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Who are the outsiders to watch in the NBA in 2023?

The race for the NBA Finals is on and the favorites for the crown looked to be cemented at the top of the standings. The Boston Celtics will be out for redemption after losing out to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals season, but face a challenge from the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference.

The Denver Nuggets also lost out to the Warriors last season in the playoffs, but have returned a stronger unit and are seemingly on the path to locking up the Western Conference. But you cannot overlook these potential sides that could be looking to cause an upset in both conferences.

New York Knicks

It has been 24 years since the Knicks reached the NBA Finals, losing out at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. New York has known nothing other than disappointment and abject failure in the Eastern Conference during the years since. Knicks fans have had to be extremely patient with their side amid their struggles, including two 17-win campaigns in the 2014/15 and 2018/19 seasons.

However, for only the second time in 10 years, the Knicks are on their way to securing a winning season. They won 41 games in the 2020/21 season, only to lose out in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks. Their previous winning campaign was in 2012/13 when they reached the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals and lost out to the Indiana Pacers. It has been too long for a franchise in a city such as New York to have starved its fanbase of success.

There is cause for optimism in the 2022/23 season that the Knicks are building a title contender not just for the future, but for the present too. Tom Thibodeau certainly has his team trending in the right direction powered by Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett. At their best, the Knicks are a match for anyone in the Eastern Conference, defeating the Celtics three times over the last two months, including two games on the road.

Based on their performances against Boston, there is hope for the Knicks to match teams such as the Hawks and Miami Heat, who used their underdog status in the past to reach the NBA Finals. By looking at the best basketball betting sites in New York, you can find great value on backing the Knicks to win the Eastern Conference with odds in the region of +3000, although these could drop shortly if they continue to impress against top-quality opponents.

History is working against them, but Thibodeau is building a strong unit at Madison Square Garden and they could mean business come playoff time. No team will relish playing the Knicks in the playoffs, although there are still concerns about their consistency. After reeling off impressive wins over Boston, Brooklyn and Miami, the Knicks lost out at the hands of the Charlotte Hornets on home court. If the Knicks want to compete in the latter stage of the post-season, they have to eradicate those losses.

The 2022/23 season is a transitional year for the franchise, moving New York out of the doldrums of the Eastern Conference towards the playoffs. If they can find an element of magic down the stretch, there's no reason why it could not be a very successful campaign. The Knicks finished eighth in the Eastern Conference standings the last time they reached the NBA Finals. There's no reason why they cannot harness that same underdog spirit again.

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors used their experience, nous and the brilliance of Steph Curry to secure their fourth NBA Championship under Steve Kerr’s tenure by beating the Celtics 4-2 in the 2022 NBA Finals. Curry raised the level of his game when his team needed him the most at 2-1 down in the series on the road to the Celtics. Boston was on the precipice of a 3-1 lead at half-time, but Curry dominated in the second half and set the tone for the rest of the series to take the crown back to the Bay Area for the first time four years.

The Warriors' hope of another dynastic surge akin to their run of three titles in four seasons between 2015 and 2018 has taken a blow this season. Kerr’s side has struggled to break away from their .500 record. It has been a case of one step forward and one back for the Warriors, who have been the model of consistency.

Unfortunately for them, it has meant remaining locked in with their mediocre record. They are still well in the hunt for a post-season place, and it would not be a surprise to see them flick a switch down the stretch to cement their spot in the playoffs. The Western Conference is extremely tight this season, with only a handful of games between second and 13th in the standings. A good run could see a team charge into the second seed, while a bad stretch could result in missing out on the post-season.

Even with Golden State's issues this season, few teams would relish playing them over the course of a playoff series, especially the Nuggets, who would be fearful of another playoff defeat. It will not take much for the Warriors to click back into championship form. You can never count them out. No team will relish facing the Warriors in the post-season.

The aura of Golden State has returned after their NBA Finals win, which will benefit the Warriors, especially against the inexperienced sides in the post-season. Kerr and his team know how to win big games under pressure, it is ingrained in the DNA of the franchise.

The only issue is the health of the roster. Curry has had a couple of injury woes, while Klay Thompson has not quite been at his best this term. Curry had battled injuries over the past few seasons, and may have to be managed down the stretch. In terms of seeding, the Warriors should not have to worry too much about playing one of the top-ranked sides in the Western Conference.

Kerr should know that preserving Curry to ensure that he is operating at the peak of his powers in time for the post-season is more important than leaving him out on the court to battle for a higher seed. Thompson has been up and down throughout the season, but come playoff time, he can easily return to his All-Star form.

After winning so often over the last decade motivating themselves for the regular season can be a tough ask. However, once the bright lights of the playoffs are on the Warriors, they know they can brush aside all of the Western Conference. It would not be a surprise to see them return to the NBA Finals yet again.

Looking Ahead

These two sides have had drastically different fortunes on the court over the last decade. However, they could well be on a collision course in the NBA Finals in 2023 if they can channel momentum at the right time in the post-season. Both have the ability to forge a path toward the NBA crown. So watch out for both of these outfits when the time is right.