EE-SPN Ep. 1: NBA Conference Semifinals 2023

Analyzing the conference semifinals of the NBA Playoffs

A: Welcome to the first episode of our podcast EE-SPN where we will be analyzing the 2023 NBA Playoffs. Today we’ll be talking about the NBA conference semifinals. My name is Arjun Dhruv and I’m joined here with fellow EE-SPN analyst Manas Kottakota.

M: Let’s kick off the podcast covering the Phoenix Suns versus Denver Nuggets series.

A: So I think this series will be pretty one sided. I don’t see the Suns having any problems with the Nuggets, they have better individual matchups and they have much more star power and veteran experience. So I think the Suns will win in five games.

M: I don’t think it’s going to be as easy as you make it out to be, I think the Nuggets definitely have a far deeper roster and they have a better bench. So to excel in the series, they’re gonna have to really depend on their stars like Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. So I think the Suns will take it but I think it’s gonna take six or seven games.

A: When I look at the matchup between the Nuggets and the Suns, I see complete dominance on paper as the roster of the Suns is much more experienced and more playoff ready than the Nuggets are, as someone like Kevin Durant has 155 games of playoff experience and Chris Paul has 142 games. So I think that star veteran experience is going to be something that sends them over the edge.

M: Star experience is definitely important in the playoffs because you don’t want pressure to get to your players, but the Nuggets really excelled in the regular season with the third offensive rating and fifth defensive rating while the Suns lack on the defensive end. So I think this discrepancy can really give the Nuggets an edge to try to get the series, but I still don’t think it’s enough for them to defeat the Suns in the seven game series.

A: Talking about some key players in the series, I think for the Suns, the main guy is going to be Devin Booker. If he continues playing the way he did with round one, dropping almost 37 points per game, I think that the Suns will have no problem finishing the series off quickly and may even be able to go to the finals.

A: Moving on to the Eastern Conference, we have the Miami Heat versus the New York Knicks. So what are your thoughts, Manas?

M: I’ve got the Miami Heat in six games because they’ve got Jimmy Butler on the team who always steps up when he needs to for his team and with Tyler Herro injured as a second option on the offensive end, [Jimmy Butler] definitely improved his play. And with [Tyler Herro] injured, I think Bam Adebayo will really step up, I think he’s improved in the later end of the Bucks series, and he can really help Jimmy Butler in defeating the Knicks.

A: I think that injuries are also a big problem for the Heat as there are two backup shooting guards Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo are both injured and Tyler Herro was really that second option to Jimmy Butler. So I don’t think that one player will be able to win that series, especially at a time like the conference finals.

M: I don’t think it is just one player because Jimmy Butler, although he plays really well and it seems like he’s the only one doing stuff on his team, they’ve definitely got a supporting cast. Don’t underestimate Bam because he might not fill the stat sheet but his presence on the defensive end is definitely going to slow the Knicks down.

A: Yeah, but you also have to think about how the Heat played a Giannis-less Bucks, like they didn’t have their star player, their MVP candidate. So against a team that’s completely healthy and conference semifinal ready like the Knicks, I think that the Heat will have more trouble than they did in the Bucks series.

M: Yeah, it’s true that the Heat played a Giannis-less Bucks, but even though Giannis missed three games or like he left halfway through Game one, the Miami Heat still outperformed Giannis the two games he did play and still won those two. So I don’t think you can discredit the Heat for beating a crippled team as they definitely beat the Bucks when they were at full strength.

A: I think that a really important player on the Knicks side of the ball is going to be Julius Randle. I think his injury in the second quarter of game five was devastating to the team as he’s that second star, he’s an all-star player, and I think that if he could step up, the Knicks will be in good shape.

M: Speaking of players with potential impact for their team, I got Bam Adebayo again because he’s definitely going to have to step up, and as the second option on offense now because of Tyler Herro’s injury, he will definitely make the difference in the series against the Knicks. So I’ve got the Heat winning this one and also making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

A: On to the more exciting matchup in the Eastern Conference we have the Boston Celtics versus the Philadelphia 76ers.

M: OK, so for this series, I think it’s not too controversial. I think most people got the Celtics in six games or even less because, first of all, they have much more help behind the stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, so even if they struggle, they’ve got Derrick White or Marcus Smart or their sixth man of the year Malcolm Brogdon, who can all score 20 points when necessary for the team.

A: Yeah, adding on about Marcus Smart and Derrick White, I think that depth is really going to help the Celtics as those two are very good defensive players. Marcus Smart winning Defensive Player of the Year a couple years ago, and so I think that defense will really set them over the edge.

M: The Celtics are number two and defense and offense in the regular season, while the 76ers are number eight in defense throughout the regular season, so defense is definitely going to give the Celtics an edge, which is why I think the most important player in the series or most potentially impactful player is going to be Joel Embiid because he’s gonna have to step up from how he played in the first round.

A: On the Celtics side, the most important player is going to be Robert Williams III because of his defense, he needs to be able to guard Joel Embiid.

M: First of all, Robert Williams is not going to hold Joel Embiid. I think Joel Embiid is going to have the edge of Robert Williams no matter what happens. I think the main problem is just going to be if he can step up. I don’t think Robert Williams is going to be the one that controls that.

A: But we’ve seen in the past how injuries have affected a player significantly, so what about Embiid’s right knee sprain, like that’s gonna affect him, right?

M: Yeah, but the 76ers still have a solid supporting cast with James Harden, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey who all definitely score the ball. So as long as Joel Embiid is present on the defensive end—

A: If you’re gonna talk about depth, you need to talk about the Celtics more because the Celtics have way more depth than the Sixers and it’s not even close. The Celtics have four players that are averaging more than 15 points per game and they have two players averaging more than 25 points per game being Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. And this depth of having that many players who are able to efficiently score is what’s gonna give them the edge, not the Sixers’ depth.

M: That’s true, that’s true. I think the Celtics definitely have the series in a lock and I don’t think the 76ers have much to do about it. They’re going to definitely need Joel Embiid to step up a lot more and play like a true MVP candidate or potential MVP. Otherwise, the 76ers have no chance of winning.

A: Yeah, I agree.

M: All right, moving on we’ve got the Golden State Warriors versus the Los Angeles Lakers, which seems like it’ll be the most exciting series in the second round. So what do you got, Arjun?

A: I definitely agree that this is going to be the most exciting series. I think it’s going to be the [closest] series too. I have the Lakers winning in seven, a little controversial, but I don’t think the Warriors are going to be able to win on the road, which is going to be really important.

M: Well, winning on the road the Warriors just won on the road against Sacramento Kings, and showed that they could win on the road even though it didn’t seem like it in the regular season. And many people had the Kings winning that game, but the Warriors still got out and won that one, so don’t underestimate the Warriors on the road.

A: Yeah, but in the regular season, they were 11-30 on the road, which is not the type of basketball that you see from a Western Conference Finals type team, which is what they get if they win. And the Lakers recently have been really showing how good they are and how much depth they have. This is the best roster that LeBron has ever played with, with Rui Hachimura, Anthony Davis and also Austin Reeves, and I think that this depth on his roster is going to be something that really helps him out. Even if he doesn’t perform, he still has players that can come and give him 20, 25 points per game.

M: The Lakers definitely have many offensive pieces, but I think what will give the Warriors an edge in this series is how they match up defensively against the Lakers roster. They’ve got Andrew Wiggins who has been playing better and better as he comes back from his injury. They’ve got Gary Payton II who can help from the bench and Draymond Green, obviously a Defensive Player of the Year in the past, so they could all definitely step up and try to hold LeBron James, and Anthony Davis to not having efficient [shooting] nights and just not performing to the level that they should to win the series.

A: Even if the Warriors are able to hold LeBron James and Anthony Davis, [the Lakers] still have a bunch of efficient shooters on their team. I wanted to highlight one important player who’s been there for the Lakers, which is Rui Hachimura. He has been that guy off the bench, he’s been dropping almost 15 points per game and he’s shooting nearly 57% from the field and over 50% from three, which is crazy numbers for a bench player.

M: If we’re talking about help from the bench, and star power off the bench you’ve got Jordan Poole on the Warriors, who last postseason showed that he can step up as in the first round against the Nuggets. He played like a real superstar when Steph Curry was coming off the bench due to an injury, and I think he’ll be able to do that now as he gets back into the postseason and gets more used to it. He’s definitely going to be an important player for the Warriors.

A: Okay, that’s all for EE-SPN, thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time when we talk about the conference finals.