As we head into the second half of the 2022 NBA season, there’s more parity in the league than ever. From Steph Curry’s resurgent Warriors to the new-look Sixers, the NBA title race is wide open. Which 2 teams will prevail and reach the NBA Finals? First, let’s look at the East.
Miami and Chicago have established themselves as the Eastern Conference’s two best squads so far. Consistent play on both ends of the floor, coupled with impressive depth has the Heat and Bulls on fire this year. The defending champion Bucks have been up-and-down, but with Giannis playing potentially the best basketball of his career, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with down the line. Most media attention has been placed on the Nets and Sixers, especially since the blockbuster Harden/Simmons deal, but I have cause to pause with both teams. While, at full health, they may be the most talented teams in the East, we haven’t seen how both teams will mesh on the court. Teams like Miami, Chicago and Milwaukee have depth, experience, and established on-court synergy that’ll be hard for a team like Brooklyn or Philly to overcome. Cleveland is an honorable mention, but the lack of a superstar (sorry, Darius Garland) will be their undoing in the postseason.
If I had to pick a conference title matchup right now, it’d be the Heat and Bucks. Both teams have depth, experience, and championship pedigree. While Philly and Brooklyn may put it together late, the (likely) lack of home-court advantage and experience playing with each other make Miami and Milwaukee nightmarish matchups for both squads in the postseason. Look out for Chicago, but I expect DeRozan to come back down to earth and inevitably have a few disappointing postseason performances. But who wins?
Give me the Miami Heat. A team who’s starting 5 has only played 17 games together this season, with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have both missed considerable time, and yet they’re still the East’s best team. Butler has shown he can take over in the playoffs, Tyler Herro is the leading candidate for 6th Man of the Year, and Adebayo has emerged as arguably a top 3 center in basketball. Unless things drastically change in the 2nd half of the season, give me the Heat to capture their 2nd Eastern Conference title in 3 seasons. Now, for the West.
Phoenix and Golden State are clearly the two best teams in the West, but don’t count out Memphis. The Grizzlies boast a deep, hard-nosed squad and Ja Morant is having an MVP caliber season (think D-Rose, circa 2011). While Joel Embiid seems to be lengthening his MVP lead every week, Ja’s stellar play shouldn’t be ignored. While the Lakers still have the GOAT and Utah’s experience will make them a hard-out in the postseason, I don’t expect either team to make much, if any, noise these playoffs. The West is a 3-team race. But who meets Miami in the NBA Finals?
While I’m picking the Warriors to make it to the conference Finals, give me the Phoenix Suns to knock them off and reach the NBA Finals for a 2nd consecutive season. Golden State’s return to form has been impressive, but Phoenix has talent, depth, experience, and motivation on their side after losing last year’s championship series to the Bucks. Memphis has the capability of taking the Suns 6 or 7 in a potential matchup, but homecourt advantage will play a key role in the Suns returning to the Finals. Last year, they went an impressive 8-3 at home in last season’s playoffs.
Written by: Brendan Willoughby-Ray