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    In a couple of months, the coronation of another NBA champion will commence. Of the 16 teams that enter this NBA postseason, only one will remain standing come mid-June. Before we get there, we have some big questions that will, fortunately, be answered on the court throughout the 2023 NBA Playoffs.

    As the stars of yesterday age, new blood joins the league, and teams jockey for position, the cyclical nature of sports takes hold. Despite Golden State winning again last summer, the NBA Playoffs have been a relatively open competition the last few years, at least relative to much of the 2010s. There are several teams in the mix to claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy, let alone reach the NBA Finals, and this postseason should provide plenty of surprises and intrigue.

    These are the nine biggest questions heading into 2023’s NBA Playoffs.

    2023 NBA Playoffs’ Biggest Questions

    Can the Kings finally win a series?

    The Sacramento Kings are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, ending one of the longest active playoff droughts in major North American pro sports. Now that that’s done, the team can focus on the next hurdle: winning a playoff series.

    The franchise hasn’t achieved that feat since 2004, which is also one of the lengthiest periods without seeing the second round among this continent’s professional sports teams. The last time the Kings won a postseason series, “Shrek 2” was the box office darling.

    Most teams that enter the playoffs with a No. 3 seed have higher hopes than simply advancing one round, and it would be great and certainly possible for the Kings to do even more damage. But my gut tells me that Sacramento fans really just want one thing, and it’s to pass this annoying monkey over to Charlotte.

    Can Kevin Durant win a title without the Warriors?

    Kevin Durant was unable to win a championship in Oklahoma City or Brooklyn, where he was the focal point of both organizations but didn’t have Steph Curry and company to pull a portion of the weight. This is something his detractors have levied against him for years, and now he has another opportunity to prove them wrong in Phoenix.

    Of course, this is not to imply that the Suns don’t have anything to offer beyond Durant. Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Ayton make up quite the supporting cast. But after the monster trade with the Nets that shipped Durant to Phoenix in February, eyes will be on the 6-foot-10 superstar to carry the Suns to the promised land.

    Can any lower seeds surprise in the East?

    The West appears as open as ever, while the East looks on paper to be a three-horse race to reach the NBA Finals. But there are a number of teams outside of the favored three that will not be easy outs this spring.

    The Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, and Brooklyn Nets all have attributes that make them scary to confront. The Cavs have the best defensive rating in the NBA (109.9) and an exciting backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland, the Knicks take good care of the basketball and have the third-best offensive rating in the league (117.0), and Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddle have both played well in Nets laundry as of late. Is it possible that one of these teams makes some noise and gets further than initially expected?

    Can Memphis overcome frontcourt depth issues?

    If the Grizzlies are to win it all, they’ll do it without Brandon Clarke and Steven Adams, two key pieces of their frontcourt. This means a lot more responsibility will fall on the shoulders of David Roddy, Xavier Tillman, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Kenneth Loften Jr., who the team just signed a few days ago to bolster its depth on the interior.

    That’s a lot of youth being tasked with major workloads during the most crucial portion of the campaign. The team has been without Clarke since early March and Adams dating back to late January, so this isn’t something brand new. But Memphis will have to rely on players who would otherwise see much fewer minutes to produce offensively, defensively, and on the glass against the league’s best when it matters most.

    Can the 76ers end their Eastern Conference Finals drought?

    The last time the Philadelphia 76ers were in the Eastern Conference Finals, Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo were playing for Larry Brown in the NBA Finals. That was in 2001.

    It’s now 2023, and the Sixers have not been back. In four of the last five playoffs, Philadelphia has won its first round series but fallen short in the second round. Poorly-timed injuries have been a bane for the team in the past, but the Sixers are fairly healthy at the moment, with Joel Embiid playing at an insane level and James Harden seemingly a perfect fit in Philly. Is this finally the year for this organization to reach the NBA’s final four for the first time in more than two decades?

    Can Denver overcome its defensive woes?

    The Nuggets have one of the best offenses in the NBA. With Nikola Jokic masterfully maestroing and Jamal Murray averaging 20 points per game in his own right, there’s not much to worry about for Denver when it has the ball. The issue is on the other end.

    Denver is the No. 1 seed in the West, but you wouldn’t know it from its defensive numbers. The Nuggets are in the middle of the Association in defensive rating as a team (116.8) and sit outside of the top 10 of the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage, blocks per game, opponents’ second-chance points per contest, and opponents’ points in the paint per night.

    Teams that defend poorly don’t usually win championships, so either Denver will have to get that side of the ball figured out or hope it can outscore everyone who stands in its way.

    Is Khris Middleton ready for another NBA championship run?

    Giannis Antetokounmpo receives most of the attention in Milwaukee, and rightfully so – he’s been one of the best players in the world for years now. But one man does not make an NBA championship team.

    Khris Middleton was massively important to Milwaukee’s 2021 title, and the Bucks will need another big playoff performance from him to do it again in 2023. However, Middleton spent long periods of this season rehabbing a knee injury and hasn’t always been as effective as you’d expect from a player of his caliber. His scoring and rebounding are both a bit down, and he’s only featured in 33 total games this campaign. Milwaukee will need Middleton to get into the full swing of things to win its second NBA title in three tries.

    Is Golden State still Golden State?

    The Golden State Warriors are the defending NBA champions for the fourth time in eight seasons and still have the likes of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, who helped make up the core of each of the team’s six recent NBA Finals runs. Every year this team has made the playoffs since 2015, it has represented the Western Conference in the ultimate series, but this iteration of the Warriors enters the postseason as the West’s No. 6 seed thanks to a 44-38 regular season record.

    Golden State has been a completely different team away from the Chase Center. At home this season, the Warriors are 33-8 and extremely tough to beat. On the road, Golden State is 11-30 and significantly more vulnerable. This team doesn’t feel as invincible as Warriors teams past, but Golden State has conditioned us for almost a decade to give it the benefit of the doubt. Time will tell if the old Golden State is gone or if it never really left.

    Who will be crowned champion in June?

    The biggest question for the NBA Playoffs this summer is the same as every summer: who will be crowned as champion?

    Heading into the postseason, oddsmakers prefer the Bucks, Celtics, Suns, Warriors, Nuggets, and 76ers as the likely champs, in that order. Eleven different teams have odds of +5000 or better to win it all, illustrating just how open this title race appears to be.

    There can only be one winner, though, and if you think you know who that is, you should enter to play in any of RunYourPool’s NBA Playoffs pools, including a straight bracket competition, a survivor pool, and a pick ’em that can be played with family, friends, or random online strangers.

    Think you know the NBA? This is the way to prove it.

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