The NBA playoffs are usually very predictable. The NBA has crowned 75 champions, with 50 of them receiving first-round byes in the postseason. Another 16 have been seeded second. Only five No. 8 seeds had ever won a playoff series prior to the 2023 postseason, and the same was true for No. 7 seeds defeating No. 2 seeds. The regular season was a reliable sample for the majority of the NBA’s history. Teams played 82 games, and we got a pretty solid picture of who the greatest teams were – and how they would perform in the postseason during that time.
But recently? That has simply not been the case. The NBA is currently so deep that great teams can emerge from anywhere on the bracket. Teams are prioritizing the regular season so much less than they used to that the concept of a conference champion emerging from the play-in tournament does not seem out of the realm of possibility. In reality, two of the eight remaining playoff clubs began the season in the play-in round. Because of their lower seeds, two more of them emerged as theoretical underdogs.
All of this adds up to a historic level of parity in the 2023 postseason. In 1984, the NBA switched to a 16-team playoff structure, and for the first time in 40 postseasons, one of the eight possible seeds progressed to the second round:
The Denver Nuggets are ranked first.
- The Boston Celtics are ranked second.
- The Philadelphia 76ers are ranked third.
- The Phoenix Suns are ranked fourth.
- The New York Knicks are ranked fifth.
- The Golden State Warriors are ranked sixth.
- The Los Angeles Lakers are ranked seventh.
- The Miami Heat are ranked eighth.
Here’s where things get interesting: the Vegas odds to win the title barely resemble the seeding of the teams listed above. At plus-140, who is the current title favorite? The Celtics are the No. 2 seed. The No. 1 seeded Nuggets and the No. 6 seeded Warriors are both plus-550. The Suns are seeded fourth (plus-650), the Lakers are seeded seventh (plus-750), the 76ers are seeded third (plus-1200), the Heat are seeded eighth (plus-2000), and the Knicks are seeded fifth (plus-2500).
Boston is the big favorite for the championship, but remember that it took them six games to beat the lowly Atlanta Hawks. Only the 76ers swept their first-round series, and even they had to overcome some drama to get there, and now Joel Embiid’s health will be an issue. The Milwaukee Bucks, the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs, were eliminated in five games by the Heat.
The bottom line is that no team is a sure thing to win the championship. It is a welcome change of pace in an NBA world where dynasties rule, and it is leading to one of the most entertaining postseasons in recent memory.