Sun. May 28th, 2023

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It seems like every year since the Warriors-Cavs saga of the mid-2010s, we find ourselves saying, “this is the most wide-open the NBA has ever been.” Well, folks, with another season about to tip off Tuesday night, the 2022-23 campaign has kindly asked you to hold that thought.

There are at least nine teams in the Eastern Conference that most would consider locks for a playoff spot — that means one of them isn’t even getting out of the play-in. Out West, the competition is just as stiff, with 11 teams having a legitimate case to make the postseason.

Kawhi Leonard’s return to the Los Angeles Clippers and Jamal Murray rejoining the Denver Nuggets means that there will be a significant battle for the top spot in the Western Conference, especially considering that the 64-win Suns are returning most of their core and the defending champion Golden State Warriors could be even better than they were a season ago.

In the East, the fight for the No. 1 seed will be just as vicious, with the Philadelphia 76ers making significant improvements and the Brooklyn Nets potentially having Ben Simmons for a full season. They’ll be serious threats to the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics, the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee Bucks and last year’s No. 1-seeded Miami Heat. That’s not even to mention the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers, who both acquired All-Star guards to bolster their rosters.

If the races at the top weren’t intriguing enough, this season also presents a riveting downhill plunge to the bottom, with rebuilding teams hoping to land a shot at two of the most coveted draft prospects in recent memory — Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson. Teams like the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic will likely pile up the losses as they hope to land a potential franchise-changer.

That makes crafting predictions an extremely difficult and rewarding exercise, so our NBA scribes at CBS Sports decided to give it a shot. We’ve picked our favorites to emerge from each conference, who’ll be the last team standing and the player who’ll be holding up both the Larry O’Brien Trophy and the Bill Russell Award for the NBA Finals MVP. As you can see, there is no clear consensus on which way this postseason is going to go.

Mike Meredith/CBS Sports

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