Every NBA Playoffs team, ranked by chances to win 2024 championship

The 2024 NBA Playoffs don’t exactly feel wide open. There’s a superpower hanging over both the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference as the playoffs begin, but at this point NBA fans should know anything can happen in the postseason.

Last year saw a wild run of upsets with the No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers reaching the conference finals out of the play-in tournament, and the No. 8 seed Miami Heat somehow running all the way to the NBA Finals. Is there another potential Cinderella lurking this year? It’s possible, but the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics have simply been a cut ahead of everyone else all season long.

As the playoffs begin, it’s a good time to take stock in the championship picture for all 16 teams in the final bracket. Here’s how we would rank the field in the 2024 NBA Playoffs by their chances of actually winning the title.

16. Miami Heat

The Heat’s chances of making another wild run to the NBA Finals as a No. 8 seed took a death blow when Jimmy Butler went down with a knee injury. Butler is slated to miss the entire first round. The Heat aren’t beating the Boston Celtics without him regardless of what head coach Erik Spoelstra can cook up. Miami has been middling all year, and they just don’t have enough talent to advance past this matchup.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Utah Jazz

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15. Orlando Magic

The Magic are thrilled just to be here, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Orlando has gone from 22 wins to 34 wins to 47 wins this year over the last three seasons, an amazing accomplishment for a team coming out of a long rebuild. Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner have put this team ahead of schedule as big wings who can dribble, pass, and shoot. For now, Orlando still has most of its success because of its defense. Jalen Suggs is one of the truly great defensive guards in the league, while Jonathan Isaac is an incredible as a mobile big man inside. This is the first step in what should be a sustained era of success for a young Magic team.

14. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs had such an odd season. It looked like their year was falling off the rails when Darius Garland and Evan Mobley both went down with injuries in Dec., but some somehow the team ripped off a 17-1 stretch with Donovan Mitchell surrounded by more shooting. Cleveland hasn’t looked quite as good since it got healthy. There are still difficulties with playing Jarrett Allen and Mobley together despite how good both are in a vacuum, and the same goes for Garland and Mitchell, too. Mitchell battled his own injuries down the stretch, taking some of the wind out of Cleveland’s sails. This team is just trying to win a single series this year. They should do that, but not much else.

13. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers’ offense was one of the greatest shows in the sport this year. With Tyrese Haliburton at the controls, Indiana was breaking records for offensive pace and offensive efficiency. Then Haliburton got hurt, came back a little too early to put himself in line for a lucrative All-NBA spot, and hasn’t looked quite right yet. The Pacers offense is a little less scary without Haliburton at his top level. Still, the addition of Pascal Siakam has added more size and more force in the front court to make this team tougher defensively. Siakam, Myles Turner, and Aaron Nesmith have helped make Indiana less of a doormat on defense. If Haliburton can rediscover his top level, there’s a chance this team can pace-and-space its way into an Eastern Conference cinderella run.

12. New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans smashed the Sacramento Kings in the play-in tournament to earn the No. 8 seed even without Zion Williamson. Williamson’s ability to make a miraculous recovery from a hamstring injury is New Orleans’ only hope for a deep playoff run, but their size and shooting could give the Oklahoma City Thunder some problems in the first round regardless. This Pelicans roster is deep as hell with a talented mix of role players. Trey Murphy III has size, shooting, and athleticism as this team’s secret weapon. Herb Jones is one of the great perimeter defenders in the league, and Jose Alvarado gets every ounce of ability out of his body. The Thunder are a very bad rebounding team, which means Jonas Valanciunas needs to go to work on the glass. Without Zion, it’s hard to think the Pelicans have a real chance, but anything is possible if they can get him on the court for his first career playoff game.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Los Angeles Lakers

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11. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers played outstanding basketball down the stretch and seemed to finally unlock the right lineups around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. D’Angelo Russell is playing the best ball of his career as a secondary playmaker and floor spacer who has ripped threes at high volume all season. Rui Hachimura has rediscovered last year’s magic touch from three-point range, hitting 42 percent of his deep looks this year. Austin Reaves is still a microwave scorer, and Gabe Vincent is back to provide on-ball defense and floor spacing. The Lakers’ biggest problem is their first round matchup. If they were playing anyone but Denver, this team really might have a chance to go on another deep playoff run.

10. Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers finished with the No. 7 seed in the East, but they still have a case as the conference’s second most intimidating foe. That all comes down to the health of Joel Embiid, of course, who was poised to win his second straight MVP if he not for a devastating knee injury. The Sixers slipped down the standings as Embiid recovered, but they enter the playoffs undefeated since he returned from injury. Embiid is a top-3 player in the world at the peak of his powers, but he’s just never fully healthy for the playoffs and that appears to be the case once again. Philadelphia will also miss De’Anthony Melton, whose on-ball defense would have been a big help against the Knicks in the first round. If Tyrese Maxey goes nuclear, and Kelly Oubre and Tobias Harris can each win a game as a supplemental scorer, maybe the Sixers can buy enough time for Embiid to get 100 percent. It just doesn’t seem like the safest bet.

9. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks should be much higher on this list, but something about their season has been off all year. Weird vibes are far from the Bucks’ biggest problem entering the postseason: Giannis Antetokounmpo is battling a calf injury, and he’s set to miss the start of the first round against the Indiana Pacers. Milwaukee’s hopes rest on Giannis’ ability to get back on the floor and play at his best level. If that happens, Antetokounmpo is still my pick for the second best player in the world, but reports of a 2-4 week injury unfortunately happened at the worst possible time. It’s Damian Lillard — stuck in the worst season of his career — to save this team while Giannis is out. Doc Rivers has found some answers defensively since being hired mid-season, but this team never truly found its footing. Just getting by Indiana feels like a tall task at this point.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers

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8. Phoenix Suns

The Suns’ all-in trade for Kevin Durant hasn’t paid off the way they wanted just yet, but you can still see a rough outline of a dominant team in fleeting moments. Devin Booker is such a well-rounded guard at this point in his career, capable of running the offense like a point guard or going on shot-making binges from all three levels. Durant has lost half of step at age-35, but he’s still a pure shooter with a super high release no one can reliably contest. Jusuf Nurkic has been a solid addition for his short-roll playmaking, and Grayson Allen has been shooting the cover off the ball all year as one of the league’s premier three-point marksmen. The wildcard is Bradley Beal, who’s inability to stay in the lineup has prevented this team from fully finding a rhythm. Phoenix doesn’t play with much force on either end, but they have real starpower and the ability to out-shoot anyone. This team is beatable, but they’re still a highly uncomfortable matchup when you need to deal with Booker and Durant.

7. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers’ early season trade for James Harden reinvigorated the team and made this perhaps the most dangerous group of the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George era. After a disastrous start, the Clippers hit a torrid stretch where they looked like arguably the third best team in the league, but they fell back down to earth after the All-Star break. With Leonard’s strange injury situation casting a shadow over the start of the playoffs, it’s anyone’s guess to see what type of Clippers team we’ll get in the postseason. At their best, the Clippers have put together a trio of star-level shot creators who complement each other so well: Kawhi Leonard can play bully ball in the mid-range, Paul George is still a slasher who can cook off the dribble and get to the rim, and Harden combination of scoring and playmaking remains potential. That all three can get hot from three-point range off the dribble or the catch only makes them even more difficult to depend. Add in a legit 7-footer in Ivica Zubac with soft touch around the basket, and the Clippers are extremely difficult to matchup with. Of course, that’s only when they’re playing their best game. With Leonard’s injury issues and Harden’s historic playoff failings, it remains hard to trust this group.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves might be the biggest team in the league, and they’ve threaded the needle of building lineups that can smother the opposition with length and strength without sacrificing skill. Minnesota has had the No. 1 defense in the NBA all year, as the front office’s vision of the Rudy Gobert trade has played out for all to see in its second season. Add in a huge wing stopper in 6’10 forward Jaden McDaniels and an athletic freak like Anthony Edwards, and it’s no surprise this team gets after it defensively. The question is always the offense for the Wolves, and the burden will fall on Edwards to carry this team in the toughest situations. Edwards is the most explosive athlete in the NBA Playoffs with shot-making touch to boot. Can he make the right decisions every time down the court at only 22 years old? He’s going to have to. Karl-Anthony Towns is the wildcard here as he works his way back from injury, a super gifted offensive 7-footer who still makes too many mental errors defensively, especially with foul trouble. The Wolves will try to beat teams up and grind out wins, but their ceiling depends on how good Edwards can be right away.

NBA: APR 09 Knicks at Bulls

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5. New York Knicks

The Knicks rarely beat themselves under head coach Tom Thibodeau. This team is physical, tough, and organized on both ends of the floor. New York winning 50 games and finishing with the No. 2 seed in the East this season despite numerous injuries down the stretch — including a season-ending shoulder injury to star forward Julius Randle — has been so impressive. Jalen Brunson is the catalyst as a supremely crafty lead guard who knows how to get to his spots and find his angles against any type of coverage. The midseason trade for OG Anunoby was a masterstroke, improving the floor spacing and adding a lockdown wing defender in one fell swoop. The Knicks are also always active on the glass, with big men Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson punishing opponents with a relentless wave of physicality. Throw in some wonderful role players who know how to fill in the cracks like Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo, and the Knicks are a team no one wants to play even without elite top-line talent.

4. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas mortgaged multiple future first round picks to add Daniel Gafford and P.J. Washington at the trade deadline, and it’s immediately translated into a team with a higher ceiling this season. Gafford gives Dallas another big lob threat for Luka Doncic, while Washington can use his length and strength defensively and be something of a jack-of-all-trades on offense. The Mavericks have been doing everything possible to put a championship level supporting cast in place, because they already have the type of singular superstar required to win playoff series. Doncic is simply unstoppable right now as an offensive engine. He’s nailing difficult stepback threes, throwing perfect lob passes, and putting defenses in an impossible bind every time he touches the ball. Doncic’s ability to create great looks without a screen makes it so hard to double team him. Kyrie Irving has been locked in as a second-side playmaker, and everyone knows what type of shot-maker he is. Dallas’ lack of short-roll playmaking from its big men could be an issue if opposing teams can find a way to effectively trap Doncic, but this team is peaking at the right time and has a winning formula in place.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder’s jump from 40 wins last year to 57 wins and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference this season was the most surprising story of the NBA season. The addition of redshirt rookie big man Chet Holmgren gave this team a long and mean rim protector to anchor the defense while unlocking five-out lineups offensively thanks to his three-point shooting ability. With an ocean of space to work with, point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is almost unstoppable, simply too crafty and too funky for any individual defender to bottle up. OKC also has a perfect secondary perimeter star in Jalen Williams, a powerful second-year wing who can body defenders at the basket or beat them with his jump shot. The Thunder struggle to rebound and lack beef inside, but don’t overlook how complete this team was all season by finishing top-5 in efficiency on both ends of the floor. OKC is young, but they are already so damn good.

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics

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2. Boston Celtics

The Celtics were the best team in the NBA all season. Their 64 wins and +11.7 net-rating didn’t just top the field this season — it blew everyone else out of the water. With the league’s No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense, this is a team with incredible balance on both ends of the floor that checks every box for a championship contender. The Celtics’ five-out offense has shooting all over the floor. They can manufacture great looks with their drive-and-kick game, and they have the shooters to knock them down. Boston was No. 1 in three-point rate (percentage of field goal attempts from three-point range) and No. 2 in three-point percentage. The addition of Kristaps Porzingis has added a new dimension on both ends of the floor: Boston now has a 7’3 rim protector on the backline of its defense and a high-volume sharpshooter on pick-and-pops whose shot can’t be contested on offense. The Celtics should burn through the East, but the West’s top teams will still put a spotlight on Jayson Tatum’s ability to make plays in crunch-time. If he can consistently answer the bell, Boston’s breakthrough could finally be here.

1. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets don’t feel quite as formidable as last year after losing Bruce Brown over the offseason, but this is still the championship favorite entering the playoffs for a few reasons. Nikola Jokic is the best player on Earth and is at the absolute peak of his powers. The Jokic two-man game with Jamal Murray is a riddle no one has been able to answer in the postseason yet. Denver also the right mix to role players to complement its stars, with Michael Porter Jr. providing knockdown shooting, Aaron Gordon adding length and strength on the backline, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope able able to navigate screens and close out shooters defensively while spacing the floor offensively. The bench is young and inexperienced, but the playoffs are historically defined by the top players. Jokic is a matchup nightmare without a solution. Denver may not be able to post a 16-4 record again on the way to a championship like last year, but it still should have back-to-back championships in sight as long as Murray can continue his blazing postseason track record and everyone else can stay healthy.

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