OPINION: Top 5 NBA playoff storylines

The 2023 NBA playoffs got underway this weekend with all eight first-round matchups tipping off. The race to 16 wins and the right to be crowned 2023 NBA champions is going to be a hell of a ride. 

As a lifelong basketball fan, I can’t tell you the last time the league felt this open going into the playoffs. You could make a legitimate argument for seven teams in the Western Conference to make the finals, while the three favorites in the Eastern Conference will likely have to go through each other to make the finals. There will almost assuredly be no shortage of drama. Here are my five most important storylines. 

The G.O.A.T debate ends once and for all

Let’s get things straight. The greatest basketball player to have ever lived is LeBron Raymone James Sr. There’s no question in my mind about that. However there are those that disagree. Because I am such a nice guy, I won’t look at them with disgust if they claim Michael Jordan or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to be better for now. That all can change in about two months. 

If the Lakers can somehow turn a 2-10 start to the season into a 17th title for the franchise, surely the debates end. The fact that a 38-year-old James can still be one of the best players in the league in year 20 having averaged 28.9 points 8.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists in the regular season and be one of the two main reasons the Lakers can compete for a championship along with Anthony Davis is remarkable. 

A fifth ring for “The King” would be a storybook ending to a season that saw him break the NBA all-time regular season scoring record along the way. 

Warriors last ride?

The Warriors have been the golden standard in the league for nearly a decade. They’ve appeared in a staggering six of the last eight NBA finals and won four titles in the process. Led by two-time league MVP Steph Curry, the Warriors have built their dynasty from excellence throughout the organization, but the reigning NBA champs will be at a crossroads this offseason. One of the most important pieces in the Warriors puzzle throughout their run has been Draymond Green. Green has a player-option at the end of the season, where he can become an unrestricted free-agent. The 33-year-old is seeking a long-term extension with the franchise, but the Warriors have a difficult decision to make. The team went into the season in turmoil after Green punched teammate Jordan Poole in the face on the practice court right before the start of the season. 

This incident contributed to the Warriors having an up and down regular season and going into the playoffs as the sixth seed. With the two-time defensive player of the year still one of their best players and having the responsibility to maximize the years you have with a generational player like Curry, who just had one of his best regular seasons of his career, the Warriors will have to decide whether or not keeping the veteran is worth it considering their already ridiculously high pay-roll.

Jokic on fraud watch

Nikola Jokic is undoubtedly a great player. The man has won the last two regular season MVPs and is in contention to win it again this year. Unfortunately for him, as Uncle Ben once said in Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” 

That quote rings loud for NBA superstars. Fair or not, this is where their legacies are made. In Jokic’s case, he has yet to have a signature playoff run that a player of his caliber and accolades is expected to have. The furthest the Nuggets have gone with him was the Western Conference Finals in the 2019-2020 season. 

In the two subsequent playoffs, the Nuggets have been dispatched by the Suns and Warriors respectively. The Nuggets being eliminated in embarrassing fashion hasn’t brought Jokic the criticism it would normally warrant due to injuries to key players on his team like Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. This year they are healthy and the Nuggets are the no.1 seed. There will be no excuses for “The Joker” this time.  

KD finally gets his due

In a way, it’s sad that we are still at a point in the basketball universe where Kevin Durant still has something to prove for some people. Not in my eyes. I see him as one of the 15 greatest players to ever grace the hardwood. 

The main criticism that Durant’s detractors will throw at him is that he joined the 2016 Warriors after they blew a 3-1 lead to the Cavs. Durant’s Thunder at the time blew a 3-1 lead of their own to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals that season. The Warriors went on to win two titles with Durant, where he won Finals MVP both times. After realizing he would never get the credit that other superstars get for winning titles due to joining a ready made situation, he decided to team-up with his buddy Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. 

That experiment was a disaster and he got his wish in February to be traded to the Suns. Durant has a great supporting cast in Phoenix with guys like Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton, along with a chance to remove any doubt that anybody has about his greatness by being the unquestioned driving force of a championship team.

Sixers stars change the narrative

The Philadelphia 76ers go into these playoffs as one of the favorites to win it all in large part due to the dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and James Harden. Both players have the chance to rewrite how people view them. One in the present and the other historically. Let’s start off with Embiid. The big man is one of the three finalists for MVP after a monstrous regular season that saw him average 33.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and shoot 54.8% from the field. Embiid joined an esteemed list of guys that consists of his teammate Harden, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan to average at least 33 points per game in the regular season in the last 40 years. 

If he were to win league MVP and cap it off with a title, he would be well within his right to proclaim himself the best in the world. As for Harden, a title run where he plays well throughout the postseason would change his legacy from a great player who consistently underperforms in the playoffs, to an all-time great that finally got over the hump.   

Write to Mohamed Warsame at

Header Photo: Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) celebrates after a 3-point basket by Dennis Schroder in the closing second of regulation. (MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ)

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