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2023 NBA Playoffs: Who’s Going To Overachieve And Disappoint?

While march madness occupies pretty much all of the sports bandwidth this weekend, the NBA playoffs are coming closer and closer. As teams fine-tune toward the postseason, some are primed to disappoint, and others will exceed expectations. Which high seeds will struggle, and which low seeds can make a run?

Two Potential Disappointments In The NBA Playoffs

Philadelphia 76ers

At full strength, the Sixers have been difficult to stop this year. With the two-headed monster of Harden and Embiid, they have the star power they need to beat anyone on their day. Talented starters to support them like Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris, in theory, should be rounding out an obvious championship roster. Historically, though, come playoff time, that has not been the case for Philly.

While Maxey and Harris have been excellent this regular season, they haven’t shown the ability to elevate their level in NBA playoff situations. This season, the Sixers have only been able to reliably win when Harden and Embiid go off statistically, and this recent stretch without Harden has demonstrated this quite obviously.

It’s hard to see the best version of the sixers – who with the injury history of their core is not guaranteed to appear in the playoffs consistently – beat the best of the east in a best-of-seven series. The healthy, young, scrappy Nets very well may await in the playoffs in a three-six matchup. If the Sixers can get past that, they likely will run into the Celtics, who have more than had their number, not only this year but also throughout this most recent era of Sixers basketball.

From a talent perspective, Philadelphia has what they need, but they don’t quite have the team makeup, nor do they have a reliable bench/sixth man-type player to produce beyond their core.

Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis has reached their two-seed in the west by virtue of a strong run-and-gun offense and a physical, tough defense. They have a nice well-rounded core with a versatile skill set, led by young star Ja Morant. They’re one of few teams in the NBA that can produce 7-8 members deep, and they’ve built a system that will reliably yield results for some time to come.

However, this doesn’t have the makings of a team that can continue that success in the gauntlet the playoffs have to offer quite yet. They win games the tough way, rebounding extremely well, giving themselves second chances, and using physicality and quickness to break apart defenses. However, with the level of opposition that Memphis is going to run into, toughing it out won’t work every single time.

Memphis struggles shooting-wise and is in the bottom half of the league in overall shooting and the bottom third of the league in three-point shooting. Without a steady shot, teams fight an uphill battle in the playoffs. While Ja is knocking on that door, the Grizzlies still don’t have the superstar with ample big-moment experience that can make that big shot in a clutch moment. Likely having to play the winner of a stacked-looking play-in rotation, the Grizzlies are in a tough spot, and a potential showdown against Sacramento in round two ups the ante even more.

Two Potential Disappointments In The NBA Playoffs

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are an enigmatic team. On a given day, they can beat or lose to anyone in the NBA and have somehow combined that unpredictable series of results into a 36-38 record that gives them the 10th seed, but given the play-in format, they are very much alive. They have a much easier schedule in their remaining slate than they’ve had in the last 20 games or so and should be able to either keep or go beyond that spot.

While they do have a tough group in their potential play-in, with their pool of opponents (as they stand) including the Lakers, Timberwolves, and Pelicans, the Thunder have beaten each of those opponents at least once. And as an extension of this, one of the biggest questions of the playoffs is: “how far can your best take you?”. The Thunder’s best takes them quite far – they’ve had wins over Denver, Boston, Cleveland, Brooklyn (with Kyrie), New York, and a number of other top NBA teams.

They’ve got a proven all-star leading the helm, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has by far been one of the best scorers and players in the league in 2023. He’s a reliable, dependable, explosive, well-rounded player who can make game-winning plays in big moments. Early in the season, it seemed like that was all the Thunder were, but Josh Giddey has turned out to be a great second fiddle, capable of consistently scoring high totals. Beyond their top few players, the Thunder do struggle in terms of finding depth that can compete on an NBA playoff floor but with that star power in a western conference full of parity, they can absolutely put teams on notice.

Brooklyn Nets

In an objective sense, the Nets have gotten less talented by losing Kyrie and KD at the NBA trade deadline. But after an adjustment period, the Nets have actually started to round up a nice new team, and are playing like the embodiment of “young, scrappy, and hungry”. The acquisitions of Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are showing themselves to be extremely useful and productive on a nightly basis, and Johnson is playing at an even higher level than when he was in Phoenix.

Spencer Dinwiddie is picking up right were he left off when he was in Brooklyn, and contributors like Joe Harris and Nic Claxton are seeing their production rise. The Nets, because of Kyrie’s various non-injury absences and Durant’s injuries, have plenty of experience playing without those two. By adding more talent to a much more stable version of their roster, the Nets are in one of the better situations in the NBA right now. After a dominant win against the Heat to propel them into sixth, the Nets are starting to look the path, and a road that likely starts against Philly could be more manageable than it seems.

It’s going to be interesting to see how everything plays out in what should be an entertaining NBA spring and summer.

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