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NBA playoff predictions: Bracket picks & 2023 Finals champion

Our updated NBA Playoff predictions are here for the 2022-23 season after the Golden State Warriors won the title last season.

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

With the NBA leaving All-Star Weekend in the dust, the push toward the playoffs is now in full swing. It’s time to check in on our NBA playoff predictions for 2022-’23.

The Golden State Warriors are coming off their fourth title in eight years. With their core group returning, they were the odds-on favorites to repeat as the champions before the season began. However, it has been rough sailing as the team hovers around a .500 record.

Meanwhile, there are a few other storylines that have been taking the league by storm. The Phoenix Suns made one of the biggest trades in the league’s history by acquiring Kevin Durant while the Dallas Mavericks landed star guard Kyrie Irving. The Los Angeles Clippers also acquired many players as the Western Conference becomes a powerhouse. On the other side, the Eastern Conference has gotten weaker.

Below, we give you our NBA playoff predictions for the 2022-23 campaign with updates throughout the season.

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Eastern Conference NBA Playoff predictions and seeds

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Portland Trail Blazers
Feb 6, 2023; Portland, Oregon, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) brings the ball up-court against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Milwaukee Bucks (58-24)
  2. Philadelphia 76ers (56-26)
  3. Boston Celtics (55-27)
  4. Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31)
  5. New York Knicks (48-34)
  6. Brooklyn Nets (45-37)
  7. Miami Heat (44-38)
  8. Atlanta Hawks (41-41)

The Bucks have undoubtedly been the best team in the NBA as they have passed the Celtics. Milwaukee is looking to restart its winning streak and has a 17-3 record in its last 20 contests. The team has finally taken down the Celtics after being behind the former Eastern Conference champions. For now, Milwaukee will sit first in the NBA playoff predictions while the team is among the “Big 3” teams within the Eastern Conference alongside the Celtics and 76ers.

Philadelphia certainly has proven it has the talent to get it done and that has been the case as it has a 9-1 record over the last 10 games. The 76ers are currently on an eight-game winning streak as they are peaking at the right time. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Knicks are two young teams that have turned it up as the season continues to progress forward. Both teams will stick around at No. 4 and No. 5; however, the three teams above them have created a gap.

The Celtics are for sure a top-3 team in the Eastern Conference but the competition has slowly been creeping closer. Boston has a 5-5 record over the last 10 games, which includes losses against the Cavaliers and Knicks. Boston also recently promoted Joe Mazzulla to official head coach and gave him an extension. The team will now sit in third place overall for our NBA playoff predictions in the Eastern Conference for now as we enter the playoff push.

The Nets are a completely different team than they were entering the season. Brooklyn sent out both Durant and Irving to the Western Conference and has created a very solid team. The organization is deep at the wing position and should still be in the playoffs this season with Mikal Bridges leading the way. Even without their star players, the Nets should be a team to watch moving forward. No one may want to face them come playoff time due to their roster on paper.

The Heat and Hawks are two quiet teams in the Eastern Conference that could be sneaky good with more time. They might not be the big-name teams like Boston, Milwaukee, or Philadelphia; however, both might be teams that you do not want to face this postseason. Both of these teams also acquired decent players. The Heat brought in Kevin Love while the Hawks upgraded with Saddiq Bey. The ceiling is now a little bit higher for each of them.

As for the teams who are projected to miss the playoffs, the Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, and Indiana Pacers stand out in the crowd. The Raptors currently sit ninth in the conference as the trio of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Jakob Poeltl look to string wins together with the most talent. Toronto may continue to climb; however, the Pacers and, specifically, the Bulls have some work to do if they want to rise in the standings and reach our NBA playoff predictions.

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Western Conference NBA Playoff predictions and seeds

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets
Feb 7, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) controls the ball in the first quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Denver Nuggets (54-28)
  2. Sacramento Kings (51-33)
  3. Memphis Grizzlies (50-32)
  4. Phoenix Suns (45-37)
  5. Los Angeles Clippers (44-38)
  6. Golden State Warriors (43-39)
  7. Dallas Mavericks (42-40)
  8. Oklahoma City Thunder (41-41)

The Nuggets have been the top team in the Western Conference but the gap is closing. In all honesty, the Nuggets might not be the most talented team in the conference after the trade deadline. However, they have built a gap to second place. The Suns and Mavericks both made significant additions and could be coming if healthy. Nikola Jokic needs to continue to perform at the highest level to give the Nuggets a chance at an NBA Finals this postseason.

The Sacramento Kings are no joke. We were all waiting for them to fall off but they sit third in the Western Conference on a three-game winning streak. Led by De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, the Kings are set to break the longest active playoff drought between the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL. On the other side, don’t sleep on the Clippers. They may sit in fifth place in our NBA playoff predictions but if healthy, this is a dangerous team.

The Grizzlies have officially arrived on the scene. The team has shown it is capable of beating the big teams in the Western Conference while Ja Morant is an elite player that is fully qualified of leading an organization to the NBA Finals. However, Morant has been suspended due to his unwarranted behavior and the team could be in trouble moving forward. The Grizzlies need to keep it together or they will be an early exit in the NBA playoffs.

The Suns now have Durant and they didn’t even have to give up DeAndre Ayton. On paper, there is no doubt that Phoenix is the league’s best team. The rest of the season and beyond needs to be viewed as a championship or bust. But, Durant needs to stay healthy so the lineup can develop chemistry before the playoffs and his latest injury will not help. Phoenix should be the favorite to win it all if he is healthy but the team mortgaged its future and the time is now to win a title.

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks finally have some help. Dallas traded for star point guard Kyrie Irving to create the best backcourt in the NBA. It might seem like Doncic can get it done by himself as he averages 33.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 8.0 assists but that does not need to happen anymore. However, the Mavericks are scruffling right now. Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors are back in the hunt as Stephen Curry is playing great once again.

As for non-playoff teams, the New Orleans Pelicans have a really talented lineup; however, the Western Conference’s unpredictability and the team’s injuries knock them out of our NBA playoff predictions. The Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves are also in this grouping. The Lakers need a healthy LeBron James to make a playoff push while the Timberwolves need Anthony Edwards healthy to stay in the hunt for the play-in tournament.

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NBA playoff predictions: Matchups and winners

NBA playoff predictions
Feb 2, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) warms up before the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the New Orleans Pelicans at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Eastern Conference, first round

1. Milwaukee Bucks over 8. Atlanta Hawks (4-0)

4. Cleveland Cavaliers over 5. New York Knicks (4-3)

2. Philadelphia 76ers over 7. Miami Heat (4-1)

3. Boston Celtics over 6. Brooklyn Nets (4-2)

Western Conference, first round

1. Denver Nuggets over 8. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-1)

4. Phoenix Suns over 5. Los Angeles Clippers (4-3)

7. Dallas Mavericks over 2. Sacramento Kings (4-3)

3. Memphis Grizzlies over 6. Golden State Warriors (4-2)

NBA playoff predictions: Conference semifinals results

NBA playoff predictions
Nov 16, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) reacts after making a three-point shot against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Eastern Conference

1. Milwaukee Bucks over 4. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-2)

2. Philadelphia 76ers over 3. Boston Celtics (4-3)

Western Conference

1. Denver Nuggets over 4. Phoenix Suns (4-3)

3. Memphis Grizzlies over 7. Dallas Mavericks (4-2)

Related: Sportsnaut’s updated NBA power rankings

NBA playoff predictions: Conference finals

Eastern Conference

1. Milwaukee Bucks over 2. Philadephia 76ers (4-2)

Western Conference

1. Denver Nuggets over 3. Memphis Grizzlies (4-2)

2023 NBA Finals predictions: Milwaukee Bucks over Denver Nuggets (4-2)

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Milwaukee Bucks
Jan 25, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) high-fives guard Joe Ingles (7) after being fouled by a the Denver Nuggets player in the second half at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports