2022 NBA Playoffs Preview

“That’s why you play the game!”


James Lian

Heading into the season, the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers were favored with the two best title odds for the 2021-2022 season (via NBC Sports), with the Nets at +225 and Lakers at +350. In addition, the Boston Celtics (+4000), Miami Heat (+2200), and Memphis Grizzlies (+10,000) were all placed in the lower half of the playoff odds chart prior to the start of the season. However, as the season came to a close, the Lakers found themselves out of playoff contention, and the Brooklyn Nets earned the seventh seed, but only after a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the play-in bracket. When the final standings were announced, Miami earned the top seed in the East with Boston right behind them. In the West, Memphis earned the second seed, trailing a red hot Phoenix Suns team that most people favor to win it all. 

So why were the preseason title odds so inaccurate this season? The two surprise teams throughout the season seemed to be the Lakers and the Grizzlies. The Lakers finished the season with a 33-49 record while the Grizzlies earned themselves a 56-26 record. Although the Lakers comprised a team consisting of big-name players Lebron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook, they seemed to lack one element that Memphis had: chemistry. The Grizzlies finished with the second-best record in the league despite having Ja Morant as their only all-star caliber player. 

The playoff title odds at the end of the season look completely different compared to the start of the season. According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) Playoff Odds, the Celtics have the best odds to win the championship at 33.6%. The rest of the playoff odds in order look like this:

  1. Phoenix Suns (11.4%)
  2. Miami Heat (11.1%)
  3. Memphis Grizzlies (10.4%)
  4. Milwaukee Bucks (8.4%)
  5. Utah Jazz (6.3%)
  6. Golden State Warriors (4.6%)
  7. Philadelphia 76ers (3.3%)
  8. Dallas Mavericks (2.4%)

You might ask, “where are the Brooklyn Nets?” According to ESPN’s BPI Playoff Odds, Brooklyn has a 0.3% chance of winning the title despite having a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. This is because ESPN factors in the strength of the playoff schedule that each team has, and the Nets have the most difficult playoff schedule in terms of the strength of teams that they will face en route to the finals. They must face Boston with the best title odds in the first round, and if they win they will go up against the reigning champions, the Milwaukee Bucks. 

While ESPN is predicting a Suns-Celtics final this year, there are a couple of teams that would deny this anticipated matchup. One of the teams on the rise is the Golden State Warriors, who look more and more dangerous as the trio of Curry, Thompson, and Green are all healthy and have never lost a playoff series when all three played every game in the series. On the flip side, the Memphis Grizzlies would play Golden State in the second round of the Western Conference, who would be favored in that matchup as the Grizzlies won three out of the four-season meetings with the Warriors. But besides these three teams, the Western Conference this year is pretty much set and stone.

While the Western Conference has a bigger margin between contenders and non-contenders, almost every team in the Eastern Conference can be identified as a contender. Although the Celtics have the best odds to make it out of the Eastern Conference, teams such as the Nets, Bucks, Heat, and 76ers could very well steal the title of Eastern Conference champions. On the Celtics’ side of the bracket, the Nets have arguably the scariest scoring duo in the league in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, while the Bucks already have a championship under their belts and are riding on that same confidence from last year. On the other side of the bracket, Miami will be entering the playoffs with the best record in the league, while the 76ers have a dominant duo in James Harden and MVP candidate Joel Embiid. 

The 2022 NBA Playoffs might have the most legitimate contenders in a singular playoffs in the past decade, and this leaves the NBA Championship up for grabs. There are many star players in the playoffs this year who have yet to win a championship, and it is very likely that one of these all-star caliber players will earn themselves their first championship this year. On the other hand, it is also possible that a team like the Warriors could win it all after missing the playoffs the last two years, or a team like the Bucks could crown themselves as back-to-back champions. The way this season has gone has been a complete shock to everyone, and this year’s playoffs could make history as one of the most competitive and upset-filled competitions we have seen in a while.