Golden State Warriors
Owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber of the Golden State Warriors raise the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after defeating the Boston Celtics 103-90 in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 16, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. Elsa/Getty Images


  • The top-seeded teams are yet to know who their postseason opponents are
  • Anonymous executives have made some surprising picks across the board
  • Lakers-Grizzlies, Kings-Warriors and Cavaliers-Knicks are three cannot-miss matchups

The NBA playoffs is set to kick off on Saturday, April 15 with a four-game slate and executives across the league are already making their picks as to who advances to the second round.

It should be noted at this point that the executives The Athletic spoke with did not provide any predictions for the first-versus-eighth-seeded matchups as the play-in tournament is yet to be concluded, though there will be a prediction for either matchup.

Below are the matchups in the first round:

Western Conference

No. 1 Denver Nuggets vs. (winner of Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Minnesota Timberwolves)

Executive's Pick: N/A

Nikola Jokic has a strong case to win his third consecutive MVP award this season and those efforts, alongside strong production from his co-stars Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., led to them securing the top seed in the West.

The Thunder have worked their way into an improbable chance of a playoff seed and are in prime position to win it all with the Timberwolves not having the services of Jaden McDaniels to guard the wings.

When going against a playoff-tested team like the Nuggets though, there is little chance of them being knocked out so early into their campaign.

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets complains about a call against the Golden State Warriors in the second half during Game Two of the Western Conference First Round NBA Playoffs at Chase Center on April 18 in San Francisco. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers

Executive's Pick: Lakers in 7

The Lakers' season has been a topsy-turvy one, but they have found their footing with a much-needed midseason trade that brought back depth pieces like Rui Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley and Mo Bamba.

As for the Grizzlies, they will be without the services of Steven Adams after suffering a potentially season-ending PCL sprain in his right knee where he received a stem cell injection to help recover.

Health will be the key for the Lakers in this matchup as a completely healthy Anthony Davis and D'Angelo Russell paired up with LeBron James is still a formidable group that can go head-to-head with the Grizzlies.

LeBron James
LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers is defended by DeAndre' Bembry #95 of the Brooklyn Nets as he drives to the basket in the game at Arena on December 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

No. 3 Sacramento Kings vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors

Executive's Pick: Warriors in 6

"What a horrible matchup. Golden State in six. They're the champs. I don't know if they have it in them to go the distance, but I think they have it in them to win a first-round matchup," the executive stated.

The anonymous executive does have a point in this matter as the Warriors were able to secure another NBA title last season despite being the third seed and such experience cannot be counted out.

Their Big Three of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are still a potent combination that still strikes fear in the hearts of other franchises.

But in the case of the Kings, Domantas Sabonis and De'Aaron Fox's partnership has proven itself to be extremely fruitful, while vets Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk plus rookie Keegan Murray provide scoring from beyond the arc that can also contend with the Warriors.

The aforementioned executive has equal chances of being correct and wrong simply because of how potent both squads' offenses are.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors adn Jordan Poole #3 after defeating the Boston Celtics 103-90 in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 16, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. Elsa/Getty Images

No. 4 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Clippers

Executive's Pick: Suns in 6

Much like the Lakers versus Grizzlies matchup, this one goes down to the health of both sides' stars.

The Suns have remained undefeated this season when Kevin Durant is playing and the team has produced strong performances all around as he and Devin Booker carry much of the offensive load.

For the Clippers, Paul George is still dealing with a knee injury that will likely leave him sidelined for the first two games, which leaves the pressure on Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and Ivica Zubac to hold down the fort.

Adding Westbrook is the Clippers' x-factor in this matchup, but the Suns' firepower may simply be too much to overcome.

Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns
#35 Kevin Durant of the Phoenix Suns made his home debut on March 29, 2023 against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Bleacher Report/Twitter

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. (winner of Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat)

Executive's Pick: N/A

The Bucks secured their first-ever NBA title since 1971 two seasons ago and after being ousted in seven games by the Boston Celtics in the second-round last season, the hunger is there to contend for another this season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, just like Jokic and Joel Embiid, has a solid case for the MVP award and the only way they get ousted in the first round is if he and/or Khris Middleton get sidelined due to injury—regardless of the Bulls or Heat advance.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts on the bench during the fourth quarter in Game Seven of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on May 15, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Atlanta Hawks

Executive's Pick: Celtics in 6

After last season's disappointment against the Warriors in the Finals, vengeance will be in the minds of the Celtics and the Hawks are in their way.

Jayson Tatum has been in the Top Five of the MVP conversation for much of this season, essentially trading spots with Luka Doncic throughout the year, and he is still entering the prime of his stardom.

Coupled with Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart's two-way strengths, the Celtics can easily overpower the Hawks' offense led by Trae Young and Dejounte Murray.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates with Grant Williams #12 and Noah Vonleh #4 against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at United Center on October 24, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. Michael Reaves/Getty Images

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets

Executive's Pick: Sixers in 5

Joel Embiid is currently the favorite to take home the MVP award and his campaign has been solidified by the Sixers' winning ways.

Trading James Harden for Ben Simmons was a massive feather in their cap as it allowed Embiid to dominate the paint while not worrying about ballhandling duties and it is a formula they will rely on in the hopes of an NBA Finals berth.

As for the Nets, they should not be in the position that they are in after trading Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but the franchise has made it work with head coach Jacque Vaughn leading the charge care of Mikal Bridges, Spencer Dinwiddie and Nic Claxton.

Going up against the Sixers, their depth is still far from being considered title contenders.

Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Wells Fargo Center on December 11, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 5 New York Knicks

Executive's Pick: Cavaliers in 7

Much like the Western Conference's three-versus-six and two-versus-seven matchups, this is a matchup that fans can bet to go up to seven games.

Cleveland's Darius Garland and Evan Mobley have been making strides in their respective development, but the arrival of Donovan Mitchell certainly expedited it to astronomical levels.

As for the Knicks, they struck gold in luring away Jalen Brunson from the Dallas Mavericks with a four-year, $104 million deal this offseason and it has rejuvenated the franchise as it allowed the offense to flow much more easily with a pure playmaker leading the charge.

This series can swing either way throughout the first two games, and whoever comes out on top will likely be a destination for free agents in the offseason due to their success.

Donovan Mitchell, NBA, Cleveland Cavaliers
#45 Donovan Mitchell of the Cleveland Cavaliers. House of Highlights/YouTube screenshot