The 2023 NBA playoffs has been full of close series, upsets, comebacks, overtime battles and superhuman performances from the league’s biggest stars. As the first round of the playoffs has come to an end, and there are eight teams left competing for the illustrious NBA Finals, here is a ranking of every team remaining.
8. Miami Heat
The Heat became the first team in NBA history to win a playoff series after qualifying for the playoffs through the play-in tournament, which was introduced in its current form in 2021, when they defeated the team with the best record in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat were led by some absolutely unreal performances from star Jimmy Butler, including 56 points, tied for fourth most all-time in a playoff game in game four. Unfortunately, the Heat have suffered from injuries to players like Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo, leaving them short-staffed at the worst time. Butler will have to continue to play at a superhero level to keep their hot streak alive, but their lack of depth will most likely be their downfall.
7. Los Angeles Lakers
Many had counted out the Los Angeles Lakers midway through the season as they were the 13 seed in the West, but they clawed their way into the play-in tournament with some smart trade deadline moves and defeated the Memphis Grizzlies to make the second round of the playoffs. This season has shown just how incredible LeBron James is, still making a huge impact on the game in his 20th season and becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Beyond James, the Lakers also have star Anthony Davis and trade deadline acquisitions D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt have been critical to their success. A fifth championship for James at age 38 would be huge for his legacy, adding fuel to the argument for him being the greatest basketball player of all time, although he would still be one ring shy of Michael Jordan.
6. New York Knicks
Before the 2022-2023 season started, no one would have predicted that the Knicks would make the playoffs, yet here they are, still alive after making quick work of the Cleveland Cavaliers. New acquisition Jalen Brunson has been huge for the Knicks in the playoffs this year, but all-star Julius Randle has struggled and is dealing with an ankle injury. The Knicks also are incredibly deep, with bench players like Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin and Isaiah Hartenstein giving them solid minutes in the playoffs. The Knicks will need to continue their team style of basketball to make a deep playoff push.
5. Golden State Warriors
The defending champion Golden State Warriors upset the Sacramento Kings in the battle for Northern California, despite the Kings taking an early two games to zero lead in the best-of-seven series. The Warriors have a great cast of players including two-time MVP Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins, and they have gotten healthy at just the right time. They are also led by the nine-time NBA champion Steve Kerr, who won five as a player and four as the coach of the Warriors. Golden State will have to continue their excellent three-point shooting if they want to eliminate James and the Lakers from the playoffs.
4. Denver Nuggets
The top seed in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets, are led by two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, but the eighth seed Minnesota Timberwolves gave them a lot of trouble in their brief, but competitive series. The Nuggets struggled down the stretch of the season and despite having the best record in the West, they were only 11 games ahead of the eighth seed, as compared to a 17-game difference between the one and eight seeds in the East. The Nuggets have a tough battle against the Suns coming up and will need players like Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. to play their best if they want a shot at making the Western Conference Finals.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers were the only team to sweep their opponent in the first round this year as they won all four of their games against the Brooklyn Nets. The 76ers have a well-rounded roster with MVP candidate Joel Embiid and former MVP James Harden leading the charge. Unfortunately, Embiid is questionable heading into round two with a knee injury, and his health will ultimately determine the fate of the 76ers this year. With him, they are a bona fide championship contender. Without him, they probably will not advance any further in the playoffs.
2. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics had some trouble closing out the Atlanta Hawks, but they managed to keep their championship hopes alive with a game six win to end the series. Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have played well in the playoffs, but will need to up their scoring output if they want to stay alive. After a disappointing NBA Finals loss last season to the Golden State Warriors, the Celtics have a shot to return to the NBA Finals in a wide-open Eastern Conference. Rookie coach Joe Mazzulla has proven that he can coach his team to success in the regular season, but only time will tell if he is capable of making the coaching adjustments necessary to win a few tough playoff series.
1. Phoenix Suns
The red-hot Phoenix Suns won four straight games against the injury-riddled Los Angeles Clippers to win the series, proving that they are the real deal. A mid-season trade for Kevin Durant sent shockwaves around the league and the Suns are 12-2 when Durant has played for them this season, including the playoffs. Devin Booker has likewise been spectacular in the playoffs, averaging over 37 points per game in the first round. If the Suns continue to gel despite the few number of games their starters have played together, they are an incredibly dangerous team that is poised for a long playoff run.