2023 NBA playoffs: Play-in, first round predictions

It’s playoff prediction time. 

Our NBA reporters — Melissa Rohlin, Ric Bucher and Yaron Weitzman — are here to deliver their picks for the play-in tournament, as well as the first round of the playoffs.

Check back for updates!



Rohlin: Heat. They know how to win when the stakes are high. Count on big games from Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. The Hawks are too inconsistent to pull this off.

Bucher: Heat. They’re ready for a makeover and this should be their last win of the season, but in a one-game playoff, they have the best coach, the best big man and the best leader (Butler). The rumors that the Hawks are open to moving Trae Young couldn’t rise to the surface at a worse time — not that I would blame the franchise for thinking that. 

Weitzman: Heat. The Hawks are an embarrassment. Also, in a one-game showdown, I’m going with Jimmy Butler. 


Rohlin: Bulls. DeMar DeRozan is returning to the city where he made a name for himself, playing against some former teammates. I expect a shining performance from him.

Bucher: Raptors. Talent-wise, Bulls should win this easily. But they also shouldn’t be a 10th seed. Teams that give Toronto trouble generally have a huge advantage at the 3-point arc, but that’s not the case with Chicago. Toronto actually averaged more made 3s per game. Getting Jakob Poeltl at the trade deadline added much needed size. Energy of the home crowd pulls the Raptors through.

Weitzman: Bulls. Everyone with the Raptors — including their head coach — seem ready for this season to come to an end. 


Rohlin: Lakers. Don’t bet against LeBron James in a huge game — you know, the guy who has led three different teams to championships and been to 10 NBA Finals. And, clearly, the Timberwolves are a mess right now, with both Rudy Gobert and Jaden McDaniels out for Tuesday’s game.

Bucher: Lakers, but I’m saying that only because Anthony Davis has consistently dominated Karl-Anthony Towns in the battle for bragging rights between former Kentucky big men — and that was when Towns didn’t look out of shape. I would not be surprised if Gobert being left at home and McDaniels breaking his hand galvanized the TWolves, but I don’t know if that will be enough to offset D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley looking to put it on their former team.

Weitzman: Lakers. Rule I always go by: Any time a team has two players throw punches in its last regular-season game, I pick against that team. 


Rohlin: Pelicans. The Pelicans closed the season winning nine of their last 12 games. The Thunder have gone 6-6 over that same period. Without Zion Williamson in the play-in tournament last season, the Pelicans won two games as the ninth seed to make the playoffs. They’ve been here before and proven that they don’t crumble under pressure.

Bucher: Pelicans. They just have a tremendous advantage in postseason experience overall compared to the Thunder — most of the latter’s rotation has no experience. Couple that with playing at home and it’s enough.

Weitzman: Pelicans. The Thunder have the best player on the court, but the Pelicans are better and deeper. This, however, will be the last time for a while that the Thunder exit the postseason this early. 


(1) MILWAUKEE BUCKS vs. 8-seed

Rohlin: Matchup TBD

Bucher: Matchup TBD

Weitzman: Matchup TBD

(2) BOSTON CELTICS vs. 7-seed

Rohlin: Matchup TBD

Bucher: Matchup TBD

Weitzman: Matchup TBD


Rohlin: 76ers in 5. Joel Embiid is finally healthy after being injured in the last three postseasons. He’s playing the best basketball of his life. I don’t see the Nets having much of an answer for him.

Bucher: 76ers in 6. They’re the opposite of the Celtics — they haven’t swept a first-round opponent in the first round during the Embiid era, including when they were the No. 1 seed in the East facing a Raptors squad as height-challenged as the Nets.

Weitzman: 76ers in 5. I’ll give the Nets one game. I think they can catch fire from deep one night. But they also have zero answer for Embiid. 


Rohlin: Cavs in 6. I’m excited for Donovan Mitchell vs. Jalen Brunson. Both of those guys transformed their respective teams this season. I’m giving the Cavaliers an edge because they finished the season with the league’s top defensive rating (109.9), though pitting that against the Knicks’ fourth-rated offense (117) should be thrilling.

Bucher: Cavs in 6. The mark of Tom Thibodeau teams is that they over-achieve in the regular season, leaving little room to elevate their games in the playoffs. I expect more of the same. As long as Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen can stay out of foul trouble, I would expect them to keep Julius Randle subdued.

Weitzman: Cavs in 7. I think this series is going to be a blast, and I’m not sure the Cavs have someone to slot onto Brunson. But Mitchell is a stud and I think their interior size could be the difference. The interesting question for the Knicks: Would Randle returning from his ankle injury help or hurt them? 

(1) DENVER NUGGETS vs. 8-seed

Rohlin: Matchup TBD

Bucher: Matchup TBD

Weitzman: Matchup TBD

(2) MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES vs. 7-seed

Rohlin: Matchup TBD

Bucher: Matchup TBD

Weitzman: Matchup TBD


Rohlin: Warriors in 5. Get ready for Steph, Klay and Draymond to show what they can do. It’s playoff time. Everything changes for this trio, which has won four championships together over the last eight years. The Kings are the league’s Cinderella story this season, but this is the nightmare matchup for them.

Bucher: Warriors in 6. I might feel different if the Kings had any kind of shot-blocking presence, but they have none, and despite Domantas Sabonis controlling the boards, the Warriors won three of their four regular-season meetings. In a battle of offensive powerhouses, I’m not about to bet against the team that has lost a TOTAL of five games in its last six first-round series. Not having home-court advantage for a team that was 11-30 on the road is a concern, but they did win four of their last five.

Weitzman: Warriors in 6. I know the Warriors can’t win on the road, and I know Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center is going to be LOUD. But the Warriors are still, well, the Warriors. They finished the season by winning eight of their final 10 games and seem poised to get Andrew Wiggins back, too. 


Rohlin: Suns in 5. Man, oh man, did the Clippers get unlucky with this one. If they had gotten a lesser opponent and could’ve bided time until Paul George returns, they could’ve had a deep playoff run. But the George-less Clippers can’t compete against a team with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton.

Bucher: Clippers in 7. It’s an edgy pick, I realize, but the Clippers have several significant advantages, the biggest being their bench. The other is the way Kawhi Leonard is playing right now, which is as well as he has in years. If KD isn’t guarding Kawhi, who is? And if KD is, can he also carry a heavy offensive load? I’ve seen KD play great and still lose a playoff series, I’ve seen Booker and Paul look dominant yet lose to a one-star team. Eric Gordon has the strength and savvy to match up with Paul. If Ivica Zubac can limit Ayton, and Terance Mann and Norm Powell can make Booker earn his points and keep him off the free-throw line, the Clippers have a chance to pull the upset, even if KD goes off. 

Weitzman: Suns in 7. This just might be the best series of the entire postseason. Crazy stakes for both teams. The winner could very well win the title. But it looks like the Clippers are going to have to take their shot at the Suns without George. I think that will be the difference.

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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