NBA Playoffs

Ranking all 16 teams in the 2024 NBA playoffs

Who will be the team to beat in 2024?

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Now the games really matter.

With the regular season and play-in tournament in the books, the 2024 NBA playoffs will allow the best teams in the league to showcase themselves under the lights.

Not every team does, though, and that's why those with good records who falter in the postseason are labeled as pretenders, while others who succeed regardless of the circumstances are hailed as contenders.

So, who will be the team to beat in 2024? Let's rank them all ahead of the first-round Game 1s:

16. Miami Heat

The quality of all teams involved in the postseason is quite high, so someone had to be last. The Heat fall here not because of previous performances but due to Jimmy Butler reportedly expected to be sidelined multiple weeks with a knee injury. The All-Star has been at the heart of their past deep runs, and it's difficult seeing them upset Boston without him.

Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo would need to carry the load offensively, while players like Duncan Robinson will need to step up defensively to justify him playing more often. He's been frozen out of the rotation in previous playoffs because of it, while Terry Rozier's addition could be key, too.

15. New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans should be much better than they are on paper, but they just haven't been convincing enough. Zion Williamson's health hasn't been trustworthy in key moments, while CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram will need to be more consistent and stick to their strengths in high-pressure moments.

New Orleans possesses the types of profiles needed to go far in a postseason scenario -- logic-defying stars, high-level role-playing defenders and multiple lengthy wings -- but it's still a team that's more theoretical than practical.

14. Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland has the types of traditional profiles needed to thrive in the regular season, but one has to wonder if that's all they're for. Are they good enough when it matters in the playoffs? That wasn't the case last season, leading them to get exposed by New York.

Donovan Mitchell is the one clear-cut player who can get his own, while guys like Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert have to prove they're beyond just strong system players. Max Strus has stepped up with the Heat before, so he's an exception.

13. Orlando Magic

Orlando is essentially a slightly weaker version of Oklahoma City and in the opposite conference. They have several young stars battling for roster spots and emerging as long-term contenders in the process, though the primary difference is Orlando lacks a star point guard like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner are the two leaders for the Magic, while Jalen Suggs, Wendell Carter Jr., Cole Anthony and Moritz Wagner will need to support at a high level. They can definitely take down the Cavaliers, but it's tough seeing them advance any further.

12. Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers enjoyed a robust start to the season but gradually fell apart after Joel Embiid's injuries. How far they go will depend on how much Embiid can give, while Tyrese Maxey will need to sustain his incredible regular-season levels.

There's a scenario in which Philadelphia can upset New York due to them not having Julius Randle, but defensive liabilities like Buddy Hield will be worth watching to see if his offensive production is enough to keep him on the court.

11. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers may have made the Western Conference finals last season, but that was mainly due to the West being quite mediocre. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are still going strong, but the squad under Darvin Ham has been far too inconsistent this season.

Rui Hachimura, Austin Reaves and Gabe Vincent will need to be consistent in their roles and deliver a big game here and there to even have a slight chance at upsetting the Nuggets. D'Angelo Russell also has a rough history of disappearing in the postseason, so he'll have a chance at rewriting that narrative.

10. Phoenix Suns

Phoenix had title-contending aspirations with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, but things have rarely clicked, especially for long periods.

You can't fully count the Suns out due to their individual brilliance, but there will be doubts if they're built for the playoffs. Grayson Allen has become the important non-star and the frontcourt depth behind Jusuf Nurkic is light, so Frank Vogel, a former NBA champion coach, has his work cut out for him.

9. Milwaukee Bucks

A team anchored by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard shouldn't be this low, but that's the case with Doc Rivers coaching the team. Rivers' resume in the playoffs is a massive red flag and how the team has fared since his arrival is another.

Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez have also taken slight steps back and aren't as threatening as they once were. Do the Bucks have enough role players to step up when Antetokounmpo and Lillard don't have it? The answer may lean toward no.

8. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers have the top-end talent to compete in Pascal Siakam, Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner, but it's fair to question the role-player quality.

Aaron Nesmith, Obi Toppin, Jalen Smith and Andrew Nembhard will need to step up in an immense way, though not having sophomore rising guard Bennedict Mathurin is quite a blow to Indiana's chances. Still, a relatively weaker Eastern Conference could see Rick Carlisle's team making noise.

7. New York Knicks

There hasn't been a better time in a long time to be a Knicks fan, but that came with a late drawback when Randle was ruled out for the season with an injury. Jalen Brunson is definitely a top-two caliber player on a playoff team, but can he lift a No. 2-seeded New York squad by himself?

OG Anunoby, Donte DiVincenzo and Bojan Bogdanovic will need to step up and offer even more statistically, though there will be clouds of doubt due to not having the presence of an elite option in Randle.

6. Los Angeles Clippers

It feels harsh to say, but something always happens to the Clippers in the postseason. Tyronn Lue is an elite coach and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are an elite regular-season duo, but they've yet to put the pieces together in the postseason.

Will James Harden move the needle? How much can Russell Westbrook add due to his floor-spacing limitations? The Clippers possess the names and talent, but now is the time for them to get it done on the biggest stage.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota was brilliant in the closing stages of the regular season not to fade away without Karl-Anthony Towns. The Timberwolves have the league's best defensive rating and are led by young star Anthony Edwards, who does not shy away from the big moments.

The key for Minnesota will be ensuring Towns and Rudy Gobert don't do the opposite, as each of their postseason reputations are shaky. Role players in Mike Conley, Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels, among others, will be equally as vital in helping Edwards.

Drew Dinsick, host of “Bet the EDGE” podcast, discusses why these young stars have the potential to breakout during the 2024 NBA playoffs.

4. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks haven't built a proper squad around Luka Doncic since he was drafted, but they righted some wrongs at the trade deadline. Kyrie Irving, Tim Hardaway Jr., P.J. Washington, Dereck Lively II and Daniel Gafford lift the floor of how far Dallas can go.

Much of their success will be determined if they can get past the Clippers in the first round. Los Angeles has the better overall talent, but Doncic can continue to solidify himself as one of the league's greatest talents -- and potential MVP -- if he can push Dallas deep.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

It's difficult to predict who could be the third-best team behind the Celtics and Nuggets. Whereas the Timberwolves have some proving to do among key stars, the Thunder will be showing what they can do on the big stage for the first time.

Being the No. 1 seed after the regular season ends is one thing, but demonstrating why that was the case in the playoffs is another. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren, Jalen Williams and Co. won't be judged too harshly if they fail to meet these expectations, but they have the quality to go far despite their inexperience and shouldn't be scared of the lights.

2. Boston Celtics

The Celtics were clearly the best team in the regular season, but now's the time to back it up with some hardware. They have the most balanced starting five in the league and don't have many excuses not to reach the Finals, at the minimum.

Possibly the only thing that could derail them would be a significant injury, as well as not optimizing Kristaps Porzingis to help him forget previous playoff struggles. Regardless, they're the clear best team in the Eastern Conference and need to prove it under the lights.

1. Denver Nuggets

They may be the No. 2 seed out West by a slim margin, but there's no doubting the quality Denver has in these scenarios. They proved it last year as they dominated their path to the title, and that has shown in spurts throughout the regular season. Denver also won both regular-season games over Boston, so it has that edge, too, in case they each meet in the NBA Finals.

Their biggest key will be seeing how youngsters Christian Braun, Peyton Watson and Julian Strawther rise to the occasion with Bruce Brown Jr. now in Toronto.

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