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  • Writer's pictureJoshua U.

The 2023 NBA Playoffs and its Unprecedented Parity

It wasn't too long ago that you had basketball fans complaining in droves about how "superteams" were ruining the game as we know it.

In the 2018 NBA offseason, the Golden State Warriors, coming off back-to-back titles after landing perennial All-Star and All-NBA dynamo Kevin Durant, who, in the process, got himself two consecutive Finals MVPs, decided to double down on their superstar mongering, and signed All-NBA Center DeMarcus Cousins to a cheap 1-year deal in free agency. Cousins had tore his Achilles tendon in the middle of an impressive run with the New Orleans Pelicans, and would need to miss the start of the season with Golden State to recover, but NBA fans didn't care.

The mere reality of two-time MVP Stephen Curry, his sharp-shooting sniper sidekick Klay Thompson, 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, the aforementioned Kevin Durant, and now the 4x All-Star, 2x All-NBA, big-bodied Demarcus Cousins being on the same roster together had everyone outside of the Bay Area grabbing their picket signs and lighting their pitchforks. Fans picked up right where they left off from July 4, 2016 (The day Kevin Durant chose to join the 73-win Warriors squad) and moaned & groaned over the latest iteration of this Warriors superteam that appeared set to roll through the NBA once again.

The Miami Heat's Big-3 consisting of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- the "Heatles" as I personally love to call them -- their names were uttered by Warriors fans in a sort of "it's cool when they do it, it's a problem when I do it" retort, and as a result, "stacking-the-deck" discourse was at an all-time high in basketball circles.

Commissioner Adam Silver in 2016 on KD/Warriors signing: "I don't think it's good for the league."

Let's fast-forward to the present day. After some CBA changes, significant superstar player movement, and the natural ebb-and-flow of things, the NBA seems to have reached an epiphany as it pertains to an equal & level playing field. The Conference Semifinals began on Sunday, April 30th, with a game between... the 5th seeded New York Knicks hosting the... 8TH SEEDED MIAMI HEAT???

That's right.

The Knickerbockers pulled off the upset in 5 games against All-Star guards Donovan "Spida" Mitchell, Darius Garland and the Cleveland Cavaliers, silencing all the loud-mouths (Stephen A. Smith, here's looking at you) that criticized the Knicks in the offseason for not going all-in and selling several significant pieces off their roster for Mitchell. The Miami Heat, on the other, more unfathomable hand, took down the #1 seed, title-favorite Milwaukee Bucks, who compiled an NBA-best 58 wins during the regular season. The arguable best player in the world, Giannis Antetokounmpo, did exit early in Game 1, and missed Games 2 & 3 in entirety, but did play in Games 4 & 5 only to see Playoff Jimmy Butler go off and lead Miami to victory, as Miami became only the 6th team in NBA history to advance to the second round as the 8th seed in their conference.

Stunning stuff.

To expand on the wild parity of these playoffs in entirety, how about this: In the now 76-year history of the NBA, this year's postseason has every possible seed still alive through one round complete:

IMAGE: Heat's Jimmy Butler sends Miami/Milwaukee Game 5 to overtime with an improbable catch & finish at the buzzer. Miami would go on to win in OT by 2.

1 Nuggets, 2 Celtics, 3 Sixers, 4 Suns, 5 Knicks, 6 Warriors, 7 Lakers, 8 Heat.

As we currently sit, all 4 Semi-Final series are at 2-1 advantages for the Heat over the Knicks, the Celtics over the Sixers, the Nuggets over the Suns, and the Lakers over the Warriors -- guaranteeing at least a 5th game in each series.

Yeah, Adam Silver's definitely using cash as toilet paper right now.

In my humble opinion -- and I've practically been watching NBA basketball out the womb -- I've never seen a postseason quite like this, where each team that still remains has a real, legit shot at claiming the championship. I'm dead serious. You can feasibly make a convincing case for each of of these teams to win it all. The Nuggets have home-court advantage throughout the remainder of the postseason, playing in a deteriorating mile-high Denver altitude, with a 2x MVP in Nikola Jokic suiting up for them. The Celtics just won the East last year, with their two superstar wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown playing at prime form, in concert with a great veteran supporting cast & bench play. The Sixers have a newly-minted MVP in Joel Embiid, and the Suns have a former MVP in Kevin Durant and a future MVP in Devin Booker (mark my words). The Warriors are the defending champs, and the Lakers' remodeled roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis seem to mesh better with each game. The Heat have a historic playoff riser in Jimmy Butler and a top-5 coach in NBA history in Erik Spoelstra -- you can NEVER count them out. As for my Knicks: it's gonna be an uphill battle for them, that's for sure. No matter how it shakes out for them, the "Mid 3" of Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and stud offseason free-agent signing Jalen Brunson have seemingly done the impossible all season long with their backs up against the wall. Why not continue that for a Finals run?

The bottom line: Unlike the Miami Heatles' and KD Warriors' eras in recent memory -- there is NO foregone conclusion, no heavily-favored title taker this Spring. Steph's Warriors are still the active dynasty in the NBA today, but will that continue? Dynasties have long defined the NBA in its history, with great teams like the Celtics, Bulls and Lakers leaving the rest of the league in their wake for extended periods of time. Will we see another franchise rise to domination, with the recent changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement seeming to restrict that from taking place?

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green celebrate their 4th NBA championship as a trio -- will their dynastic run continue?

We don't know.

And I guess that's a good thing.


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