NBA Power Rankings: Best Teams Remaining in Playoffs – Sports Illustrated

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NBA Power Rankings: Best Teams Remaining in Playoffs – Sports Illustrated

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The fourth annual NBA play-in tournament is scheduled to begin tonight and the official 16-team playoffs are scheduled to begin Saturday.

We decided to group together the 12 teams already qualified for the playoffs – with a wide variety of criteria ranging from overall talent, to recent performance, to projecting how the team will translate to the playoffs entering the ‘equation.

Here are the 12 teams, in order:

1. Boston Celtics

The Celtics come into the playoffs pretty heavily anchored in this spot.

Boston has the most balanced team in the NBA on both sides of the ball and is obviously phenomenally coached – but they don’t come without concerns.

The Celtics should have a clear path to the Finals depending on how the group plays out, but the postseason performances of players such as Jrue Holiday and Jaylen Brown could cause some trepidation among fans.

2. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets deserve the benefit of the doubt despite a difficult end to the season.

Denver still potentially has the strongest starting five in basketball – Jamal Murray is one of the best playoff players in the NBA.

Denver could ultimately experience a tough first-round tie if the New Orleans Pelicans secure the seventh seed tonight – and we’ll see how that plays out.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder enter the playoffs having played good enough basketball down the stretch to secure the No. 1 seed in the West.

While Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren should continue their strong regular season performance into the playoffs, there are other concerns behind the surface.

Can OKC rely on an unprepared rotation of Josh Giddey/Isaiah Joe/Cason Wallace in high-leverage positions? Will Mark Daigneault be able to outperform more experienced coaches in grueling series?

OKC has a high ceiling but could very well bounce back early depending on the draw.

4. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers played well enough down the stretch when fully healthy to restore some level of confidence heading into the playoffs.

The reason for the concern is Kawhi Leonard’s unclear status – which could very well put them lower.

But for now, Los Angeles remains in fourth place.

5. Phoenix Suns

The Suns are ranked fifth despite being the sixth seed in the West.

Phoenix came through one of the toughest final 10-game stretches in NBA history with a 7-3 record despite some bad losses.

The dominant performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves should also make Suns fans confident heading into the first-round series.

6. New York Knicks

The Knicks are one of the toughest teams to project heading into the playoffs, but the emergence of Jalen Brunson coupled with being surrounded by a litany of quality shooters makes them a dangerous team against virtually any Who.

The absence of Julius Randle could be a double-edged sword, but the Knicks should look to advance to the second round regardless of the matchup.

7. Minnesota Wolves

Minnesota had one of the best regular seasons in franchise history.

They also performed worse against the Suns than other potential first-round opponents they could have attracted.

Minnesota’s immediate playoff fate will likely ultimately depend on how Karl Anthony-Towns performs as one of the only clear advantages in the matchup against Phoenix.

8. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas was one of the best teams in basketball after the All-Star break.

They have also been lightly battle tested against elite teams.

The bright spot surrounding the team is the Luka Doncic/Kyrie Irving duo – this backcourt combination can compete with anyone.

9. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks have a tough matchup against a historically strong Indiana Pacers offense — and will likely be without Giannis Antetokounmpo for several games in the series.

The saving grace is the possibility of Damian Lillard taking over as the No. 1 option – a role in which he apparently plays better.

The Bucks also have home-court advantage.

This is about where the positives run out until the Greek Freak returns.

10. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers could really be placed in a higher spot.

They had a great offensive season and ran as far as anyone in the playoffs.

The reservation about them is built on the lack of trust in Tyrese Haliburton as the true number one in critical moments – Haliburton is a great player, but should he be trusted over Lillard?

11. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers found a way to “tank” in a 4-5 game against the Orlando Magic to avoid the Pacers – which could end up backfiring on them.

This series could be another representation of last season’s first-round series against the New York Knicks – a team that was an underdog against Cleveland and also possessed a stiff defense.

Cleveland’s ceiling likely hinges on whether Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley can match up.

12. Magic of Orlando

The Magic are a quality team and can absolutely win the first round series against Cleveland, but the sheer lack of perimeter shooting severely limits this team’s true ceiling.

The NBA playoffs are scheduled to begin Saturday and will run through mid-June.

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