Analysis: What’s On The Line For Each Team In 2023 NBA Playoffs

Apr 11, 2023, 4:23 PM

Follow @kslsports...

SALT LAKE CITY – The 2023 NBA Playoffs are around the corner. On Saturday, April 15, playoff basketball will be in full swing for NBA fans around the globe.

Some teams exceeded expectations and others underperformed. Here is what each team has at stake on their journey to an NBA championship.

Any views or opinions represented in this article are personal and belong solely to the author and do not represent those of people, institutions, or organizations that the author is associated with, unless explicitly stated.

Eastern Conference Play-In Teams

Chicago Bulls

Every single one of the Eastern Conference Play-In Teams had a fall from grace when compared to last season. The Bulls held the East’s top seed at the All-Star break in 2022. They fell down to the 6-seed in last year’s playoffs and find themselves in an even worse position this year.

Chicago made a few big moves to acquire All-Stars Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan in 2021. They have shown some flashes of success. But, haven’t come close to competing like you would expect when going through a massive roster turnaround.

Chicago has the worst defensive rating among all postseason teams. If they don’t make it to the playoffs or lose in the first round, it may be time to explore moving on from the trio of Zach Lavine, DeRozan, and Vucevic.

Pressure Rating: 8/10

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have been one of the most experimental teams in the past two seasons. Four of their starters stand at 6-foot-7 or taller. They have a league-average roster age with some key young pieces like Scottie Barnes (21) and O.G. Anunoby (25).

Toronto sat at #12 in the NBA’s Power Rankings before the season. They finished the year with the 17th-best record in the association which puts them just behind their original projection.

With trade rumors flying for players like Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam, the Raptors may look to shake it up in the upcoming offseason.

Other than attempting to show that their system can lead to winning at the highest level, Toronto doesn’t have much to prove.

Pressure Rating: 4/10

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks made one of the biggest moves of the 2022 offseason and have looked painstakingly average all season long. They have only a slightly worse record than last season (41-41 compared to 43-39). But, that doesn’t tell the full story. They haven’t been able to build momentum at all with their new-look roster.

Atlanta gave up three first-round picks for Dejounte Murray and were rewarded with a play-in tournament appearance. After firing head coach Nate McMillan a few months ago, any shortcomings will likely fall on the shoulders of the roster rather than the staff or front office.

With drama surrounding star guard Trae Young throughout the season, who knows what could be next for Atlanta?

Pressure Rating: 7/10

Miami Heat

No one had a bigger dropoff than the Heat in 2023. Miami was the top seed in the East last season and now they find themselves fighting in the play-in. This is the fourth year of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro leading the way for the team. Ever since making the finals in 2020 against Los Angeles, it hasn’t been all sunshine in South Beach.

Miami has the third-oldest roster in the whole league, only trailing the Clippers and the Bucks. Their best player, Jimmy Butler, is already 33 years old and will be making more than $45 million a year over the next two seasons.

They have made smaller deals to acquire older role players like Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry. But, they don’t appear to be in contending form like they would hope with their current roster.

If a play-in or first-round exit is Miami’s destiny this season, it’s unlikely they go into next season with the same roster.

Pressure Rating: 9/10

Western Conference Play-In Teams

Oklahoma City Thunder

Of every team who made it to the postseason, the Thunder have the least pressure by far. They have the youngest roster in the league (average age of 22.9) and were slotted at 27th in the NBA’s preseason power rankings.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has exploded from a top young player to an All-NBA level talent, Jalen Williams has become one of the best rookies in the field, and players like Josh Giddey and Luguentz Dort fill playmaking and defensive roles to make this group of young players a dangerous, cohesive team.

With the third-fastest pace in the league, the Thunder may run some teams off the court if they’re not prepared. No matter the result of this season, Oklahoma City will enter next year with a more developed roster and the addition of No. 2 pick Chet Holmgren who suffered an injury in the preseason.

Pressure Rating: 1/10

New Orleans Pelicans

It’s hard to tell what’s at stake for the Pelicans in the 2023 NBA Playoffs. They have been plagued by injuries all season long. Superstar Zion Williamson had a terrific start to the season while All-Star wing Brandon Ingram sat out with an injury.

Shortly after Ingram’s return, Williamson suffered an injury that he has yet to come back from. His return isn’t expected until sometime during or after the first round of the playoffs if New Orleans can make it that far.

The Pelicans have a lot of promising young names on their roster. Most of the pressure for New Orleans doesn’t come in this year’s playoffs, it’s the uncertainty surrounding Zion Williamson’s health. He has played just 114 of 246 possible games in the past three seasons. This season was the second where he couldn’t even hit the 30 games played mark.

New Orleans will struggle in a 7-game series without their best player. When will Williamson’s injury risk outweigh his production when he plays?

Pressure Rating: 5/10

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves have a lot at stake in this year’s playoffs. They sent debatably the biggest trade package in NBA history for center Rudy Gobert and he won’t be playing in the team’s first play-in game after receiving a one-game suspension for punching teammate Kyle Anderson.

RELATED: Gobert Punch Underscores Timberwolves Failed Experiment

Minnesota has been the NBA’s tale of mediocrity in the 21st century. In the last ten years, they have had the fifth-lowest win percentage among all teams.

After drafting two promising young players in Karl Anthony-Towns in 2015 and Anthony Edwards in 2020, they made a push for contention by trading for three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

The first season of the Gobert era has not gone well, to say the least. If Minnesota can’t put a deep playoff run together this year or next year, the Gobert trade could go down as the worst trade in NBA history.

Pressure Rating: 9/10

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are another team that is hard to judge how much pressure they are facing. They won a championship in 2020. But, that run was followed by two very underwhelming seasons in the City of Angels.

They faced a lot of scrutiny during the failed Russell Westbrook experiment. But, ever since this year’s trade deadline, they have looked like a serious contender.

Considering they have given up almost all of their draft capital to go all-in on a roster with LeBron James, the Lakers automatically face a level of pressure every season. Not that James has anything to prove, but LA has made it clear that it’s championship or bust.

Los Angeles has the biggest fanbase in the NBA which brings another level of expectation. As a team coming from the play-in, the Lakers will have to face the best of the west if they hope to make a deep playoff run.

Pressure Rating: 7/10

Eastern Conference ‘Middle of the Pack’ Playoff Teams

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are in an interesting position in this year’s playoffs. After drama with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant forced the team to sell at the trade deadline, Brooklyn was able to hold onto their playoff seeding and avoid the play-in.

However, it is to be noted that they have a 10-12 record since the All-Star break. Although not the best sign, the Nets had to shift from an offense led by superstars to a team offense where everyone gets equally involved.

Brooklyn got a good return in their trades for Durant and Irving. But, unless the Nets make a surprising deep run, the organization will have some roster decisions to make in the offseason. Such as figuring out if Mikal Bridges can lead a team and what version of Ben Simmons they will get moving forward. Overall, this as a transition period for the Brooklyn Nets.

Pressure Rating: 5/10

New York Knicks

After a down year, the Knicks came back with a vengeance and secured the fifth seed in the East. Julius Randle returned to his prior All-Star form and the Jalen Brunson addition has worked spectacularly.

However, they have their work cut out for them with a matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland has one of the best defensive frontcourts in the league which doesn’t bode well for New York.

The Knicks don’t have a lot of pressure but they definitely have some questions that may need answers very soon. Can Julius Randle be the best player on a contending team? Is RJ Barrett going to live up to his #3 overall pick potential? With the fourth-best offense and the 19th-ranked defense in the league, can the Knicks get past any of the East’s juggernauts?

Pressure Rating: 6/10

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers have the least pressure of any Eastern Conference team. Their core of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen has an average age of 23.5 years old.

In their first year together, they comfortably secured the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round. They have the best defensive rating in basketball paired with the 8th-ranked offense.

Also considering that their core is under contract through the 2024-2025 season, this team has a lot of time to grow. Cleveland’s biggest concern is how they can keep their core intact when they all eventually merit large, long-term contracts.

Pressure Rating: 2/10

Western Conference ‘Middle of the Pack’ Playoff Teams

Golden State Warriors

Let’s be honest with ourselves. The Warriors have absolutely nothing to prove. They could get swept by the Kings but their four championships and six title appearances in eight years don’t go anywhere. Steph Curry remains a top-3 point guard of all time. Golden State’s legacy as a dynasty in the late 2010s stays intact.

However, every single NBA organization has two things in mind. How to win right now and how to set the team up for the future.

Steph Curry is 35. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are each 33. The Warriors are set to be the most expensive team in the 2023-2024 season.

Green has a player option worth $27 million while Jordan Poole’s $28 million extension will kick in. Can the Warriors pay all of their players in the coming years?

Pressure Rating: 2/10

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers have a lot on the line in the 2023 NBA Playoffs. When healthy this season, Kawhi Leonard has looked like the top-ten player we all know him to be.

Although Leonard as a player doesn’t have anything to prove, he came to Los Angeles and immediately had a team built around him. When they made the Western Conference Finals in 2021, Leonard didn’t play.

The addition of Russell Westbrook adds that much more pressure to the locker room. As a former league MVP and top-75 player in NBA history, Westbrook has to prove he can contribute to winning playoff basketball. Since 2016, he has had an 8-21 record in the postseason.

After going all out on building around Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles has to prove that this core can lead them to the promised land.

Pressure Rating: 8/10

Phoenix Suns

The Suns have an equal amount of pressure and leeway. They just gave up a lot of draft capital and depth to get Kevin Durant. But, they now have Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Durant under contract until the 2025-2026 season.

However, floor general Chris Paul is almost 38 years old and will be 40 when his contract is up. With that said, it’s clear that the goal in Phoenix is a championship and they wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less.

If they make an early exit in the playoffs, there’s a good chance that some roster turnaround will follow. Deandre Ayton has already had his name thrown around in trade talks and Chris Paul doesn’t look like the top point guard that he once was. Phoenix’s contract situation saves them from having a lot more at stake in this year’s playoffs.

Pressure Rating: 6/10

Eastern Conference Top Teams

Philadelphia 76ers

Of the East’s top teams, the 76ers have the most on the line in this year’s playoffs. Joel Embiid has been an MVP candidate for three years, James Harden is debatably the best player in the association without a championship, and Philadelphia has also had a 65.4% win percentage in the past three seasons.

Harden took a pay cut before the season to free more cap space for the 76ers to build a contending roster around himself and Embiid. With an MVP candidate, the third-ranked offense, and the 8th-best defense, the 76ers are looking to contend.

There were rumors circulating in the middle of the season that Harden was interested in a return to Houston. Although, Harden shut those rumors down in a press conference shortly after they surfaced.

Pressure Rating: 9/10

Boston Celtics

Like the Suns, the Celtics have a lot of pressure and leeway. However, they have more on the line considering the rumors surrounding Jaylen Brown. To be fair, that pressure is 100% the Celtics’ fault. They have included his name in trade talks for the past few seasons which understandably left a damper on their relationship.

Falling just short in the 2022 NBA Finals adds to their pressure to win it all.

The reason that Boston doesn’t have a lot on the line is because of their youth. Jayson Tatum is just 25 and Brown is just 26. They also have much of their team under contract for the next two seasons.

Considering Boston has four conference finals appearances in the past six seasons, they would likely be left unsatisfied with anything less than an NBA Finals appearance. Jayson Tatum entering MVP candidacy this season may mean that the Celtics are expecting themselves to attain the ultimate goal.

Pressure Rating: 7/10

Milwaukee Bucks

Of the Eastern Conference contenders, the Bucks have the least on the line. Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the whole Milwaukee roster, have already proved that they can win a championship. The next step is winning another one to solidify Giannis’ spot as an all-time great.

One thing working against the Bucks is expectations.

The majority of NBA fans think that the Eastern Conference Finals is going to be Milwaukee versus Boston. If either team loses in the first or second round, it would be seen as a disappointment.

The Bucks have a top-5 defense but have the 15th-best offense according to offensive rating. This doesn’t hurt their contention chances due to Antetokounmpo’s ability to turn it on in the postseason. Most of the Bucks’ pressure comes from high expectations, but they remain a proven squad regardless.

Pressure Rating: 4/10

Western Conference Top Teams

Sacramento Kings

The Kings have ended their postseason drought dating back to 2006. In any other case, they would just be happy to be here. However, they’re the 3-seed. They have the 7th best record in all of basketball. Some fans are writing them off solely because of their lack of postseason experience.

There is some cause for concern. For example, they have the 7th worst defense in the league according to defensive rating. But, they combat that with the #1 ranked offense.

They also have one of the fastest paces among postseason teams and boast the best true shooting percentage in the league. They face a bit of pressure with contracts considering Domantas Sabonis will be a free agent after next season.

The Kings were ranked 20th in the NBA’s preseason power rankings so, regardless of how the season ends, it was a successful year in Sacramento.

Pressure Rating: 3/10

Memphis Grizzlies

After a season filled with drama and concern, the Grizzlies secured the second seed for the 2nd year in a row. They still have the 3rd youngest roster in all of basketball. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant are both under contract until at least the 2025-2026 season. The only contractual concern is Desmond Bane, whose rookie deal ends after next season.

However, the Grizzlies have proven that they can be a force in the regular season. They have to demonstrate some postseason success to be considered a real threat in the West.

They lost in the semifinals to Golden State last season. If they advance, they may end up facing off against the Warriors again.

If there was any year to come out of the West, it’s here and now. There were 8 teams fighting for an appearance while Memphis sat comfortably near the top of the conference.

Pressure Rating: 5/10

Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are facing as much pressure as any team in the West. Nikola Jokic is a two-time, potentially three-time, Most Valuable Player. Unlike last season, they have a nearly fully healthy roster and have dominated the Western Conference for the whole regular season.

The Nuggets have been a top 3 seed in four of the last five seasons but have yet to make it out of the West. In fact, they only have one conference finals appearance which came in the Orlando bubble in 2020.

In the past few seasons, the Nuggets’ opponents have put them in a constant cycle of pick-and-rolls to expose their defensive shortcomings. If that blueprint works again in the 2023 NBA playoffs, questions about Jokic’s ability to lead a championship team will grow louder.

Pressure Rating: 9/10

Chandler Holt is a Digital Sports Producer for KSLSports.com, specializing in all things basketball and football. Follow Chandler on Twitter at @ChandlerHoltKSL.

Want more coverage of the 2023 NBA Playoffs? Take us with you, wherever you go.

Download the new & improved KSL Sports app from Utah’s sports leader. You can stream live radio, video and stay up to date on all of your favorite teams.

KSL 5 TV Live

KSLSports Feed

Real Salt Lake Rio Tinto Stadium (KSL TV)...

Associated Press

Real Salt Lake beats the Whitecaps 2-1 on second-half goals from Brayan Vera and Justen Glad

Real Salt Lake bested the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1, meaning RSL has only lost two of its 15 home matches against Vancouver. Next for RSL will be Los Angeles FC.

2 hours ago

Follow @kslsports...

KSL Sports

Miami Dolphins Rout Denver Broncos, Scoring Most Points By NFL Team Since 1966

The Dolphins crushed the Broncos and were three points shy of breaking the NFL’s single-game scoring record.

4 hours ago

Follow @kslsports...

KSL Sports

Taylor Swift Turns Out To See Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs Play Chicago Bears

Travis Kelce put the ball in Taylor Swift's court, and she wound up bringing it to Arrowhead Stadium after all.

4 hours ago

Follow @kslsports...

KSL Sports

Matt Gay Lifts Colts To Victory Over Ravens With Field Goal In Overtime

Matt Gay lifted the Indianapolis Colts to victory over the Baltimore Ravens with a field goal in overtime of the Week 3 game.

7 hours ago

Follow @kslsports...

KSL Sports

Packers QB Jordan Love Throws Game-Winning Touchdown Pass Against Saints

Jordan Love led the Green Bay Packers to a comeback victory over the New Orleans Saints in Week 4 of the 2023 NFL season.

7 hours ago

Follow @kslsports...

KSL Sports

Utes Creep Into Top 10 After Opening Pac-12 Play With A Win

Utah football continues their climb up the AP Top 25 after beating No. 22 UCLA to open Pac-12 play on Saturday and sneaking into the Top 10.

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Design mockup half in white and half in color of luxury house interior with open plan living room a...

Lighting Design

Lighting Design 101: Learn the Basics

These lighting design basics will help you when designing your home, so you can meet both practical and aesthetic needs.

an antler with large horns int he wilderness...

Three Bear Lodge

Yellowstone in the Fall: A Wildlife Spectacle Worth Witnessing

While most people travel to this park in the summer, late fall in Yellowstone provides a wealth of highlights to make a memorable experience.

a diverse group of students raising their hands in a classroom...

Little Orchard Preschool

6 Benefits of Preschool for Kids

Some of the benefits of preschool for kids include developing independence, curiosity, and learning more about the world.

rodeo contestant on a saddle bronc...


Get Ready for the Days of ‘47 Rodeo!

The Days of '47 Rodeo is a series of events everyone in the family can enjoy, with world-class rodeo contestants vying for the gold medal.

Electric LED Lightbulb Change In Light At Home...

Lighting Design

How to Know When to Upgrade Your Lighting

This guide explores indicators that suggest it’s time for a lighting upgrade with tips to make an informed decision when you’re ready to buy. 

Brunette guy in headphones playing games on his desktop computer...

PC Laptops

Looking For a New Computer? Use This Desktop Buying Guide

Choosing a new desktop computer can come with a lot of questions, so we created this desktop buying guide.

Analysis: What’s On The Line For Each Team In 2023 NBA Playoffs