NBA Conference Semi-Finals Predictions, Odds and Picks

By Max Bennett

April 28, 2023

Image Courtesy of Alamy


Denver Nuggets (1) v Phoenix Suns (4)

Result: Denver Nuggets beat Phoenix Suns in 6 games, 4-2
Result: LA Lakers beat Golden State Warriors in 6 games, 4-2

Pre Semi Finals write ups:

The Second Round of the NBA Play-offs start on Saturday night with a titanic clash between the two favourites to win the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns.

Of course we’d have preferred this to be the Conference final, though whoever emerges from this scrap will then face what is looking more and more (at the time of writing) like a series with a dangerous veteran team just getting back to full health, be that Steph and the Warriors or LeBron and the Lakers.

Latest NBA Championship Odds - Updated May 12th

Odds showing 6th to 9th to 11th to 12th May movements

Boston Celtics: 2.75 in to 2.15 out to 5.00 in to 2.75
Phoenix Suns: 13.00 in to 10.00 out to 13.00
Golden State Warriors: 8.00 in to 6.50 out to 10.00 out to 11.00
Philadelphia 76ers: 8.00 out to 19.00 in to 4.25 out to 9.00
Denver Nuggets: 5.00 remained at 5.00 in to 4.00 in to 3.25
LA Lakers: 5.50 out to 6.00 in to 4.50 out to 5.25
New York Knicks: 21.00 out to 31.00 out to 51.00 out to 81.00
Miami Heat: 23.00 out to 31.00 in to 15.00 out to 19.00

Odds correct at time of publishing, and courtesy of Playup

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But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at where Nuggets v Suns will be won and lost.

Denver enjoyed an ideal introduction to this season’s playoffs and, just as predicted, sailed past the Minnesota Timberwolves 4-1. Having locked up the top seed, Denver had coughed and spluttered in the regular season run in, so this series with the Wolves was perfect for them to get back up to pace, and they did so in some style.

Back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic was, as ever, the star of the show with two triple doubles, and Denver’s hopes once again rest on the broad shoulders of the 7-footer who averaged 26, 12 rebounds and 9 assists in round one.

Jamal Murray, who blew hot and cold in the regular season as he came back from a serious knee injury, also fired against Minnesota, and was Denver’s top scorer, averaging over 27ppg.

All of the Nuggets big three - Joker, Murray and Michael Porter Jnr - averaged between 36 and 38 minutes, but that pales into insignificance when you look at the workload forced upon Phoenix’s big three of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, who played 44, 43 and 39 minutes per game as the Suns advanced against the LA Clippers 4-1.

Given that two of those three are at the veteran stage of their careers and have tendencies to pick up injuries, Phoenix really are playing a risky game giving their stars such a big workload. Equally worrying is that they needed to play those big minutes against a Clippers side that was without Paul George for the whole series and Kawhi Leonard, who played only the first two games, bowing out of the series with it in the balance at 1-1.

Not only did Kawhi’s injury ultimately kill our chances of another correct call in the round one predictions (we went for a 4-2 Suns victory and without the Kahwi injury it ended 4-1), it also made an LA win a near impossibility.

Western Conference Winner Odds - Updated May 12th

Odds showing 6th to 9th to 11th to 12th May movements

Phoenix Suns: 7.50 in to 6.00 out to 8.00
Golden State Warriors: 4.50 in to 3.50 out to 6.00 static at 6.00
Denver Nuggets: 2.30 nudged to 2.40 in to 2.20 in to 1.70
LA Lakers: 3.30 in to 3.10 tickled in to 3.00 static at 3.00

Odds correct at time of publishing, and courtesy of Playup

If Book, KD and CP3 need to play those minutes in a series against the Clippers minus their stars, how many are they going to need to play against Denver?

When Phoenix pulled the trigger on that blockbuster trade to bring in Durant from Brooklyn, they gave up three key rotation players in Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder. TJ Warren, who came in with KD, has fallen out of the Suns rotation, and they now look light on bodies.

This looks like a close series, and the longer it goes on, the more I expect Denver to upset the odds and beat the Suns. As unlikely as it may sound, given that Denver don’t exactly have a great set of reserves, Bruce Brown, Jeff Green and Christian Braun should win the bench battle against the likes of Josh Okogie, Bismack Biyombo and Landry Shamat, and in a tight series that could be crucial.

Throw in home court advantage because of their top seed and younger legs when the star names are set to play big minutes and I just fancy Denver to nick this despite coming in as slight underdogs.

PREDICTION: Nuggets win 4-3
UPDATE (May 12th): Nuggets win 4-2 ✅

Golden State Warriors (6) v LA Lakers (7)

Two of basketball’s all-time greats face off in arguably the most mouthwatering of the second round clashes as Steph Curry’s Warriors face LeBron’s Lakers.

While it’s the first time since 1991 these two franchises have met in the playoffs, LeBron has plenty of history against the Warriors, having faced them four straight years in the NBA Finals with the Cavs.

Golden State were pushed all the way in their series with the 3 seed Sacramento Kings, but cometh the hour, cometh the greatest shooter basketball has ever seen, Steph putting a 50 piece on the Kings, the first player to score 50 in a game 7.

Although Steph hogged the headlines, Kevon Looney was also creating history, pulling down 21 rebounds in that game 7 road win, the first time since Dwight Howard in 2008 a player has had three 20 rebound games in a series - no one has had four in the history of the NBA!

While the Warriors were staving off elimination, the Lakers were resting up - something that could be crucial - having sealed their place in the Conference semis with an easy game 6 defeat of the Memphis Grizzlies.

While the margin of victory meant no Laker was over exerted in that Game 6 rout, there were some positive signs from LeBron James, who, after a Game 5 he himself called ‘crap’, came out looking back to his best.

King James’s numbers weren’t ground breaking, putting up 22/6/5 in a game his team won by 40, but he was integral in putting the Lakers into that position, making 7 of his first 8 shots as LA took the game by the scruff of the neck.

LeBron definitely wasn’t at his best in the Memphis series, though even a subpar series for him saw averages of 22ppg, 11 boards and 5 dimes. With Anthony Davis averaging under 21ppg, both the Lakers superstars were over 5ppg under average - it depends if you’re a glass half full or half empty kind of person how you view that.

Certainly, the Lakers roster that started the season could not have won a series where the big 2 averaged under 44ppg, it would probably have needed them to put up closer to 70ppg. But now, having 5 players average 15ppg or over, and still having the likes of Dennis Schroeder and Malik Beasley who can contribute on top of that on any given night, gives the Lakers a chance.

The fact that LeBron, who don’t forget, was rushed back from injury at the end of the regular season as the Lakers were running out of games to even make the postseason, got to have a few days rest as Golden State were taken to a 7th game by Sacramento could be equally as crucial.

This will be a series for the ages, possibly the last time we’ll get to see Steph v LeBron on this stage. It could go either way, but I’m siding with the Warriors. Never underestimate the heart of a champion!

PREDICTION: Warriors win 4-2
UPDATE (May 13th): Lakers win 4-2 ❌


Result: Miami Heat beat New York Knicks in 6 games, 4-2
Result: Boston Celtics beat Philadelphia 76ers in 7 games, 4-3

New York Knicks (5) v Miami Heat (8)

 Well no one saw this coming!

 If it was a surprise that the grit ‘n grind Knicks overcame the young, exciting Cleveland Cavaliers, it was an absolute earth shattering shock that the Miami Heat, seeded 8, knocked out the Milwaukee Bucks, who not only were number 1 seeds, outright favourites with the best regular season record and were many people’s picks to win the whole thing!

According to the man himself, ‘Playoff Jimmy Butler’ isn’t a thing, but the stats from that stunning 4-1 win over the Bucks say different. Jimmy Buckets averaged 37.6ppg in that Milwaukee series and if he can maintain that form then who knows what Miami can achieve…but surely it’s unsustainable.

This Miami team has a record 7 undrafted players in their rotation, an amazing stat for any NBA team, never mind one on a playoff run, but there’s no doubt who the star man is.

For reasons known only to himself, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer refused to alter his defensive rotations to make someone else beat them, a decision that saw Milwaukee become the first 1 seed in NBA history to lose a seven game first rounder to the 8 seed in five games, and ultimately may well cost him his job.

Enter Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, a man who demands his team defend with their lives on every possession. He’ll already be working on ways to get the ball out of Jimmy’s hands, and with Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo injured, and Bam Adebayo’s offense having deserted him, the Heat alternatives are thin on the ground.

Eastern Conference Winner Odds - Updated May 12th

Odds showing 6th to 9th to 11th to 12th May movements

Boston Celtics: 1.62 cut to 1.28 out to 3.20 in to 2.75
Philadelphia 76ers: 4.20 out to 10.00 in to 1.95 out to 4.50
New York Knicks: 8.00 out to 9.50 out to 19.00 static at 19.00
Miami Heat: 8.50 out to 9.00 in to 4.75 nibbled out to 5.00

Odds correct at time of publishing, and courtesy of Playup

New York came under fire in the summer for not trading everything to get Donovan Mitchell, so Knicks management will have enjoyed knocking out Mitchell’s Cavs all the more. Jalen Brunson, signed in free agency, looks a worthy alternative, and though Julius Randle is struggling with an ankle injury, RJ Barrett picked up some of the slack and Thibs has a deep bench full of players who can give him some much needed production.

While big man Mitchell Robinson will never be a heavy scorer, at the defensive end he was immense against Cleveland, and the Knicks will demand more of the same in this one.

In the late 90’s this became one of the great NBA rivalries as the Knicks and Heat met four straight years in the playoffs. While no one expected this rivalry to be resumed in 2023, I can see the Knicks, as they did back then, just edging it.

PREDICTION: Knicks win 4-3
UPDATE (May 13th): Heat win 4-2 ❌

Boston Celtics (2) v Philadelphia 76ers (3)

The Boston v Philly second round match-up has been one of the most anticipated in this year’s playoffs for some time now, and with 1 seeds Milwaukee going out in the top half of the draw and the prospect of facing either the 5th seeded Knicks or 8 seed Heat for a place in the Finals, there’s even more spice to this one.

Boston were made to exert themselves more than many thought by the spirited Atlanta Hawks, while the Sixers will be coming off 11 days rest having swept the Nets. However, the big question is, will the big man Joel Embiid be fit?

The MVP-elect suffered a sprained LCL in game 3 of the Nets series and coach Doc Rivers warned even then that Embiid would be 50% at best to make game 1 of the Conference semis.

Atlanta did their bit to give Embiid a chance, extending their series with Boston to six games, pushing back the start of this series to Monday, but it remains to be seen how effective the Sixers center will be, if he plays at all.

While Boston won the season series 3-1, the one game Philly did win, on April 4th, saw Embiid post 52 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists, underlining just how important he is if the Sixers are to do anything.

How Boston decides to try and contain Embiid will have a big impact on this series from the off. This season’s Celtics team is built around its three-point offense, and to facilitate that, they have given up some of their defensive steel. Should they wish to try and stop Embiid the scorer, they could well go back to starting Robert Williams, but if they do that, the Philly big man can rest at the defensive end.

Boston’s starting line-up for most of this season has included an extra guard, Derrick White. Will they go with his extra offensive and three-point threat and put the onus on Al Horford to try and contain Embiid, or turn to Timelord and his extra defense?

When the Celtics shoot 40% from three, they are 34-2 this season; when they shoot below 40%, they’re 27-24. So much of this series may be decided by how hot Boston’s shooters get, and how fit Joel Embiid is.

This is the 22nd time these two franchises have met in the postseason, an NBA record, and promises to be a titanic clash, with loud and intimidating crowds. Whoever emerges victorious knows they will be hot favourites to head to the big show and while there are so many unknowns, the main one being Embiid’s fitness, I’m just coming down on the side of the Boston Celtics.

PREDICTION: Celtics win 4-2
UPDATE (May 15th): Celtics win 4-3 ✅

We are all in the finals....

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