NBA 2022-23 Playoff’s Predictions: As we come back from the All-Star break, the 2022-23 NBA season is already 72% complete with teams having an average of just 23 games left to play. That’s not a lot, and 23 games on the schedule don’t mean teams will have 23 games with a fully healthy rotation.
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Predicting the top 5 teams in each conference is always a difficult task as it depends on various factors such as team performance, injuries, trades, and schedules.
And given all the movement we saw at the trade deadline, there are also a lot of teams that need to integrate important new pieces on the fly. The biggest of those pieces, of course, is the Phoenix Suns’ Kevin Durant, who isn’t the only All-Star who will be coming back from injury in the coming weeks.
The Milwaukee Bucks are one of the teams who hope their star isn’t out too long. But as they come back from the break, the Bucks are still riding a 12-game winning streak, and they’re back in the No. 1 spot in the Power Rankings for the first time since they were 9-0.
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However, based on the current rosters and performances, here are our predictions for the top 5 teams in the Eastern and Western conferences According to John Schuhmann’s report:
NBA 2022-23 Playoff’s Prediction: Eastern Conferences
#1 Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks went into the break with 12 straight wins, and they’ve won 17 of the last 18 games in which they’ve had Giannis Antetokounmpo. But they only had him for nine minutes in Chicago on Thursday, because he suffered a sprained right wrist early in the second quarter. As the Bucks come out of the All-Star break, Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton have played just 121 total minutes together, with Middleton coming off the bench and averaging just 19.4 minutes in the 10 games he’s played since his return. The Bucks have also been without Bobby Portis for their last 11 games, and they’ll add Jae Crowder after the break.
The question is how much offensive improvement they’ll see going forward. It’s been 20 years since a team reached the Finals after ranking in the bottom 10 offensively in the regular season, and in the 26 previous seasons of play-by-play data, no team with a bottom-10 offense has gone on to win a championship. The Bucks have ranked 12th offensively (with improved shooting and fewer turnovers) for their winning streak, and they’ll come out of the break with two games against top-10 defenses (though of the Heat and Suns).
The Bucks have been the league’s most improved defensive team, allowing 1.5 fewer points per 100 possession than they did last season when they ranked 14th on that end of the floor. They’ve also had the best defenses against the league’s top-10 offenses.
#2 Boston Celtics
Despite missing four starters on Tuesday, the Celtics almost won in Milwaukee, getting big games from Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon. It was a little reminder that both of those guys have had bigger roles elsewhere, but have fit in incredibly well with the Celtics’ ensemble. Both are registering their lowest usage rates of the last four seasons, and both are having the most effective shooting seasons of their career. Brogdon leads the league in 3-point percentage (45.5%) and White’s defense continues to be a plus.
With the loss to the Bucks, the Celtics are 9-6 against the other six Eastern Conference teams that went into the break with winning records. That’s the best record in games played within the top seven, and five of those six losses have come in overtime. Overall, Boston and Milwaukee are now tied in the loss column, their post-break strength of schedule is about even, and the final head-to-head meeting (which will determine the tie-breaker) is in Milwaukee. The Celtics’ two remaining games against the third-place Sixers are also on the road, with the first of those on Saturday night.
#3 Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers went into the break with one of their biggest wins of the season, though they almost blew a 28-point lead against the Cavs on Wednesday. It wasn’t their best defensive performance, but against the league’s No. 1 defense, they had their fifth (and second straight) 50/40/90 shooting game of the season. That total leads the league (there has been 41 50/40/90 performances total) and is two more than the Sixers had last season. And with the win, the Sixers are four games ahead of the fourth-place Cavs in the loss column.
They’re just two games in the loss column behind the first-place Celtics but have four fewer wins than Boston because the Sixers are one of four teams (the other three are in the Western Conference) with 25 games left to play. They have the league’s toughest remaining schedule about cumulative opponent winning percentage, and it begins with about as tough of a three-game homestand as you’re going to get. After the Sixers host the Grizzlies, Celtics, and Heat, 15 of their final 22 games will be on the road.
#4 Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs still have the league’s No. 1 defense. But since Christmas, they’re 1-5 against the league’s top-10 offenses, having allowed 121.6 points per 100 possessions over those six games. The latest of those was in Philadelphia on Wednesday, when the Sixers made eight corner 3s and were 27-for-29 from the line, taking a 28-point lead and holding off a late Cavs rally to create more separation between the third and fourth-place teams in the East. One area where the Cavs’ defense has taken a step backward this season is fouls, with only three teams having seen a bigger jump in opponent free throw rate from last season.
The Cavs have a relatively easy post-break schedule, but their first game is against the league’s No. 1 offense, and their first game against the Nuggets (Jan. 6) was their second-worst defensive game of the season (121 points allowed on just 89 possessions). That will be the Cavs’ 29th of 30 games against the Western Conference, and they’ll play 19 of their final 20 within the East.
#5 New York Knicks
Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle have played 1,732 minutes together, 166 more than any other two-man combination in the league. And the Knicks have been outscored by 0.6 points per 100 possessions in those minutes. Those numbers were much better as they went into the break with a three-game winning streak, but the team was still at its best with reserves on the floor. One of those reserves was Josh Hart, who averaged 17.0 points on an effective field goal percentage of 77.6% over the three games. He certainly won’t shoot that well going forward, but Hart will probably continue to close games.
One of those three wins came against the fifth-place Nets, who the Knicks now trail by three games in the loss column. The two teams have similarly tough remaining schedules and the final head-to-head meeting will be next week in New York. That will be the end of a three-game homestand that begins with a visit from the Pelicans (a rest-disadvantage game for the Knicks) on Saturday.
The Knicks, one of two teams that have had a bottom-10 offense in each of the last four seasons, have a top-10 offense for what would be the first time in the last 10 years. They’ve seen the fifth-biggest jump in points scored per 100 possessions.
NBA 2022-23 Playoff’s Prediction: Western Conference
#1 Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have the league’s No. 1 offense, led by a two-time MVP having a historically efficient season. What may be more noteworthy is the defensive improvement they’ve seen over the last month and a half. They’ve climbed from 25th to 13th in defensive efficiency since early January and for the season, they’ve allowed 0.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average, what would be their second-best mark in Michael Malone’s eight seasons as head coach. And it should be noted that their defense was at its worst (119.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) with Bones Hyland ,who now plays for the Clippers, on the floor.
The Nuggets will face Hyland and his new team on Sunday. After their win over the Mavs last week, they’re 9-3 (4-0 since Jan. 1) within the top six in the West, with six games remaining against the group. Three of those six are in the first nine days after the break, and two of those three are against the Grizzlies, who they lead by four games in the loss column. The first meeting between the top two teams in the West (Dec. 20 in Denver) was both the Nuggets’ best defensive game of the season and the Grizzlies’ worst offensive game of the season (91 points on 101 possessions).
#2 Memphis Grizzlies
After a 1-8 slide, the Grizzlies went into the break winning three of their last four games and doing it with defense. The offense has been an issue, with the Grizz ranking 25th on that end of the floor over the last 13 games. Steven Adams’ work on the glass has been missed, but they have still ranked seventh in offensive rebounding percentage over that stretch and their shooting has dropped off more from outside the paint than it has in the paint. Dillon Brooks has shot 22-for-97 (22.7%) from 3-point range since Jan. 1, the worst mark among 185 players with at least 50 attempts in 2023.
The Grizz have a relatively easy remaining schedule in regard to opponent strength, but eight of their next 12 games are on the road, where they’ve lost seven straight. Adams had 10 offensive boards when the Grizzlies beat the Sixers in early December, and the two teams will meet again on Thursday.
#3 LA Clippers
The Clippers are 19-9 when they’ve had both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard after picking up big wins over the Warriors and Suns before the break in which they scored 90 points on just 60 offensive possessions (150 per 100) with their starting lineup on the floor and another 29 on 19 with Eric Gordon in Marcus Morris’ place (the lineup with which they closed the Phoenix game). The question going forward is how they do in the minutes when one of their two stars is off the floor (they’ve been staggering their minutes), and what role Russell Westbrook plays in those minutes.
That’s the 44th-best record among 520 two-man combinations that have played at least 20 games and 500 total minutes together. The best mark (31-9) belongs to Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Even with the win over the Suns, the Clippers have the worst record (4-8) in games played between the top six teams in the West, with seven games remaining within the group. Two of the seven are this week, and they’ll have rest advantages against the Kings on Friday and in Denver on Sunday. With the win over the Warriors last week, they’re 3-1 in rest-advantage games thus far, one of only four teams that’s played fewer than five. Clippers are strong contenders and a major threat to all other teams in NBA 2022-23 season playoff’s.
#4 Phoenix’s Suns
By going 11-4 with the league’s fourth-ranked defense over their last 15 games before the break, the Suns don’t have to dig out of a huge hole, and they have a good opportunity to finish as high as third in the Western Conference. They did lose to the Clippers (with Devin Booker and Chris Paul combining for just 24 points on 8-for-24 shooting) in their last game before the break, and they do have the West’s third toughest remaining schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage But the only two West teams with tougher slates are the two teams – the Clippers and Kings – between the Suns and the 3 seed. The Suns have three games remaining against those two teams (the one Clippers game is on the last day of the season), and they’re all at home.
Of course, the Suns are now basically hitting the reset button by adding one of the best players in the world. The good news is that Durant has looked pretty sharp each of the last few times he’s returned from an extended absence. He had 68 points (on 22-for-42 shooting and against defenses that ranked first and fourth last season) in his first two games back from a similar knee injury last March. The Suns have two games remaining against this season’s second-ranked defense, with the first of those in Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon. The Suns will back themselves to win the NBA 2022-23 playoff’s series and dream of becoming NBA champions.
#5 Sacramento Kings
With the league average for efficiency taking a huge leap from last season, the Kings have had the league’s seventh most “improved” defense, even though they’ve allowed more points per 100 possessions than they did in 2021-22. Having allowed just 1.5 per 100 more than the league average, this would be their fourth-best defensive season in the 17 years since they last made the playoffs. But that’s still not good, and the Kings went into the break allowing 124.8 points per 100 possessions over their last six games, with only the Blazers and Rockets having allowed more over that stretch.
Turning things around on that end of the floor could be tough because the Kings have twice as many remaining games against top-10 offenses as they have against bottom-10 offenses . The Kings are also one of four teams with six back-to-backs remaining on their schedule, and the first of the six is right away. They’ll host the Blazers (who rank fifth offensively) on Thursday and then begin a three-game trip in L.A. on Friday, having split their first two games with the fourth-place Clippers (who they lead by three games in the loss column).
The Kings are 70% of the way toward ending the longest playoff drought in NBA history and, while there are three teams – the Clips, Suns, and Mavs – that obviously can catch them down the stretch, it would take a fourth to knock them out of a guaranteed in the NBA 2022-23 playoff’s.
Even though there are a lot of teams with a big potential to make it top 5 in the conference, for example Golden State Warriors, LA Lakers or Dallas Mavericks.
With new rosters after the trade and injury recovery players need to get used to the new team and find their roles and spot in the team. A lot of things can change ahead of the NBA 2022-23 Playoff’s. But for now, here are our top 5 teams in the western and eastern conferences.