Who comes out on top? Your guide to the 2023 NBA Playoffs
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The NBA Playoffs kicked off in earnest last week and for the next month the sporting worlds’ eyes will be on one of the world’s biggest sporting leagues as the Eastern and Western Conferences do battle. As with every season there are narratives to be found within each matchup, legends to be made and dynasties secured and lost. We take a look at what you should be keeping an eye on over the next few weeks:
Kevin Durant vs Kawhi Leonard
The Western Conference 4 vs 5 matchup sees the Phoenix Suns taking on the Los Angeles Clippers. More importantly, it sees a Kevin Durant-led Suns taking on a Kawhi Leonard-led Clippers. These two players are both comfortably inside the top 10 NBA players of the past decade. Both are natural small forwards. Both are two-time NBA Champions and two-time NBA Finals MVP’s. They don’t have a notable rivalry to speak of, but it feels like this series could go a long way in legacy discussions for each player.
Will the real MVP please stand up?
Nikola Jokic is the back-to-back NBA MVP and has led the Denver Nuggets to the number one seed in the Western Conference. What Jokic, and this team, are lacking though is the one thing coveted most in the NBA, postseason credibility. Many thought Jokic was deserved of a third straight MVP this season, and his regular season averages of 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists back that up. But Denver’s (and Jokic’s) standing in the league is now riding on playoff success. The Nuggets come up against a plucky Minnesota in the first round, and if they are to get bounced, the critics of Jokic’s true standing in the league will have a field day.
Return of the Kings
The Sacramento Kings’ win over Golden State in the first game of their first round matchup was the franchise’s first playoff win in 17 years. The Kings, led by point guard De’Aaron Fox and centre Damontas Sabonis are out to win the franchise their first playoff series since 2004. It will be no easy feat however as they come up against the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors. The Kings hold home court advantage through the series and the fans can dare to dream. Especially given their last NBA title was in 1951 when they were known as the Rochester Royals.
End of an Era?
Speaking of the Golden State Warriors, could this be the last time we this incarnation of them in the playoffs? Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have been the backbone of four NBA titles since 2015, the greatest dynasty of this era. Father time and a salary cap squeeze could force a new (or revised) roster in Golden State if the Warriors fail to advance to the Western Conference Finals, or even stumble at the first hurdle against the Kings.
Say no more. King James will be at the centre of conversations until he eventually leaves the league. His Lakers worked their way into the 7th seed in the West via the Play In, and now come up against the Memphis Grizzlies who have done a great job of being the villain team of the league. LeBron’s running mate Anthony Davis has hit his strides at the right time, and if both can stay healthy, they have more than a punchers’ chance at making it through to conference finals, and beyond. If the NBA have their way we’ll be looking at a Warriors vs Lakers second round matchup in the West.
Is this Giannis’ league?
Giannis Antetokounmpo is another two-time MVP who has led his Milwaukee Bucks to the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and the best record in the NBA (58-24). Along with Nikola Jokic and likely winner Joel Embiid, Giannis has been in MVP discussions for most of the season. The Milwaukee Bucks are currently favourites to win the East, and favourites to win the NBA Championship. If they do, it will only be behind a Finals MVP performance from The Greek Freak, and with him being just 28 years of age, we could be looking at him as a top 10 all-time NBA player in a matter of years.
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