Driscoll’s NBA First-Round Playoff Predictions

After a relatively uneventful regular season, the NBA playoffs are finally here. The best part about these playoffs is that they are very unpredictable, unlike in some years past. Needless to say, we’re in for a treat.

Without further ado, here are Chris Driscoll’s first-round predictions.

Eastern Conference

8 Heat vs. 1 Bucks

This will be the third time in four years that the Bucks and the Heat face off. The Heat won in 2020 and the Bucks won in 2021, so this is what they would call in baseball a “rubber” series. However, this time around is a lot more lopsided than the other two.

This year, the Heat were 25th in offense, ninth in defense, and 21st in net rating. They are coming off a disappointing loss against the Hawks followed by a great win against the Bulls. Jimmy Butler played awesome on Friday, which is what the Heat are hoping will translate to this series. It very well could; playoff Jimmy is certainly a thing.

The Bucks finished the regular season with the most wins, but advanced numbers suggest they were not elite. They were 15th in offense, fourth in defense, and fifth in net rating. With this being said, you do not need advanced stats to tell you Giannis Antetokounmpo was the best player in the league this year. They were also without Khris Middleton for a majority of the games.

Jimmy Butler could have the best series in his life, but it still might not be enough. The Bucks have most of their guys healthy, have the better overall roster, and will have the best player in this series. It would surprise me if this series went more than five games.

Prediction: Bucks over Heat in five

5 Knicks vs. 4 Cavs

This is going to be an interesting matchup. Both teams did not have high expectations going into the season, yet one of them will make it to the second round. 

The Knicks certainly overachieved this season. Most fans had them just making the play-in game, but here they are as the No. 5 seed. They were fourth in offense, 19th in defense, and seventh in net rating. Many thought the signing of Jalen Brunson was an overpay, but he had a fantastic season. This was in addition to Julius Randle playing more like he did in 2021 rather than 2022.

The Cavs’ advanced stats say that they are a better team than their record indicates. They were first in defense, eighth in offense, and second in net rating. Though he was not great last year, Donovan Mitchell has a history of taking it to the next level of the playoffs. Other than Mitchell, not many of his Cavaliers teammates have playoff experience.

Both of these teams are happy to be here. Only one of them can advance. I believe it will come down to which team has been more consistent this year and which team has the best player.

Prediction: Cavs over Knicks in five

6 Nets vs. 3 76ers

This series probably will not go past six games, but it could be interesting if things go well for the underdog.

The Nets are a completely different team since the deadline, so using the whole year sample size would not make sense. Since the trade deadline, they were 23rd in offense, 16th in defense, and 19th in net rating. These are extremely underwhelming metrics, but they have had their moments. Mikal Bridges has been playing at an All NBA level since being traded, and Nic Claxton has had an All-Defense type season.

The Sixers were third in offense, eighth in defense, and third in net rating. When fans will think about the 2023 Sixers, they will probably remember future MVP Joel Embiid, and rightfully so. However, people should also remember how awesome James Harden was all year long. Both Embiid and Harden have a lot to prove this year, and it will be interesting to see how they perform in the playoffs.

The Sixers are the clear-cut better team than the Nets. Sure, the Nets are better than what the advanced stats say, but it will take Bridges going off in this series as well as elite defense from Claxton to even push this series to six.

Prediction: Sixers over Nets in five

7 Hawks vs. 2 Celtics

Not many people think this will be a great series, and though they probably are not wrong to think that, it should be interesting to see how they match up.

This year, the Hawks were seventh in offense, 23rd in defense, and 19th in net rating. They are coming off a big upset win over the Heat, and it took a great game from Trae Young and great rebounding from Clint Capela to do so. If the Hawks want a shot at this series, they will also need help from their second star, Dejounte Murray.

The Celtics were debatably the best overall team in the league this year. They were second in offense and defense and had the best net rating. This was largely because of their two stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Bosston’s whole roster has playoff experience now, and the majority of them were on the team that made the finals last year.

The Hawks are a nice team but a horrible matchup for Boston. Their best player is an undersized point guard and the Celtics have three point guards who are elite defenders (Marcus Smart, Derrick White, and Malcolm Brogdon). The Hawks also do not have any great defenders to slow down Tatum and Brown. Trae Young has surprised us a couple of times in the playoffs, but I’m just not sure it will happen this time around.

Prediction: Celtics over Hawks in four

Western Conference

8 Timberwolves vs. 1 Nuggets

This is probably the only series in the West where there is one overwhelming opinion as to who will win. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but it will take a whole lot for an upset to happen.

The Timberwolves were without Karl-Anthony Towns for the majority of the season, and there were only 27 games where their “Big Three” (the others being Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert) played together. They would probably be higher than the eighth seed if they played more games, but this is where they are now and though they have some big wins, they still clearly lack chemistry

The Nuggets have been one of the more consistent teams in the league, finishing fifth in offense, 15th in defense, and 6th in net rating. Back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic is debatably under more pressure than any player in the league to go on a far playoff run. His guys are mainly healthy, the West is wide open, and this might be his best shot.

The Timberwolves have the potential to be a very good team down the line, but the fact of the matter is they have not played enough games together. Maybe next year, Minnesota.

Prediction: Nuggets over Timberwolves in four

5 Clippers vs. 4 Suns

This is one of the more underrated first-round series. Everyone thinks it is one-sided, but I’m not so sure about that.

The Clippers have a relatively different roster from what they did before the trade deadline. Since the deadline, they rank seventh in offense, 21st in defense, and 16th in net rating. The main reason they are weak on defense is their lack of rim protection as Ivica Zubac and Mason Plumlee have simply not been getting the job done. Even though Kawhi Leonard has been fantastic since the All-Star break, it has not translated to wins. Playoff Kawhi is a different breed and could certainly take it to another level, but he won’t have teammate Paul George on the floor with him for at least the beginning of this series.

Kevin Durant has played eight games with the Suns, and they have not lost a single one. Phoenix is currently the favorite to win the West, and if this core had played a few more games together, even more people would be on board. There are, however, a couple of reasons to doubt the Suns. First, the amount of games played is extremely important. The playoffs are a different animal, and you’re going against teams who have played with each other all year long. In addition, Chris Paul has a reputation for falling off in the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if this continues with him as the third option. 

If Paul Goerge comes back later in the series, it could go either way. Both of these teams have extremely high ceilings because they each have a Finals MVP who has shown they can still deliver that caliber of play. With this being said, the Clippers’ defense will struggle big time against two of the best scorers in the league, especially if George misses time.

Prediction: Suns over Clippers in six

6 Warriors vs. 3 Kings

This is going to be an extremely fun series. It’s the reigning champs with a ton of experience versus a team that is back in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Both teams also had completely different regular seasons. 

The Warriors were 10th in offense, 14th in defense, and 11th in net rating. These numbers are certainly skewed because Steph Curry only played 56 games and Andrew Wiggins played 37. The latter missed the last two months of the season due to personal reasons. With this being said, Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are all healthy heading into the playoffs. You can never count those three guys out.

The Kings, on the other hand, finished first in offense, 24th in defense, and eighth in net rating. Their defense obviously will need to step up if they want to win this series against Golden State. When your team has the No. 1 offense in the league, it is tough to say they need to improve in the playoffs, but they will indeed have to get creative, especially when Golden State’s defense will be anchored by Green. It will be interesting to see how both Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox’s games translate to the playoffs. 

The Kings deserve all their flowers for how awesome they have played this year. However, as I mentioned already, the playoffs are a different animal. Sacramento will have to face one of the greatest dynasties of this generation in a seven-game series. Sure, Golden State is not as good as they have been in years past, but they are facing a team with no playoff experience. They might give them a run for their money, but give me experience over youth any day of the week.

Prediction: Warriors over Kings in six

7 Lakers vs. 2 Grizzlies

This is one of the most unpredictable series of the first round. Both teams are very good but very different.

Since the deadline, the Lakers are 15th in offense, third in defense, and eighth in net rating. They are certainly a team to be excited about. When you have LeBron James and Anthony Davis at their best, the sky’s the limit. With this being said, there are questions as to how they will respond to adversity. Sure, they overcame a lot of adversity in the play-in game, but that was against an inferior team. Their defense is nothing to worry about, but they will have to be more creative on offense.

Since Steven Adams went down in January, the Grizzlies are 17th in offense, ninth in defense, and 13th in net rating. Some of these numbers might be skewed because Ja Morant was suspended for some time. Morant has shown up in the playoffs before, but the bigger question is how will the rest of the team do.

The X-factor of this series will be how Jaren Jackson Jr. fares against Anthony Davis. The Lakers have as good a shot as a No. 7 seed does, but they just have not been consistent against good teams enough for me to be high on them.

Prediction: Grizzlies over Lakers in six


This year’s first round is the most unpredictable it has been in a while, especially out West. The 2023 NBA Playoffs will be an incredible tournament to watch in a league with more parity than ever.

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