With the start of the 2022-23 NBA season right around the corner, there’s no better time for the release of the Voice Sportz roundtable playoff predictions.
In the Eastern Conference (EC), I am slightly biased. Since my team, the Wizards, hasn’t made it to the conference finals since 1979, I’ve become a bandwagon Miami fan. That doesn’t change the fact that Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have proven themselves to be a formidable duo that’s more than capable of taking the Heat to the Finals. The biggest challenge they’ll face will be Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Said “Greek Freak” is one of the best players in the world right now, but Miami boasts a deeper roster than Milwaukee, especially after signing sixth man of the year Tyler Herro to a four-year extension. Boston will also be a contender, but they too lack the depth needed to go far in the playoffs.
With Klay Thompson back and a more experienced Jordan Poole, the Warriors will be a difficult team to beat. The Grizzlies and the Suns get an honorable mention in the Western Conference (WC), but at the end of the day, Grizzlies star player Ja Morant won’t be enough to carry Memphis all the way to the conference finals. On the other side, Phoenix’s two-year streak of flopping in the playoffs speaks for itself. The Finals will feature Miami and Golden State. While the Heat will put up a good fight, Stephen Curry and the Warriors seem to be practically unstoppable in the Finals. Assuming the Splash Brothers stay healthy, they’ll take home their fifth ring.
Despite threats from potential surprise teams in the conference finals and the defending conference champion Celtics, this season will boil down to a pretty chalky Warriors-Bucks matchup with the defending champ Warriors coming out on top. Heading into his 14th season, there’s still an argument to be made that Stephen Curry is the best basketball player in the world. Not only that, but the Dubs return a plethora of proven high-level players around him with former high picks Jon Kuminga and Moses Moody ready to step into larger roles. Elsewhere in the West, the Clippers will finally make their first conference finals appearance since trading for Paul George. While I have the Clips only making it to the Conference Finals, if the Leonard-George duo can make it through the season healthy, they have the talent to make anything happen.
From the East, the Bucks will return to the finals again after winning it all in 2021. Despite continued concerns about spacing, having a healthy Khris Middleton for this year’s playoffs should do wonders for Milwaukee. What team has the deepest playing rotation in the East? I would argue the Toronto Raptors. While they lack a bonafide Curry-esque superstar, don’t underrate the star potential of second-year forward Scottie Barnes. As for the Celtics, they had a nice offseason, but one has to wonder whether the potential finals hangover and the Ime Udoka-shaped cloud shrouding the franchise will prevent them from having another run. As for the finals, the Bucks shooting woes from three and the free throw line in previous seasons return, and prevent them from keeping up with the Warriors’ efficient backcourt.
Here’s a fun stat for you: The Warriors have never lost a playoff series in which Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green have started every game. Another fun stat is that Golden State won the 2022 championship despite the Curry-Thompson-Green trio playing all of 11 minutes together in the regular season. The Clippers are clearly dangerous if their full roster is healthy—with superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George surrounded by a plethora of talented wings—but I’ll stick with the reigning champs until L.A. proves otherwise.
Out in the East, it seems like every team has question marks. The Celtics—whom I would’ve picked to win it all if you’d asked me two weeks ago—are now dealing with a suspended coach and no Rob Williams III until at least January due to a knee surgery. Miami has an aging roster and will need Bam Adebayo to take a leap into true superstardom before I’m confident in their finals chances. The 76ers have the most complete roster, but I’ve seen too much playoff heartbreak from James Harden and Joel Embiid to feel comfortable picking them. And Brooklyn is … well, at least Brooklyn keeps things interesting. Since I don’t see anyone truly emerging from the pack, I’ll ride with talent and go with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks. The roster outside of Giannis, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez is very thin, but Giannis has been the best player in the league for the last few years, and he’ll drag the Bucks as far as he’s able to. But even at his best, there’s no going past the Warriors.
Golden State is the king of the West until proven otherwise, and their return to the mountaintop this past season won’t be followed by a precipitous collapse. They still have their big three—Steph, Klay, and Draymond—and the emergence of Jordan Poole as a star last season is huge for their championship aspirations. Add in Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman, Kevon Looney, and Moses Moody, and a healthy Warriors squad looks scary. I see them beating the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Finals. Kawhi and Paul George will finally fulfill their potential together to at least give the Warriors a run for their money, but it won’t be enough. The other Western contenders have gotten worse since this past season. The Suns missed their title window, the Mavericks are worse without Jalen Brunson, and the Lakers are relying on the #WashedKing Lebron (#JustAKidFromAkron), Anthony Davis (nicknamed Streetclothes by Charles Barkley, for all Davis’ time on the bench), Westbrick, and now Patrick Beverley, who—fun fact—might be the player Russell Westbrook wants to kill the most out of the entire NBA. Great for team chemistry.
As for the East, it’s gotta be the Bucks. Milwaukee pushed the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics to seven games, and that was without their superstar second option in Khris Middleton. The Bucks will roar back to take the Eastern crown, as the Celtics will falter without their head coach (don’t have affairs, kids!), the Brooklyn situation is as fractured as it’s ever been, and the Miami Heat overperformed last year. I don’t buy Atlanta as a serious contender, even with the addition of Dejounte Murray; he and Trae Young don’t fit well together in my eyes.
In the Finals, the Bucks will win their second title in three years because Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player in the league and has been since he claimed his first NBA title. A healthy Bucks team would’ve won it all last year, and if they stay healthy this year, they’ll dominate the league on their path to a second NBA championship.
Everybody’s already taken the sensible, safe picks (I’m filing away all this Boston underestimation for later, though). So I figured I’d shake things up. To be clear, I’m going for interesting, not correct.
In the East, I’m picking the Celtics to knock off the Bucks in the second round again. Rob Williams III will be back from injury by then. Once he’s settled into whatever changes interim head coach Joe Mazzulla makes, I think their additions this offseason will make them an even better team come next April. However, I’m going to project that Trae Young and Dejounte Murray will be (just barely) too much for Boston to handle, as the Hawks will make the Finals. Atlanta is young and ascendant, and they added a crafty star in Murray without sacrificing any of their core.
In the West, I’ll take the Clippers as the runners-up. A returning Kawhi is hard to put limits on, and I just can’t root against John Wall. But a trip to the Finals will go to Luka Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs may have struggled this offseason, but they’ve got a truly magical man who seems to have slimmed up this summer. Plus, I really didn’t want to take the Warriors. So here we are: Luka-Trae in the Finals (though the Mavs and Hawks line up really well across the board). I have to go with Luka when the time comes, but I truly hope the series will go all seven games.
For years, the Heat organization has been the model of what an NBA franchise should look like. Under Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley before him, the team has developed a killer reputation—they slowly build up talent, develop previously unnoticed players, and then jump back into championship contention when the development cycle is complete. Think of it as Philadelphia’s “The Process”—if it worked. This year, the Heat look ready to make a deep run for the championship. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro have proven themselves again and again in the last few years. Factor in the perimeter shooting of Victor Oladipo, Duncan Robinson, and Max Strus, and you have a legitimate championship team. Sure, they lost a winnable series to the Celtics last year, but if this team can keep its cool and stay locked in during the playoffs, the Larry O’Brien trophy is heading back to Miami.
Miami’s biggest threat in the East will be Philadelphia. Between Joel Embiid and James Harden, the Sixers are already better than they were in 2019 when Kawhi Leonard’s dagger brought their season to a screeching halt. Add in the shooting power of PJ Tucker and Tobias Harris, and the Sixers will pose a tough challenge for the Eastern Conference title.
In the Western Conference, the defending champion Warriors are still formidable. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s shooting doesn’t appear to have cooled off with age, and the rest of the team is still very much the threat it was in June. The biggest challenge to the Warriors will likely be the Suns. Chris Paul and Devin Booker are threats from the perimeter, and Deandre Ayton still looks unstoppable in the paint. But they just don’t seem to have what it takes. The team chemistry isn’t there, and no matter what that franchise does, it hasn’t regained the momentum it lost in the 2021 Finals. The Warriors have a championship DNA that few, if any, in the Western Conference can match. My prediction: The Warriors face the Heat in the finals. The Heat pull off the underdog win and take it in six.