’ losses to Golden State in last year’s conference semifinals and was 19-for-60 from the floor in the other three.
Memphis could run into issues grinding out points …
Memphis, led by Morant, is a highlight machine in the open floor. The Grizzlies rank fourth in the NBA in transition offensive efficiency and first in paint points, but Memphis is mediocre in the half court, where it ranks 16th. That’s potentially a significant problem in the playoffs, when the pace tends to slow down. General manager Zach Kleiman addressed this flaw at the trade deadline by dealing for knockdown shooter Luke Kennard, who has made 54.0% of his 3s in a Memphis uniform.
… and will have to overcome big injuries
Starting center Steven Adams will miss the playoffs due to a knee injury that has sidelined him since late January, and his backup, Brandon Clarke, is out because of a torn Achilles tendon. That puts even more of an onus on Jaren Jackson Jr. to avoid foul trouble. Xavier Tillman — Adams’ replacement — did start six games in the playoffs last season.
— Tim MacMahon
The Sacramento Kings are beamin’ into their first playoffs since 2006
Not only has Sacramento snapped the longest playoff drought in NBA history after the Seattle Mariners made the postseason in 2022, but this was the longest active playoff drought among NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL teams, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Perhaps no image has represented the Kings’ resurgence better than … The Beam! What started off as a gimmicky celebration has turned into a signal of pride for the city. Now the Beam Team will take center stage in hopes of lighting it a few more times in the playoffs.
Sabonis and Fox lead an elite offense …
The Kings’ 118.6 offensive rating is the highest in NBA history, in part because the pick-and-roll offense featuring Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox has been a thing of beauty. When defenders close in on either of them, everyone else on the court is continuously moving without the ball, giving Sacramento a plethora of options. Sabonis just became the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 12 RPG and 7 APG. Fox, meanwhile, has scored a league-high 194 points in clutch situations while shooting 52.9% from the floor during this time. The Kings outscore opponents by 10.0 points per 100 possessions in the clutch — fourth best in the NBA, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
… but defense could be their downfall
Sacramento’s defensive rating is 24th in the league — worst among all postseason teams. For much of the regular season, the Kings have been able to simply outscore opponents, resulting in some exciting nights. (Remember that 176-175 win over the Clippers?) That likely won’t work in the playoffs, at least not enough to win an entire series.
— Kendra Andrews
The Phoenix Suns are still acclimating to their new superstar
Underestimating Kevin Durant in the postseason — a two-time Finals MVP with the fourth-highest playoff scoring average in league history (29.4 points per game) — is a foolish endeavor. Still, Durant will have less than a dozen games under his belt with the Suns before the curtain comes up on the stage that really matters. Coach Monty Williams will be tasked with maximizing Durant’s offensive impact next to Devin Booker on the fly after his team ranked in the bottom half in the NBA in offseason efficiency during the regular season (albeit without Durant for most of that).
Chris Paul is headed to his 15th postseason
In what’s become an annual topic of NBA postseason discussion — right up there with “When is the league going to go back to the script logo for The Finals?” — Paul’s ill-timed ineffective play is concerning. The 18-year veteran, who will turn 38 in May, averaged a career-low 13.9 points this season (44.0% shooting) after putting up just 9.4 points and 3.6 turnovers over the last five games of the Suns’ second-round loss to Dallas last year. Paul has made 11 All-NBA teams, which is tied with Charles Barkley and John Stockton for second most by a player without a title, behind only Karl Malone‘s 14 selections, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Another midseason addition could be their X factor
With several contenders expressing interest in his services after Orlando waived him, Terrence Ross chose the Suns. With Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson leaving in the Durant deal, Ross could potentially be the recipient of Paul’s passes beyond the arc in the postseason. His 3-point percentage has hovered around 40% since joining the Suns — including two games where he went 6-for-10 from deep.
Phoenix is somehow flying under the radar
The nature of Phoenix’s past two playoff exits — first blowing a 2-0 lead before losing in the 2021 NBA Finals, then getting spanked by 33 points on their home floor in Game 7 of the conference semis last year — was so bad that the stench hasn’t cleared just yet. But this is a team that has won more than 70% of its regular-season games over the past two years added an all-time great in Durant. That’s scary.
— Dave McMenamin
The LA Clippers have Kawhi Leonard peaking at the right time …
Leonard has said that it’s a two-year process when coming back from a torn ACL. But he has exceeded expectations and looked close to his dominant form. Since Jan. 1, Leonard is averaging 26.7 PPG on shooting splits of 52-46-90. While he still isn’t at peak two-time Finals MVP level, Leonard has shown this season that he is more than capable of carrying the Clippers to a playoff series victory.
… but their other superstar wing got injured at the wrong time
With Paul George’s return for the playoffs uncertain, the Clippers could be staring at another postseason without one of their stars. Leonard will need as much help as possible from Russell Westbrook. Norman Powell must quickly regain his sixth man mojo from before his shoulder injury and deliver a scoring punch. Eric Gordon will be relied upon for two-way play.
Westbrook has been the third star the Clippers didn’t know they needed
George and Leonard wanted Clippers management to add Westbrook for his ability to get to the rim, pass and push tempo. They did not need him to be a third star as much as one that complements the duo. But with George nursing a sprained knee, the Clippers will need Westbrook to do a little more scoring than initially expected. His perimeter shooting, turnovers and defense will undoubtedly be under an even bigger microscope in the postseason, but the former MVP has largely fit in.
The Golden State Warriors come out to play — at home …
Golden State, which has gone an NBA-high 27 consecutive playoff series with a road win, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, has the league’s third-best home record at 33-8 but went 11-30 on the road. That’s the fourth-worst in the NBA this season and the worst road record in NBA history by a defending champion.
… and their defense is the biggest culprit on the road
The Warriors allow 10.8 more points per game on the road than at home, which is the largest change in point differential since the 2008-09 Jazz, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Golden State ranks third in 3-point defense at home and 29th on the road.
Their Big Three is in elite company
Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have won 93 playoff games together — the third most by any trio in NBA postseason history. The only trios with more are Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (126) with the San Antonio Spurs, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper (110) with the Lakers, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
This could be the end for two key Warriors
This postseason is the precursor for what is guaranteed to be a very big, and possibly core-crushing, offseason. Green has a player option waiting for him this summer, but there is no promise he will either pick it up or come to a new contract agreement with the Warriors if he turns it down. On top of that, GM Bob Myers has not negotiated a new deal with Golden State. How this postseason goes could heavily influence both of their futures.
The Los Angeles Lakers‘ don’t lose in the postseason when LeBron and AD suit up
However hampered the Lakers were by injuries to their stars the past couple of seasons, there’s no denying how impactful LeBron James and Anthony Davis were in the postseason the first time they teamed up together. Davis averaged 27.7 points on 57.1% shooting and 9.7 rebounds, James averaged 27.6 points on 56% and 10.8 assists and L.A. went 16-5 on the way to the ring.
They added a third star at the deadline
The Lakers’ combination of James, Davis and Russell are 8-1 when they all play together. Is that enough of a sample size for the Lakers’ front office to be convinced that this is the group that can claim another Larry O’Brien Trophy before James’ time with the franchise is finished? Or would L.A. rightfully be reticent to commit upward of $67 million on a two-year extension to Russell when it could see what else is out there?
The defense looks rather … bubble-y
The coach may have changed from Frank Vogel to Darvin Ham. And the wing defenders may have changed from Danny Green, Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Jarred Vanderbilt, Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves. But the Lakers’ defense — best in the West and third overall since the trade deadline — is once again looking like a championship-ready operation. Of the past 10 teams to win it all, six of them ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency during the regular season, including the 2020 Lakers, champions inside the Orlando bubble, who were No. 3. This year’s group has that defensive fire in their makeup.
LeBron’s Lakers legacy could be at stake
James became the first player in league history to win a Finals MVP with three different teams when he led L.A. to the 2020 title over the Heat. The ring allowed Jeanie Buss to carry on the legacy of her father, Jerry Buss, in proving the Lakers are an elite organization. You can’t ignore the significance of that accomplishment. However, James joined the Lakers after having made it to eight straight Finals, and if L.A. doesn’t do something special this spring, he will have sandwiched that ring with the Lakers with missing the playoffs in 2019, a first-round exit in 2021, missing the playoffs in 2022 and another underwhelming finish this season.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are still figuring out their All-Star big man partnership
While battling for seeding down the stretch, the Timberwolves were also still figuring out how their new frontcourt of Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns fits. The two All-Star big men played just 19 games at the start of the season, with Minnesota going 9-10, before Towns was sidelined more than three months. So this postseason run will be doubly important for the Timberwolves in figuring out how things might work next season and beyond.
Anthony Edwards took the leap in 2022-23
After a frustrating start to the season, Edwards stepped up in Towns’ absence and made the leap that observers expected in the wake of his strong 2022 playoffs. Edwards bumped his scoring to a career-high 24.6 PPG without sacrificing any efficiency and had 24 30-point games this season, the second-most in Timberwolves history. Edwards has also upped his assists to 4.4 per game. In the process, Edwards earned All-Star honors for the first time. Minnesota has two veteran All-Stars, but make no mistake: Edwards is now the go-to guy.
They just lost their defensive stopper in a wild season finale
The Timberwolves lost forward Jaden McDaniels for the season after he fractured his right hand punching a wall late in the first quarter on Sunday, in a game that also featured Rudy Gobert striking teammate Kyle Anderson in a huddle. McDaniels is one of just six players this season to defend 2022-23 All-Stars at least 1,000 times this season, and he also ranks in the top 10 in field goal percentage allowed as the closest defender among players to defend 600 shots, according to Second Spectrum tracking.
The New Orleans Pelicans will start their run without their star
On April 6, the Pelicans announced Zion Williamson would continue his rehab and conditioning regimen and that further updates on his status would be given as warranted. Williamson hasn’t played since Jan. 2 because of a right hamstring strain, but he averaged 26.0 points and 61% shooting from the field and a league-best 19.1 paint points in 29 games this season.
They have a big three that hasn’t been spotted much
Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum were supposed to be the trio to lead the Pelicans further into the playoffs than last year’s first-round exit. Unfortunately, that group was only together in the regular season for 10 games. In 172 minutes together, that group was plus-60. All three have dealt with injuries this season: Ingram missed two months with a toe injury, and McCollum has played through a thumb injury for months. A healthy trio would immediately change the Pelicans’ playoff outlook.
Ingram has taken on a greater playmaking role — and it’s worked
After a big loss to the Lakers on March 14, the Pelicans held a team meeting, and slowly the offense began to shift. One change was getting center Jonas Valanciunas more involved. The other was putting the ball more in Ingram’s hands. Since March 17, Ingram is averaging 28.6 points, 8.1 assists and 6.6 rebounds per game while his shooting splits have improved. He’s also had his first two career triple-doubles in that stretch.
An unheralded star was thrust into the starting lineup
Trey Murphy III was headed to the G League as late as March 2022 before making himself a pivotal part of the Pelicans’ playoff rotation. As a new season started, Murphy was initially going to be a key cog off the bench for the Pelicans but immediately found himself thrust into the starting five because of injuries. Murphy has started 65 of 79 games this season and has increased his scoring from 5.4 points to 14.5 per game. Murphy has been even better post-All-Star break, raising his scoring average to 18.4 while shooting 42.5% from deep.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have a driving force at point guard
Largely playing a five-out style, Oklahoma City has kept the floor well spaced for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to attack off the dribble. Per Second Spectrum tracking on NBA Advanced Stats, Gilgeous-Alexander’s 23.9 drives per game are more than three more than anyone else in the league. Remarkably, SGA’s drives are down slightly from the past two seasons, but they’re yielding more points per play (1.11, according to Second Spectrum). Stopping Gilgeous-Alexander is Job 1 for opposing defenses.
Playoffs? OKC doesn’t have much experience there …
Oklahoma City’s current roster has combined for a league-low 55 playoff games to date. Nearly half of those (24) come from midseason addition Dario Saric, who’s been on the fringes of the rotation. Gilgeous-Alexander does have a couple of first-round series to his credit, but the Thunder still have fewer previous playoff games than any team that’s won a series since the 1994 Nuggets (23 total).
… but this could be 2010 all over again
The Thunder do have experience with rapid improvement. In 2008-09, their first season in Oklahoma City, they went 23-59. Two years later, they were in the NBA Finals. In between, the Thunder gave the defending champion Lakers a test in the first round. Oklahoma City’s young core might be capable of something similar a year after going 24-58. We could remember this as the start of the Thunder’s next run.
It might be time to push the chips all-in this offseason
With up to eight extra first-round picks still coming, the Thunder will have decisions to make about how quickly to push the accelerator on their rebuild. Either way, Oklahoma City is adding 2022 No. 2 pick Chet Holmgren to the mix after he missed his first NBA season due to injury. If the Thunder look close enough to contending this postseason, it might make sense to pursue another player entering his prime by using picks.
ESPN Stats & Information’s Jose De Leon, Cesar Fernandez, Jason Joseph, Michael Schwartz and Matt Williams contributed to this story.