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2023 NBA end of season shootaround

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What was the most surprising storyline this season?

KF: I still haven’t fully processed the Nets-Suns Kevin Durant trade, the most nuclear in-season trade in NBA history. Durant essentially revived Phoenix’s championship aspirations after an embarrassing flameout in the playoffs last season.

The Suns haven’t had a whole lot of time to fully adjust to the two-time finals MVP because of an ankle injury, but the team is 8-0 when Durant plays. KD has yet to find tangible postseason success after leaving Golden State, but with Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton, he has a chance to reach the summit once again.

And on the other side of the trade, the Nets have transitioned into a semi-rebuild around Mikal Bridges, who has blossomed in his new role as Brooklyn’s primary scorer. Bridges has bumped his scoring from 17.2 points per game to 26.1. Not to mention, he played 83 games this season, thanks to the trade, making him the 42nd player to play more than the standard 82 games in a season, extending his ironman streak to 392 consecutive games played.

JR: In my eyes, the most surprising storyline from this season was the success of the Sacramento Kings. Many, including myself, were skeptical of the Kings’ decision to trade point guard Tyrese Haliburton for center Domantas Sabonis. But boy, were we all wrong.

The trade was a win-win for both Indiana and Sacramento, but the Kings in particular found a cheat code with the duo of De’Aaron Fox and Sabonis. Entering the first round of the playoffs, Sacramento leads the league in offensive rating (118.6) and true shooting percentage (60.8). The team has also dominated late-game situations, leading the NBA in clutch points (508) and field goal percentage (50.7).

Before the season started, I saw the Kings as a play-in team that could potentially pull off an upset in the first round, granted they made the playoffs. Now, after seeing the beam lit so many times, it’s safe to say that the Kings are a team to beat. Their fans deserve it, considering they waited 16 years to see their team back in the postseason.

BC: The Cleveland Cavaliers have been a pleasant surprise this season, taking a big step forward on the back of significant improvements from Evan Mobley and Donovan Mitchell. Cleveland went from losing in the play-in last year to having home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs as a top-four team in the East. The Cavaliers were the best defensive team in the NBA this season. When the playoffs begin and games tighten up, that can make them a dark horse pick.

Which team disappointed you the most this season?

KF: It’s hard to say that the Houston Rockets were the most disappointing team this season, because their expectations were in the basement. But the team’s 22-60 record marks the third season in a row in which it finished in the bottom four of the draft lottery, and it doesn’t look a step closer to changing that next season. This team has looked lifeless all season.

The Rockets declined head coach Stephen Silas’ fourth-year option three years into a stagnant rebuild — a stint that was riddled with front-office interference and locker-room dysfunction. Rebuilds are slow, but the Rockets have little to be encouraged by in the young core they are trying to develop; the lack of progress from Jabari Smith Jr. and Jalen Green shows their growth has been stunted by playing for Houston.

The Rockets rarely play five-on-five basketball, because all of their young guys defer to hero-ball antics, and if something doesn’t change soon, Houston is looking at draft lottery purgatory.

JR: Bouncing off Kenzo’s take, I have the entire state of Texas, instead of any particular team, as the biggest disappointment in the NBA this year. The Rockets, Mavericks and Spurs all missed the playoffs — making this season the first time in league history that there isn’t a team from the Lone Star State competing in the postseason.

I understand the lack of success in Houston and San Antonio, because both clubs are obviously rebuilding and play their youth. Dallas, however, has zero excuses for not making the playoffs with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving leading the way. Apparently, Texas is in a state-wide battle for top NBA draft prospect Victor Wembanyama, and the Mavs now have a shot after being extremely disappointing in their playoff run-in.

BC: The defending champion Warriors cannot be happy about entering the playoffs as a six seed in the West. They have had injury troubles for sure, but having the fourth-worst road record in the league is simply unacceptable for Golden State. The team’s superstars remain, but it’s hard to trust the bench behind them. If the Warriors can go on a deep playoff run, then all will be forgiven, but they will need to start winning on the road to do so.

Favorite moment from this season?

KF: I’d hate to rag on Joaquin’s Clippers but their 176-175 loss to the Kings in double overtime was a showcase of pure pyrokinetics. The second-highest scoring game in NBA history saw Malik Monk and Fox burn the Clippers for 45 and 42 points, respectively; the Kentucky alumni backcourt had several clutch baskets in the fourth quarter and the two overtimes, including a 3-pointer from Monk to send the game to overtime.

But what made this game so jaw-dropping was all the times it felt like the Clippers had the win in the bag, only for the Kings’ backcourt to come up with clutch baskets down the stretch.

JR: LeBron James shattering Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record was my favorite moment of the season. There isn’t much to say other than “wow.” The greatest of all time, as some say, sits atop the mountain of points scored with 38,652, after the conclusion of his 20th season.

The Lakers’ Feb. 7 defeat to the Thunder will be a game every NBA fan will remember for the rest of their lives because of LeBron’s indescribable feat — and not because OKC’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander dropped 30 points and eight assists en route to victory.

BC: Some follow the NBA to watch the best players in the world at the top of their games, but for many others, the soap-opera-style drama is a big appeal. We had no shortage of outlandish moments this season, kicked off with Draymond Green punching a teammate during the preseason and bookended by Rudy Gobert also punching a teammate during the last game of the season.

Along the way, Ja Morant entertained us with his antics, scuffling with former NFL star and TV personality Shannon Sharpe courtside — backed up by his father and teammates before being suspended for flashing a gun on Instagram.

For fans like me who are here for the drama, the 2022-23 NBA season did not disappoint.

Make a spicy playoff prediction!

KF: Nothing from the Eastern Conference intrigues me as much as the Western Conference, so I’ll go with the Lakers getting frisky and upsetting the two-seed Grizzlies (as long as they win the play-in game). After retooling midseason and getting quality role-players, this team finally has some workable pieces around their two stars.

Give credit to Anthony Davis — despite all the nerve-racking falls, he keeps getting back up. Since their start center returned from injury Jan. 25, the Lakers are 20-11 in the games Davis has played. The Lakers’ surge has been fueled by their defense, boasting the fifth-best defensive rating since Davis’ return. Not to mention Austin Reaves becoming a free-throw merchant during James’ absence.

I’m still not convinced they can win four straight rounds, but with the Grizzlies lacking center depth due to Brandon Clarke’s and Steven Adams’ injuries, Jaren Jackson Jr. will be the key to Memphis avoiding some first-round blues.

JR: This could be spicy to some, or cold as ice to others, but I have the Denver Nuggets not moving past the second round. Assuming Denver clears whoever makes it to them from the play-in tournament, the Nuggets will have to face either Durant and the Suns or Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers. Although Nikola Jokic is having another MVP-caliber season and Denver boasts the first seed out west, I don’t think the team has the star power to compete with either matchup.

In the playoffs, rotations get shortened as do the leashes of role-players, and Denver simply doesn’t have enough in their top-eight as do the Suns or Clippers. Jokic alone is a scouting report’s worst nightmare, but can Michael Porter Jr., Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon fill in the blanks against nonprimary scoring options like Devin Booker and Paul George? I don’t think so.

BC: I predict a rematch of the 2021 NBA Finals between the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks. The Suns have changed since then, sacrificing some depth but more than making up for it with the addition of Durant. They will be a force to reckon with in the playoffs and a serious challenge for the Bucks.

Milwaukee, however, remains the team to beat, boasting the best record in the NBA and the best player in the NBA in Giannis Antetokounmpo. I think the Bucks will once again have the upper hand and win another championship.

Contact Kenzo Fukuda at 


APRIL 12, 2023