Storylines to watch in the 2023 NBA Playoffs (Part 2)

Published April 15, 2023, 9:00 PMPolo Bustamante
Polo 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.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. LA Lakers: The Griddy Grizzlies

These aren’t your Grit n’ Grind Grizzlies anymore. This iteration of the Grizzlies are brash, and fearless. Simply put, they don’t care. Jaren Jackson Jr. doesn’t care that he’s up against an All-NBA talent like Anthony Davis. Dillon Brooks doesn’t care that he lit a fire under LeBron James in their previous matchups. Ja Morant doesn’t care who’s defending him. At all.

That’s because even though they talk tough and dance wildly, the Grizzlies always make sure that their game is on point. This season, they’re not only one of the most exciting, high-flying teams in the league, they’re also one of the toughest teams to score on. Memphis is second in the league in defensive rating, allowing only 111.2 points per 100 possessions. They force teams to cough up the ball 13.1 percent of their possessions (8th) which then fuels their running game (5th in pace).

Even though they’re a much-higher seed, a lot of people doubt that a young team like the Grizzlies can win over a more established team like the Lakers. Well, Memphis doesn’t care. Their youth and exuberance will be on full display in this high-profile series. It will annoy fans and maybe they’ll even get on the nerves of some of the Lakers too. That’s the plan. This Memphis team has to show that they’re not backing down to anyone, not even a King and his team.

Phoenix Suns vs. LA Clippers: The ‘best’ player in the NBA discussion

When this series was cemented, everyone had their eyes on the Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant rivalry. But the real matchup to watch out for is the one between Kawhi Leonard and Durant. A couple of years ago, these two were widely considered as the best players in the league. Injuries derailed that debate and other players emerged in their absence. But now, Durant and Leonard have a chance to get that discussion started again.

With Paul George likely out or limited in the first few games, the Clippers will need all that they can get from Kawhi Leonard. Offensively, Leonard is still efficient and robotic. It’s on the defensive end where he needs to shine even brighter. Leonard’s defensive rating this season has slipped down to 113.0 points per 100 possessions, the worst number of his career. As one of the only defenders on his team able to limit Durant, Leonard has to be able to bring back the more menacing defensive version of The Klaw.

As for Durant, he has to be able to fill in all the holes that the Suns have. The team gave up a lot of depth to trade for him. Because of that, their bench is thin. In addition to their roster issue, this version of the team has only played a handful of games together. There will be chemistry issues, and the playoffs is the worst time for that to pop up. Durant has to not only play like a superstar, but also act as the team’s glue guy, covering their mistakes and acting as a safety blanket on both ends of the floor.

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat: The case of the missing Bam Adebayo

Everyone has this series pegged as a Bucks sweep even before the series has begun. Milwaukee is just the better team. Their roster is deeper and more talented. Not to mention they probably have the best player in the series in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the Heat to have any chance against the Bucks at all, they have to get the best out of everyone on the roster. There’s no question that Jimmy Butler is locked in. But the Heat really need Bam Adebayo to emerge as the team’s best player in the series. Offensively, he’s a connector that can make plays for the rest of the team, as well as himself if needed. Defensively, he’s the only player on the team that can probably hang with Antetokounmpo.

Unfortunately, Adebayo hasn’t been himself lately. From December to February, Adebayo could be counted on for 20 points, 10 rebounds, and elite-level defense easily. In the past few weeks, his game has slipped. In March, his numbers have dropped to only 18.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. His past few games haven’t been inspiring either. He was dominated by Clint Capela on the boards in their play-in loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Against the Chicago Bulls he missed all but one of his nine shots.

If the early-season version of Adebayo shows up against the Bucks then the Heat have a chance to really push the Bucks. If he turns into a glorified Bismack Biyombo once again, then the Heat better get packing for Cancun early.

Denver Nuggets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves: Focus, Denver, focus

The Nuggets have limped into the playoffs rather than bursting through the door proudly. They lost five of their last seven games of the season and had a three-game losing streak before ending that skid in their final game.

It’s kind of understandable given that they secured the top seed in the West early, taking away most of their motivation to play competitively. But some of those losses in the final weeks of the season were downright embarrassing. They got blown out by the lottery-bound Houston Rockets and failed to come back against an eliminated Utah Jazz team.

Another cause for concern was how their best player, Nikola Jokic fizzled out on those two losses. Rather than stamp his class on those lowly teams and prove that he’s the deserving MVP of this season, he held back and averaged only 10 points in those two games.

This could all be a whole lot of nothing and just a case of a team avoiding injuries before the playoffs. But Mike Malone wasn’t happy with how they ended the season. That in itself is an issue they need to resolve before facing the rolling Timberwolves.