Ranking Each Team After The First Week Of The 2024 NBA Playoffs

We have played eight days of NBA Playoff basketball, and every series has gone at least three games, which means we have a decent idea of who will be heading on to the second round — although there are a few toss-up series out there.

It also means we have our first look at this year’s expected top contenders playing in a playoff atmosphere and can start to get a feel for which teams are rising to the occasion and which are struggling to keep up. As we get set for Sunday’s quadruple-header, we decided to take a look at the playoff field and rank them by the likelihood they can make some noise in the later rounds.

16. New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are just overmatched in their series with Oklahoma City, particularly without Zion Williamson. Brandon Ingram has struggled with Lu Dort’s ball pressure and their offense just cannot get rolling as a result. We’ll see if changes are on the horizon in New Orleans or if they give it one more year to see if they can finally get to a postseason with everyone healthy.

15. Miami Heat

Game 2 was fun! That’s about all they’ve got going for them right now, though. Bam Adebayo is a special player, but they just do not have enough reliable shot creation without Jimmy Butler to stand a chance against top teams. They are a spot above New Orleans because they’re going to last two more games when I think the Pelicans have just one more in them.

14. Phoenix Suns

The Suns are headed for an existential crisis this summer and I am fascinated to see how they navigate that, because this fist round series has been nothing short of disastrous. Everything looks difficult for this team. Even when they’re scoring decently, it’s all tough shots and building the entire plane out of making contested midrange jumpers leaves absolutely no room for error. Unfortunately, the Suns have had a ton of errors in this series as they haven’t gotten great play from their best players consistently, have a supporting cast that’s unable to pick up any slack, and are not at the needed level defensively to contend. Other than that, everything’s fine.

12. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers aren’t dead yet, and finally put together a full game as a team in Game 4. They are, of the teams on the precipice of defeat, the most dangerous as they have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but still need to prove they have a supporting cast capable of elevating their play consistently around them. That happened in Game 4, as they got positive impacts from D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves, who combined for 42. Getting that in back-to-back games is something the Lakers haven’t gotten all series, and will be paramount if they’re going to make things truly interesting by sending the series back to Los Angeles again.

12. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs looked like they had learned from last year’s first round exit in the first couple of games, showing an increased physicality and toughness at home in Cleveland. However, after getting waxed on the road in back-to-back games in Orlando, I think it’s safe to say even if this Cavs team emerges from their first round series with the Magic, they are not a title threat. That is largely because they are upsettingly inept on offense, having gone an incredible seven consecutive playoff games without breaking 100 points, dating back to last year.

11. Orlando Magic

I think the Magic are a team that could give Boston some fits in the second round and possibly push that series to six, but the offensive inconsistency is maddening. It’s not just that they’ve been Jekyll & Hyde at home and on the road this series, but they had a wild swing from half to half in Game 4. That’s not a great recipe for real playoff success, but that’s also to be expected from a team that has almost no playoff experience. It’s clear they’re acclimating to playoff basketball in real time and that will serve them well in the future. If they can add the right pieces to their very talented core, they could be a legit threat in the East sooner than later, but right now I think they’re still a piece or two away.

10. Los Angeles Clippers

Kawhi Leonard doesn’t look anything close to his normal self as he plays through knee soreness, Paul George has been extremely passive and is prone to disappearing at any moment, and they are far too reliant on a past-his-prime James Harden right now offensively. They still could figure it out against the Mavs, but things have been trending in the wrong direction since the first half of Game 1. Looking at the top of the West, I just don’t see this team having the necessary gear to challenge the best teams unless Leonard magically gets healthy, and they too have some very difficult questions they’ll have to answer this offseason.

9. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are just sad right now. All three of their top guys are banged up, and they just look much sloppier than a legit contender should. If they can somehow get through this first round series and get Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard healthy (and keep Khris Middleton from aggravating his ankle), then they’re still a threat in the East, but that seems like a long shot right now. You just can’t win titles with poor health from your stars, and they’re not getting enough from the supporting cast to even feel like a team that can buy their top guys time to get right for later rounds. The only reason they’re ahead of the Clippers is their path in the East (including this first round series) isn’t quite as difficult.

8. Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers stars have been sensational, but Joel Embiid just keeps adding ailments to his list of things to overcome and the supporting cast has been a non-factor offensively. If Tobias Harris is going to be this bad, they just don’t have any margin for error from Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. They needed a 50-piece from Embiid to get a game off New York, and while he and Maxey are capable of incredible things, it’d be nice if they didn’t have to be totally dominant for the Sixers to win games. The real issue with this is, with Embiid having to put forth this much effort in the first round to give them a chance at advancing, it’s hard to see this not wearing him down for later rounds.

7. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers took a haymaker in the first half of Game 1 from Damian Lillard, but since then they have been the better team in this series. Pascal Siakam has been fantastic, Myles Turner has leveled up in terms of consistent two-way impact, and they have some absolute dogs for role players, headlined by Andrew Nembhard. The real question is whether Tyrese Haliburton can get it going as a scorer, because that’s been what has held them back so far against Milwaukee. His game-winner in overtime of Game 3 maybe is the kind of thing that can get him going, and if so, this is a Pacers team that will, at least, be a difficult out in any series.

6. New York Knicks

I love so many guys on this Knicks team, but I do feel like their ceiling is a bit lower than the very top teams. Now, they are pretty good at dragging teams into their preferred style of game with their physicality and defense, but their margin for error is just razor-thin. Josh Hart has been amazing. OG Anunoby is giving them strong two-way play. Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein are a really nice center rotation (although they now have health concerns with Robinson). Their wins in New York were impressive showings of resolve and late-game wherewithal, but if it’s going to be that hard every night you have to think it takes a toll. Jalen Brunson getting going in Game 3, even in a loss, is helpful after a woeful first two games in New York, but they’ll need a truly special run from him (like he had to close the regular season) to make a deep run.

5. Dallas Mavericks

Ever since halftime of the opener, the Mavericks have been the better team in their series against the Clippers. What’s been most encouraging is it certainly seems as though they’ve been able to carry over their strong defensive performance from the last two months of the regular season into the postseason. That the Mavs are able to win games in which they don’t shoot it well — and particularly a Game 3 that Luka Doncic didn’t shoot it well — is a very good sign for their prospects going forward. The rest of the top of the West can force you into a defensive game and being able to get in the mud and win those kinds of games is vital. We knew Dallas could win with their offense when Doncic and Kyrie Irving have it rolling, but now they’ve proven that late season defensive surge was for real and they can win a slugfest too.

4. Boston Celtics

The Celtics restored order on Saturday night, beating the Heat by 20 to go back up 2-1 in their series, and it certainly seems like Game 2 was an outlier night. A lot of the focus has understandably been on Miami catching fire from three, but that game did also show there are still some of the same potential issues for Boston late in games as in years past. They only scored 40 second half points and, as has been a problem before, the offense looked to get bogged down in the halfcourt. This is still the best team in the East by a comfortable margin, but they certainly are not invincible and as the competition ramps up questions about them finishing out close games will linger until they can produce an emphatic answer.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder had some understandable jitters in Game 1, looking a lot like a young team in their first playoff action. Since escaping with a two-point win, they’ve settled in and absolutely bludgeoned the Pelicans in the two games since. I’m not sure exactly how much we can learn from this series, as the Pelicans look simply outgunned, but it has been impressive how the Thunder have completely shut down New Orleans’ best players and cracked the code of their stout defense to create consistent offense.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been terrific since the fourth quarter of Game 1, Jalen Williams hasn’t skipped a beat from his incredible regular season, Lu Dort might be the best on-ball defender in the NBA, and people keep trying Chet Holmgren at the rim and learning a hard lesson. As they get deeper in the playoffs, OKC will have to find ways to handle bigger opponents on the glass, but that feels like their lone real weakness, and they certainly have the ability to overcome it when playing their best.

2. Denver Nuggets

Even without playing their best basketball, the Nuggets jumped out to a 3-0 series lead on the Lakers by erasing double-digit deficits in each game. However, their refusal to take the first half of games seriously finally caught up with them in Game 4, as the Lakers forced the series back to Denver. It’s hard to tell how much of this series is Denver sleepwalking and not respecting a team they’d beaten 11 straight times, but there are certainly things they need to clean up going forward if they’re going to repeat. Still, even with their apparent flaws, this is the best team in the NBA at closing out games and someone is going to have to play an incredible series and put together a full 48 minutes each night to dethrone the defending champs. Nikola Jokic is the best player in the world and their starting five is the most cohesive group in the league, but right now they look like they might not be fully locked in mentally. If they can get there, they will take the No. 1 spot, but there’s a touch of vulnerability at the moment as they can’t help but play with their food.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota looks like a buzzsaw right now. Anthony Edwards has fully embraced the moment and has been the best player on the floor in two games against Phoenix. Their supporting cast has stepped up when needed, and defensively, they have been unbelievable. Their tremendous on-ball defenders and switchability 1-4 has allowed Rudy Gobert to remain as impactful on that end as he was in the regular season. That, maybe more than anything, is what has been most impressive about the Wolves early against a Phoenix team that gave them (and Gobert) fits in the regular season, and gives me the most optimism for their ability to make a deep run.

What they get at the point of attack from Edwards, Mike Conley, Jaden McDaniels, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker makes Gobert all the more effective and negates what was once his playoff weakness in Utah, which was having guards and wings that struggled to stay attached to their man and forced him to play in space. He has both improved in that area and gets far more help from his supporting cast, and the result is a Minnesota defense that is just a nightmare to deal with. What will really determine if the Wolves can reach their full potential as a championship contender is Karl-Anthony Towns figuring out how to play with playoff intensity without getting himself in foul trouble. That’s continued to be an issue for Towns against Phoenix, and while it hasn’t cost Minnesota in the series, at some point they’re going to need a bigger impact from him.