Douglas Tsakalos-Stewart gives his take on the NBA playoffs.
With the regular season of the National Basketball Association (NBA) coming to an end there is only more excitement in stock for avid fans such as myself. Playoff season has arrived with games starting on the 12th of April for the battle for the eighth seed of both respective conferences. Plenty of teams have the chance to grab the titles for their conference titles and the esteemed Larry O’Brien championship.
PLAYIN WINNER PREDICTIONS:
EASTERN CONFERENCE: MIAMI HEAT AND ATLANTA HAWKS
While the Heat have not lived up to the preseason expectations and fallen short of last season's first place finish, they are most certainly the “best of the rest” as they still have a star studded lineup including Jimmy Butler, who has exceeded his career average in both field goal and free throw percentage this season.  Butler, as a small forward, combined with Bam Adebayo in the center, who is also having a fantastic season, have become quite the duo offensively and defensively. It is concerning that they did not pick up any veteran experienced players, with the exception of club legend Udonis Haslem. A team of young and hungry players can only go so far without the experience of PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris.
The Hawks have returned to the play-in scene again from their 8th placed finish last year and look ready to do some damage. While I don’t believe they'll be able to beat the Heat, they will have a second chance against either the Raptors or Bulls, both of whom they have a good record against this season. The Hawks are led by Trae Young who has been one of the best point guards this season with some of his performances shining due to his break away ability and his three point shots. With good supporting players such as John Collins and Onyeka Okongwu they could be a problem for teams who underestimate their ability to hit points off defensive rebounds. 
WESTERN CONFERENCE: LOS ANGELES LAKERS AND OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Lakers have been fighting hard to make the playoffs since late January due to Lebron’s injury but their efforts have been rewarded with a 7th place finish. Players such as Davis, Vanderbilt, Schroder and Reaves all improved their game and turned a 20-25 record into a 43-39. The return of Lebron paired with Anthony Davis will make any game difficult for their opponent which is why I expect a seventh seed finish for them. They must be careful as any injuries to star players would hurt their playoff chances as while they have solid players, there are not many replacements for Lebron and Davis.
The Thunder, while having one of the worst records of the teams that made the play-ins, with a tenth place, are another team that are not to be underestimated and will provide a real challenge. The combination of Australian Josh Giddey and the Canadian Shai Gilgeous Alexander have been a real threat this year taking down some of the top teams at home. Combined with one of the most promising rookies in Jalen Williams. Teams in the play-ins and maybe the playoffs will have to hope they're not having a good shooting day as they rank second in the league overall for field goals attempted. 
WESTERN: DENVER NUGGETS
The Nuggets this season have been outstanding, trumping their 6th place finish last season with a deserved first seed in their conference. Their starting five is one of the strongest in both the conference and league with main man and two time MVP Nikola Jokic. The team in general is set up intelligently, feeding the ball to, and off Jokic with quality shooters such as Murray, Caldwell-Pope and Porter Jr as well as solid offensive rebounders in Gordon and Bryant. Teams will have to adjust to their playstyle as they are the first in field goals scored for a reason. 
The main concern for the first seed Nuggets is their bench. They have a mix of explosive players in Bruce Brown and Reggie Jackson, experienced veterans in Thomas Bryant and Jeff Green and talented young draft picks with the likes of Christian Braun and Peyton Watson. While these players are clearly NBA quality, in games when not surrounded by the starting squad or when they play together, they struggle due to a lack of game time which leads to loss of cohesion. To avoid some issues when playing with a new lineup the Nuggets should play in a completely different style, with an increase in speed and intensity to catch their opponents off guard.  Despite this, unless there are a serious amount of injuries, the Nuggets should show the teams they face why they are the best in the west.
EASTERN AND WORLD CHAMPIONS: BOSTON CELTICS
The Celtics have arguably been the best team in the league and their respective conference on form, despite finishing with the second best record. Recently made coach and previous assistant manager, Joe Mazzulla, has exceeded expectations and has been able to guide the team to a second place finish in his first season in charge as an NBA coach. His coaching style has been helped by arguably the best duo in the league, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Tatum has had the best year of his life, averaging an incredible 30 points per game.  Brown has had the season of his career as well, improving in almost every stat. 
The ability of the players and coaching staff are what makes this team a powerhouse and the favorites for the championship title. The team's only flaw is a lack of mentality during certain games or frequent “off days” which was perfectly illustrated in their loss to the Nets in early March where they threw away a 28 point lead, leading to the biggest comeback this season. In saying that, when on form, they are the most lethal team, seen by beating the first placed Milwaukee Bucks by 40 points just two weeks ago. They are the strongest team this year and they will avenge their championship defeat last year by winning it this year.
 “Jimmy Butler Stats, News, Bio.” ESPN, 2023, https://www.espn.com/nba/player/_/id/6430/jimmy-butler.
 “Teams Traditional: Stats.” NBA, 2023, https://www.nba.com/stats/teams/traditional.
 Benedetto, Vinny. “Denver Nuggets' Bench Feels Need for Speed as New Pieces Catch Up.” Denver Gazette, 5 Mar. 2023, https://denvergazette.com/sports/denver-nuggets/denver-nuggets-bench-feels-need-for-speed-as-new-pieces-catch-up/article_1a0cd6fc-bba1-11ed-bb8e-0b7aed83553e.html.
 “Jayson Tatum Stats.” ESPN, 2023, https://www.espn.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/4065648/jayson-tatum.
 “Jaylen Brown Stats.” ESPN, 2023, https://www.espn.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/3917376/jaylen-brown.