NBA Finals Predictions (2023): LeBron Chases GOAT Status
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
— Updated on 18 May 2023

NBA Finals Predictions (2023): LeBron Chases GOAT Status

— Updated on 18 May 2023

If you asked us to make our NBA Finals predictions a month ago, we would’ve never been able to imagine the run of stunning upsets and epic underdog triumphs that’s been on showcase throughout the 2023 playoffs.

Not only have top-seeded favourites such as 2021 champs the Milwaukee Bucks faced elimination at the hands of “Himmy” Butler and the Miami Heat, but struggling franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers – which was given a dismal 0.3% chance of making the playoffs alone earlier this season – have defeated both the Memphis Grizzlies and the reigning champs in the Golden State Warriors to become one of the Western Conference’s remaining two alongside the ever-dominant Denver Nuggets.

Whatever happens from this point forward will surely make for gripping spectator sport.

RELATED: The Future Of The Golden State Warriors Looks Pretty Bloody Grim

NBA Finals Predictions (2023)

The Journey So Far

It’s been a tough week for those that question the legitimacy of the 2020 NBA Bubble.

Despite there being no significant irregularity in statistics between the regular season and playoffs across the league that year, people pointed at specific outlier performances as evidence it was “not real basketball.” “This Miami Heat team would never beat the Giannis’ one-seeded Bucks in a normal year,” they said. Lol.

As this season has already clearly demonstrated, the NBA Playoffs produce unexpected great performances and choke jobs every single year. Ultimately, the result in 2020 wasn’t even that surprising. The best team in the Western Conference all year, led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, won it all. Three years (and the first full offseason in years) later, we’re looking at the same final four teams, all of which have retained pretty much the exact same core pieces.

However, the journey of each of these teams has been very different this time around. The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers, the two teams that were in the 2020 NBA Finals, were forced to claw their way into the playoffs from the play-in tournament; while the Celtics and Nuggets, each conference’s respective three-seed in 2020, have significantly improved their rosters and are now due for some shiny new silverware.

The unofficial title for the NBA’s Best Player is seemingly vacant. The first two rounds of the playoffs have already seen the departures of premier names such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Steph Curry, Ja Morant, Joel Embiid, and James Harden. A bunch of great players like Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving, and Dame Lillard were absent from the picture entirely.

At the time of this writing, we’re just eight wins away from a new NBA Champion. Who will step up?

Western Conference Finals: Predictions & Betting Odds

Los Angeles Lakers ($2.78) vs Denver Nuggets ($1.45)

Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets 2023 - LeBron James, Nikola Jokic
(Photo BY Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times & Sarah Stier via Getty Images)

It’s the NBA’s best offence coming up against its best defence. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Which team’s unique big man will prove most impactful: Nikola Jokic or Anthony Davis?

Both teams have used all 82 games of the regular season to get to where they are now, but each team’s trajectory would look remarkably different if you were to plot it on a graph chart. In their first dozen games, the Lakers started the year 2-10. As previously mentioned, this earned them a 0.3% probability of making the post-season due to the simple fact that no team in NBA history has ever made the playoffs with a record that horrific.

They were holding onto the $47 million contract of a declining, ill-fitting point guard in Russell Westbrook with little optimism for a trade that would make them legitimate contenders. LeBron James breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record was a perfect encapsulation of the season at that point: the improbable triumph of a 38-year-old legend being wasted on a team that couldn’t even beat the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Throw in a couple of injuries for both AD and LeBron throughout the season, as well as the growing pains of having a rookie head coach in Darvin Ham, and there was virtually no chance we’d be writing about the LakeShow at this point in the year. Then, somewhat miraculously, the Lakers recovered at the trade deadline. They brought in pretty much an entirely new team that was more complementary to the talents of its Big Two.

RELATED: The Lakers vs Warriors Playoffs Series Marks The End Of An Era

The Nuggets, on the other hand, have been steadily improving all year. In the previous two seasons, Nikola Jokic found himself earning consecutive MVP titles but little post-season success for his team since 2020. While his individual performances were outstanding, the Nuggets were realistically going nowhere with the injuries to Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray. This was their first complete healthy season and, unsurprisingly, they were extremely successful.

The post-Bubble additions of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Gordon have elevated this team to a new level. Jokic is the best offensive engine in the world, with a unique ability to score efficiently and make plays from any position in the half-court. Paired with a bunch of quality role players and you have a team that is a nightmare to defend.

This matchup will likely be one of the most entertaining of the entire playoffs, but for reasons that we’ll get into below – our bet’s on the Lakers winning it in seven games and Anthony Davis taking home the Western Conference Finals MVP.

Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.

The Lakers’ Route To Victory

Los Angeles Lakers 2023 - LeBron James
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The question that’s undoubtedly on everyone’s mind is simple: how much does the old man have left in the tank?

LeBron James might hold a record of 10-1 in previous conference finals appearances, but he’s 38 years old and currently playing on a foot that he was told required surgery. He’s obviously still very good by normal standards. Comparing him to his own previous seasons (or even this season pre-injury), however, clearly shows that he doesn’t have that same burst. At least not consistently for 40 minutes per game across an entire series.

He’s largely been playing off the ball, setting screens, and making well-timed cuts to the basket. His defensive effort has also been pretty impressive; arguably playing like a traditional forward than we’ve ever seen him play before. For maybe the first time ever, LeBron James can just fit within a system rather than having to be the system.

To have King James being guarded by the other team’s second-best defender is such a luxury for the Lakers. Even in his current form, James is still capable of taking over games and being the best player on the floor. In the close-out Game 6 against the Warriors, he collected 9 rebounds, 9 assists, and 30 points on 10-14 (71%) shooting. He’s really not one you want to bet against, especially when the team is this good.

RELATED: How LeBron James Became The First Active NBA Player To Achieve Billionaire Status

Anthony Davis is a defensive wrecking ball and by far the best teammate James has ever played with. His combination of skill, size, and athleticism allows him to defend the interior as effectively as anyone ever has. Then he’ll switch to being the team’s pick-and-roll ball handler and lock them up. His sheer dominance and versatility on that end of the ball will prove to be critical in this series.

Davis is also extremely gifted at scoring down low. While Jokic is probably the most athletic we’ve ever seen him, he’s going to have his work cut out for him with this assignment. Particularly on top of his offensive workload. The Nuggets are the weakest defence the Lakers have come up against in the playoffs thus far by a significant margin.

The Lakers have a lot of depth on this roster. If you don’t give D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Lonnie Walker IV, and Dennis Schroder a serious defender, they are liable to completely scorch your team.

They are discerning underdogs in this series, but they were for the other two as well. In short, the Lakers are the significantly better defensive team and have enough offensive firepower to pick apart the Nuggets.

President: Jeanie Buss
General Manager:
Rob Pelinka
Head Coach:
Darvin Ham
Player Roster:

NamePositionAgeHeightWeightCollegeSalary (USD)
Mo Bamba (12)C257′ 0″231 lbsTexas$10,300,000
Malik Beasley (5)SG266′ 4″187 lbsFlorida State$15,558,035
Troy Brown Jr (7)SF236′ 6″215 lbsOregon$1,836,090
Max Christie (10)G206′ 5″190 lbsMichigan State$1,017,781
Anthony Davis (3)PF306′ 10″253 lbsKentucky$37,980,720
Wenyen Gabriel (35)F266′ 9″205 lbsKentucky$1,878,720
Rui Hachimura (28)PF256′ 8″230 lbsGonzaga$6,263,188
Shaquille Harrison (0)G296′ 4″195 lbsTulsa$12,260
LeBron James (6)SF386′ 9″250 lbsN/A$44,474,988
Scotty Pippen Jr (14)G226′ 2″170 lbsVanderbilt[Unknown]
Austin Reaves (15)SG246′ 5″197 lbsOklahoma$1,563,518
D’Angelo Russell (1)PG276′ 4″193 lbsOhio State$31,377,750
Dennis Schroder (17)PG296′ 1″172 lbsN/A$1,836,090
Cole Swider (20)F246′ 9″220 lbsSyracuse[Unknown]
Tristan Thompson (9)C326′ 9″254 lbsTexas$10,552
Jarred Vanderbilt (2)PF246′ 8″214 lbsKentucky$4,374,000
Lonnie Walker IV (4)G246′ 4″204 lbsMiami (FL)$6,479,000

The Nuggets’ Route To Victory

Denver Nuggets 2023 - Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Nuggets’ path to victory is fairly straightforward: Nikola Jokic needs to dominate the offensive matchups with Anthony Davis.

He needs to make sure the Lakers are unable to contain him with 1-on-1 coverage and draw significant help defence. If he could get The Brow in foul trouble by initiating contact with his skill, these games could get very ugly for the Lakers pretty quickly. Back in 2020, the Lakers had Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee sharing fouls from covering Jokic. This Lakers team only has AD.

Jokic has the ability to dislodge Davis when scoring in the post, bumping the latter off his base and making tough floaters and hook shots in the lane. If he can draw AD out of the paint by making shots, that will effectively clear the paint for guys like Aaron Gordon, Bruce Brown, and Jeff Green.

The Lakers won’t be defending the Nuggets’ pick-and-roll quite the way they did with the Warriors. They won’t be able to ignore the roll man’s scoring like they’re Draymond Green or Kevon Looney, given Jokic is probably the best in the NBA at this specific thing. Jamal Murray and KCP aren’t Steph and Klay, and won’t have the Lakers fighting over the screen to get to them in the same way. However, they will likely have higher-quality shots available and they will need to capitalise.

It’s worth noting that both teams are great at scoring in transition and terrible at defending the fast break. This means that it’s really important to make shots and not turn the ball over, so they can get back and establish their set defence.

The home-court advantage of Denver is also a serious factor. Historically speaking, players have had a difficult time adjusting to playing at the altitude of the rocky mountains. The elevation has proven to be a factor, causing away teams to quickly fatigue in the city’s thin air. The Nuggets have a record of 37-4 at home when Nikola Jokic plays in the game this season.

Both teams are currently undefeated at their home stadiums in this playoffs, the Nuggets and the Lakers each holding a perfect record of 6-0. If that remains true in this series, that’ll mean the Nuggets win. Four of the possible seven games are guaranteed to be in Denver, so the pressure is very much on the Lakers to take one of these games.

President: Vacant (CEO Josh Kroenke)
General Manager:
Calvin Booth
Head Coach:
Michael Malone
Player Roster:

NamePositionAgeHeightWeightCollegeSalary (USD)
Christian Braun (0)G226′ 6″220 lbsKansas$2,808,600
Bruce Brown (11)SF266′ 4″202 lbsMiami (FL)$6,479,000
Thomas Bryant (13)C256′ 10″248 lbsIndiana$1,836,090
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5)SG306′ 5″204 lbsGeorgia$14,004,703
Vlatko Cancar (31)SF266′ 8″236 lbsN/A$2,234,359
Collin Gillespie (21)G236′ 1″195 lbsVillanova[Unknown]
Aaron Gordon (50)PF276′ 8″235 lbsArizona$19,690,909
Jeff Green (32)PF366′ 8″235 lbsGeorgetown$4,500,000
Reggie Jackson (7)PG336′ 2″208 lbsBoston College$580,373
Nikola Jokic (15)C286′ 11″284 lbsN/A$33,047,804
DeAndre Jordan (6)C346′ 11″265 lbsTexas A&M$1,836,090
Jamal Murray (27)PG266′ 4″215 lbsKentucky$31,650,000
Zeke Nnaji (22)PF226′ 9″240 lbsArizona$2,498,760
Michael Porter Jr (1)SF246′ 10″218 lbsMissouri$30,913,750
Ish Smith (14)PG346′ 0″175 lbsWake Forest$4,750,000
Peyton Watson (8)F206′ 7″200 lbsUCLA$2,193,960
Jack White (10)F256′ 7″225 lbsDuke[Unknown]

Eastern Conference Finals: Predictions & Betting Odds

Boston Celtics ($1.29) vs Miami Heat (3.64)

Boston Celtics vs Miami Heat 2023 - Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler
(Photo by Adam Glanzman & Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

This marks the third conference finals battle between these two teams in the last four years.

The score is currently one apiece with each of the previous two series having shaped up to be an absolute war. But yet again, this year’s matchup is coloured a little differently – we’ll see the most talented team in the NBA against the hungriest and best organised. How will the brains of the Heat fare against the brawn of the Celtics?

The Celtics are overwhelming betting odds favourites to win this series, as well as to eventually win the NBA Finals. Both teams lost in their last NBA Finals appearance, but have remained contenders in the playoff picture. Last year saw the Celtics beat the Heat by just four points in a gruelling Game 7.

The Heat were the one-seed last year and the eight-seed this year. Similar to the Lakers, they’ve scratched and clawed their way from the very brink to make a Hollywood return; losing their first play-in game against the Atlanta Hawks (who earned the seven-seed and the first-round matchup against the two-seed Celtics), then beat the Chicago Bulls to advance to their series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

RELATED: ‘Playoff Jimmy’ Isn’t Just A Nickname… He’s Actually That Guy

Since then, they’ve beaten the Bucks in five games before toppling the New York Knicks in six. They’ve far exceeded all expectations thanks to Erik Spoelstra’s stellar coaching and some otherworldly performances from Jimmy Butler.

The Celtics went on to beat the Hawks in six games, then the Philadelphia 76ers in seven. To say Jayson Tatum has been streaky this year would be an understatement. Sometimes it’s looked like he can’t hit a shot to save his life, but then he’ll go and set the record for most points ever scored in a Game 7 with 51.

There’s no guarantee the Celtics show up, but when they do, they’re unstoppable. “Playoff Jimmy” is real, but the talent disparity between the two teams will likely just be too much to overcome. Don’t get us wrong, there’s great value in a bet on the Heat. We just see the Celtics winning it in six games and Jayson Tatum taking home the Eastern Conference Finals MVP.

Prediction: Boston Celtics in six games.

The Celtics’ Route To Victory

Boston Celtics 2023 - Jaylen Brown
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

On paper, the Celtics really should dominate this series.

We’d pick them to win in five if not for the fact they aren’t disciplined enough to do that, whereas the Heat continues to overachieve. If the Celtics lose, it’ll be due to a lack of focus and effort.

Joe Mazzula is a promising first-year head coach, although it’s clear he’s still learning on the job. For example, it took him until Game 5 of the second round to deploy their most successful starting five for the first time in these playoffs (and seventh time this season): Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Robert Williams III.

It was the starting lineup that got them to the NBA Finals last season and they won both games since Mazzula used it. Perhaps this was some tactic to preserve their health for the later stage battles, but we digress.

The team has lost games due to being lazy and disengaged defensively and settling for pull-up three-pointers rather than imposing themselves and getting downhill. This behaviour can swing a couple of games, but it really shouldn’t dictate the outcome of the series. Their ceiling is just too high for them to realistically drop four games.

The Celtics’ defensive personnel is also perfectly equipped to deal with the Heat. They’re all taller, more athletic, and ridiculously switchable. The Miami Heat have led all playoff teams in points scored out of the pick-and-roll, but this was against drop coverage. Any player on the Celtics can probably do a sufficient enough job defending any player on the Heat in this action. Players like 6’2″ Gabe Vincent will come off the screen and be met with another giant versatile defender in front of him.

President: Rich Gotham
General Manager:
Brad Stevens
Head Coach:
Joe Mazzulla
Player Roster:

NamePositionAgeHeightWeightCollegeSalary (USD)
Malcolm Brogdon (13)PG306′ 4″229 lbsVirginia$22,600,000
Jaylen Brown (7)SG266′ 6″223 lbsCalifornia$28,741,071
Justin Champagnie (99)SF216′ 6″206 lbsPittsburgh$28,241
JD Davison (20)SG206′ 1″195 lbsAlabama[Unknown]
Danilo Gallinari (8)PF346′ 10″236 lbsN/A$6,479,000
Blake Griffin (91)PF346′ 9″250 lbsOklahoma$1,836,090
Sam Hauser (30)SF256′ 7″217 lbsVirginia$1,563,518
Al Horford (42)C366′ 9″240 lbsFlorida$26,500,000
Mfiondu Kabengele (28)C256′ 10″250 lbsFlorida State$1,701,593
Luke Kornet (40)C277′ 2″250 lbsVanderbilt$2,133,278
Mike Muscala (57)C316′ 11″240 lbsBucknell$3,500,000
Payton Pritchard (11)PG256′ 1″195 lbsOregon$2,239,200
Marcus Smart (36)PG296′ 4″220 lbsOklahoma State$17,207,141
Jayson Tatum (0)SF256′ 8″210 lbsDuke$28,103,500
Derrick White (9)PG286′ 4″190 lbsColorado$16,892,857
Grant Williams (12)PF246′ 6″236 lbsTennessee$4,306,281
Robert Williams III (44)C256′ 9″237 lbsTexas A&M$10,937,502

The Heat’s Route To Victory

Miami Heat 2023 - Jimmy Butler
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

A combination of Pat Riley’s “Heat Culture” and the genius of Erik Spoelstra, possibly the best coach in the NBA, have helped them overcome a lot so far.

They were already the weakest team on paper going into the playoffs, a clear first-round exit by all accounts, and have since lost two offensive weapons in Victor Oladipo and Tyler Herro.

It’s going to be incredibly tough. They’re going to need to re-capture the shooting luck they had against the Bucks in round one because the Celtics have the collective and aggregate talent to just punish them in ways the Knicks couldn’t seem.

The Heat were hitting 15 3-pointers per game on 45% shooting against the Bucks, but this was an anomaly compared to the rest of their season. When considering the long perimeter defenders that the Boston Celtics have to bother these outside shots, it’s beginning to look like a pretty tall ask.

It’ll be essential for role players Caleb Martin, Max Strus, Kyle Lowry, and Kevin Love to knock down the open looks they get from outside, with the latter two needing to turn back the clock and give vintage performances in a couple of games to stay in with a chance.

Bam Adebayo is a solid interior defender, but he needs to consistently be aggressive in his scoring. He needs to outwork and outlast the likely matchups in Al Horford and Robert Williams III. If this Cinderella run is to continue, Jimmy Butler needs to continue to produce at an unbelievable level every game. He needs to play physical basketball, get to his spots, and knock down tough jump shots in the midrange.

President: Pat Riley
General Manager:
Andy Elisburg
Head Coach:
Erik Spoelstra
Player Roster:

NamePositionAgeHeightWeightCollegeSalary (USD)
Bam Adebayo (13)C256′ 9″255 lbsKentucky$30,351,780
Jimmy Butler (22)SF336′ 7″230 lbsMarquette$37,653,300
Jamal Cain (8)F246′ 7″191 lbsOakland[Unknown]
Udonis Haslem (40)PF426′ 8″235 lbsFlorida$1,836,090
Tyler Herro (24)PG236′ 5″195 lbsKentucky$5,722,116
Haywood Highsmith (24)F266′ 4″220 lbsWheeling Jesuit$1,752,638
Nikola Jović (5)F196′ 10″205 lbsN/A$2,239,920
Kevin Love (42)PF346′ 8″251 lbsUCLA$3,114,138
Kyle Lowry (7)PG376′ 0″196 lbsVillanova$28,333,334
Caleb Martin (16)SF276′ 5″205 lbsNevada$6,479,000
Victor Oladipo (4)SG316′ 4″213 lbsIndiana$8,750,000
Duncan Robinson (55)F296′ 7″215 lbsMichigan$16,902,000
Orlando Robinson (25)C227′ 0″235 lbsFresno State[Unknown]
Max Strus (31)SG276′ 5″215 lbsDePaul$1,815,677
Gabe Vincent (2)PG266′ 3″200 lbsUC Santa Barbara$1,815,677
Omer Yurtseven (77)C246′ 11″275 lbsGeorgetown$1,752,638
Cody Zeller (44)C306′ 11″240 lbsIndiana$517,060

Finals: Who Will Become The 2023 World Champions?

The Ideal Match-Up

Los Angeles Lakers vs Boston Celtics 2023 - Finals - LeBron James, Jayson Tatum
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It’s hardly a forgone conclusion, but we’re practically within arm’s reach of seeing this generation’s chapter of the most storied rivalry in basketball – the Los Angeles Lakers vs the Boston Celtics – unfold in the 2023 NBA Finals. And it’s pretty bloody hard not to get excited about the spectacular possibility.

Each team is tied with 17 championships and meeting in the Finals for the 13th time would certainly be the most entertaining way of settling the score. Both have made it to the NBA Finals in the last three seasons, so it would be a shame to miss the window of both teams simultaneously hitting a vein of good form by such a relatively small margin.

It would see the old vs new. Jayson Tatum’s Celtics have made the playoffs all six seasons he’s played with the team, including four Eastern Conference Finals appearances and one NBA Finals appearance. He’s only 25 years old, but it already feels like he’s due for the next big thing.

Getting vengeance on LeBron James, the man that averaged 33.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 8.4 assists across seven games against him to win the 2018 Conference Finals, would officially cement the fact that Tatum has arrived. To do so in the same arena made famous by his idol Kobe Bryant would make the taste of victory even sweeter.

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers 2023
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

RELATED:‘The Last Dance’ Producers Are Filming LeBron James & The Lakers Right Now

For LeBron James, a man whose legacy is shared across three franchises, this would officially cement him as one of the Lakers’ greats. It would also guarantee that both his and Anthony Davis’ jersey numbers would be retired by the team and they’d each have a good chance of being the eighth and ninth Lakers statues outside of Arena.

Winning this second title with this team, against that team, in the organisation’s 75th anniversary season, in front of the resurfaced Jack Nicholson sitting courtside, would be their iconic moment in purple and gold history.

King James’ fifth championship coming in the same year he broke the all-time scoring record, combined with all of the previously outlined circumstances that have made this run so unlikely, would be yet another entry on a long list of reasons why someone might consider him the GOAT.

Whatever happens from here on out, safe to say, it has our undivided attention.

Keen to take a punt on the action? Head over to Boss Bet below.

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