Storylines to watch in the 2023 NBA Playoffs (Part 1)

Published April 14, 2023, 9:30 AMPolo Bustamante

It’s time for playoff basketball! NBA.com Philippines writer highlights one interesting storyline for each series.

It’s the most wonderful time of the (NBA fans’) year. It’s playoff time, baby!

With the playoffs come more in-depth analysis, never-ending match-up breakdowns, and the multitude of stats being used in nearly every playoff preview. Of course, there are storylines that are happening in each of the playoff series.

That’s why we decided to identify one thing NBA fans should watch out for.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets: Mikal Bridges gets his ‘revenge’

This has kind of been overhyped as a storyline. Bridges was barely a Sixer before he got traded on draft night to the Phoenix Suns. So really, there’s very little reason for him to get revenge on Philadelphia. That being said, how well Bridges plays against his “former” team will determine how far the Nets will go.

Bridges is by far the Nets’ best player. He’s already shown glimpses of what he can do when he was the only healthy starter on the Suns for long stretches this season. He fully blossomed after he was traded to Brooklyn. He’s scoring nearly 10 points more as a Net, averaging 26.1 points per game with his new team. What’s more impressive is that he was able to maintain his high efficiency despite the increased workload.

Bridges has proven that he can carry his team to wins against the top teams in the league. He scored 38 points in a win against the Boston Celtics. He also dropped 45 and 42 against the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks, respectively. Brooklyn will need scoring binges like that from Bridges on a more consistent basis if they want to pull off an upset over Philly.

Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors: The Road Warriors

The road woes of the Warriors are well-documented this season. They’re 11-30 in games away from the Chase Center. That record includes a string of 11 straight road losses from February to March. The Warriors’ numbers offensively don’t dip as much when they’re playing on the road. Defensively, they’re awful when they’re not in San Francisco. They routinely give up more than 120 points per game to their opponents on the road.

That’s a huge problem in this series because the Kings are the best offensive team in the league this season. If the Warriors can’t put a lid on the rims in the Golden 1 Center, then the Kings are going to blow them out of the water. The Warriors will need to steal home court advantage early in the series, just to prevent the Kings from gaining too much confidence and momentum. Even if they do extend the series to seven games, they’ll have to find a way to win that rubber match in Sacramento.

Oh, the Warriors will also be playing in front of a crowd that hasn’t experienced the playoffs in 17 years. That Sacramento crowd will be rocking, and they’re going to make the Warriors feel as far away from home as possible.

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. New York Knicks: Julius Randle’s ‘availability’

Julius Randle suffered an ankle injury near the end of March which has kept him from playing the Knicks’ final five games of the season. Obviously, New York will need him in this series. It’s not easy to replace the 25 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists he averages per game.

However, when Randle does get to step on the floor, he also has to be locked in mentally. There’s been concern lately about Randle throwing temper tantrums when he’s not getting the calls he wants. One major flare-up that he had was in March when the LA Clippers’ physical defense bothered him. Randle took it out on his coaches, teammates, and officials. That affected the game and eventually led to a big loss. 

He can’t allow the physical defense to affect him as it did during the loss to the Clippers. Especially against this Cavaliers team that has the best defense in the league. If Cleveland’s slew of forwards can frustrate him and make him lose focus, then they’ve also effectively taken away the Knicks’ best weapon. Randle has to prove that he’s ready to lead the Knicks in the playoffs this season. That starts by taking control of his emotions and letting his game do the talking.

Check out our Cavs-Knicks series preview here.

Atlanta Hawks vs. Boston Celtics: Atlanta bullying Boston

The way the Hawks won their play-in game against the Miami Heat wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. The game plan was simple: crash the boards, again, and again, and again. The Hawks grabbed 63 total rebounds, including 22 offensive rebounds. That allowed them to score 26 second-chance points, 20 more than the Heat.

Their offensive rebounding during that play-in game wasn’t an anomaly. It’s been a concerted effort for the Hawks to try and dominate the boards. From October to January this season, the Hawks have averaged 10.4 offensive rebounds per game. Since February, the Hawks have averaged 12.5 offensive rebounds per game. 

That’s the one clear advantage that Atlanta has over Boston. The Hawks have a slew of athletic and energetic front court players. John Collins and Clint Capela lead the way but behind them are young bucks like Onyeka Okongwu and Jalen Johnson. The Celtics comparatively are thin in the front court with only Al Horford, Robert Williams, and an undersized Grant Williams to lean on. If the Hawks can bully Boston’s frontline as they did against Miami, that gives them a puncher’s chance at an upset.