NBA Power Rankings: Each playoff team's best-case state of affairs, from title chasers to first-round flameouts

With simply days remaining within the NBA season, there’s a lot to be decided concerning the playoff image. Inside that context, there’s a lot to study simply how nicely-stocked groups can be as soon as the playoffs start — accidents have been a irritating theme amongst a few of the league’s greatest groups prior to now month-plus.

Getting to the playoffs, although, is one factor. Having an actual probability at profitable a title — or heck, an opportunity at profitable a collection — is sort of one other. With that in thoughts, we ranked all 17 potential playoff groups, not based mostly on their standing with two days to go, however on what their best-case state of affairs appears like, and the way doubtless they’re to obtain that best-case.

There aren’t many groups with actual possibilities on the championship however, in our estimation, there are a shocking quantity with a shot at getting to the NBA Finals…

stephen-curry-kevin-durant-ftr-022618.jpg

1. Warriors

Greatest case: NBA champions

Greatest-case outlook: Robust. Even with the knee surgical procedure on star guard Stephen Curry, and even with a probably tough path by means of the West playoffs, the Warriors will come into the postseason with three issues no different group can match: expertise degree, expertise degree and the power to create mismatches.

There’s extra intrigue right here than there was final yr, given Curry’s well being query and the truth that the W’s went solely 17-thirteen with Curry sidelined (forty one-10 with him on the ground). However there are nonetheless too many weapons, starting with Kevin Durant, for opponents to lockdown on this workforce, and the Warriors ought to survive till Curry can get again. They’ll have to hit their stride shortly thereafter.  

2. Rockets

Greatest case: NBA champions

Greatest-case outlook: Enhancing. Give full credit score to the Rockets for disregarding the notion that the subsequent few championships ought to be handed over to the Warriors. As an alternative, they put collectively a workforce that has had the perfect season within the league and may give the Warriors a reliable run within the playoffs.

The issue for the Rockets figures to be the number of Golden State’s weapons within the West finals, and the mismatches the Warriors can pressure. But when Curry shouldn’t be wholesome by late Might, or if some mixture of Rockets position gamers (Eric Gordon and/or P.J. Tucker could also be good bets) can catch hearth from the arc, the Rockets can win the entire thing, and that makes them higher than a longshot guess to convey house a championship.

three. Cavs

Greatest case: NBA Finals

Greatest-case outlook: LeBron James. It’s very, very troublesome to think about this group getting previous the Warriors or Rockets within the NBA Finals, given the extent of uncertainty in its supporting forged — heaven assist the group that leans too closely on Jeff Inexperienced. However it’s additionally troublesome to think about a group within the Japanese Convention stopping the Cavs so long as they’ve James.

He has had to tackle an unlimited load since their deadline day overhaul, averaging 30.1 factors on fifty three.eight % capturing, with 10.1 rebounds and 10.zero assists. He’s taking 21.2 photographs per recreation because the group’s monumental trades, a quantity he has matched solely twice in his profession. That would catch up to him.

However till any group within the East exhibits it has a solution for James in a playoff collection, the Cavs stay the East favorites, even when they’re the No. four seed.

four. Raptors

Greatest case: NBA Finals

Greatest-case outlook: Higher than ever. The Raptors overhauled their offense, deepened their bench and acquired extra aggressive on protection this season, all in an effort to alter their historical past of underwhelming performances within the playoffs. It paid off even earlier than the postseason, although, with Toronto setting a franchise document of fifty seven wins and the staff profitable the highest seed within the convention.

However the check of all the things the Raptors have completed to date will come — barring a shock from an East upstart — once they play the Cavaliers, maybe as early because the second spherical. Get previous Cleveland, the staff that has eradicated them from the playoffs the previous two seasons, and the East is probably going theirs. Lose, and it’s again to the drafting board.

ben-simmons-joel-embiid-ftr-012518.jpg

5. 76ers

Greatest case: NBA Finals

Greatest-case outlook: Processing. There are two methods to take a look at the Sixers. First, they’re means too inexperienced to warrant consideration as an NBA contender. The beginning 5 (when wholesome) has 88 video games of playoff expertise, and all 88 belong to J.J. Redick. Or, we might take a look at them the second approach: Perhaps they’re simply younger and dumb sufficient to not put any particular strain on themselves this spring, and their lack of expertise seems to be a bonus. Ignorance is bliss, and all that.

The large drawback is that they’re doubtless to play the majority of the primary spherical of the postseason with out star middle Joel Embiid as he comes again from surgical procedure to the orbital bone round his eye. However think about the likelihood that the Sixers land the No. three seed, beat up on some zombie No. 6 seed (Miami, Milwaukee or Washington) with out Embiid, get the hopelessly injured Celtics within the second spherical, with Embiid returning and getting again to type, then face the worn-out survivor of a Cleveland-Toronto showdown within the convention finals.

Wouldn’t it be so loopy for the Sixers to beat both the Cavs or Raptors in late Might?

6. Jazz

Greatest case: Western Convention finals

Greatest-case outlook: Damage-dependent. Claiming the No. three seed might present Utah its greatest shot at cracking by way of the Houston-Golden State wall on the prime of the West. The Jazz are possible to have a troublesome first-round matchup, but when they will survive that and attain the convention semis towards the Warriors — who could have Curry nonetheless coming again from his knee surgical procedure — they can be in place to give Golden State a superb collection, and perhaps pull off a shocker.

They’re the most effective defensive staff within the league getting into the postseason, and level guard Ricky Rubio has all the time been an irritant for Curry, holding him to forty one.9 % capturing from the sector of their thirteen matchups.

7. Path Blazers

Greatest case: Western Convention finals

Greatest-case outlook: Additionally damage-dependent. The Blazers have gone four-6 of their final 10 video games, taking a few of the steam out of their candidacy as a Western Convention darkhorse, and placing their grip on the third seed into query. The protection has slackened these days (104.6 factors per recreation allowed in that span), and the staff has struggled with its capturing (28.9 % from the three-level line in that span).

The schedule has been tough, and the Blazers are not going into the playoffs on a excessive word. However their path to their best-case is identical as Utah’s — get the No. three seed, hope that Curry just isn’t one hundred pc on his return and shock the Warriors within the second spherical.  

eight. Thunder

Greatest case: Western Convention finals

Greatest-case outlook: Why not? It’s each bit as possible that we see the Thunder flame out fantastically within the first spherical as we see them shock everybody and someway discover themselves within the West finals. This has been probably the most erratic staff within the league all yr, with a four-three report towards Golden State and Houston, however an eight-15 document towards the remainder of the West playoff hopefuls.

That is, in any case, the group that beat the Warriors in Oakland by 20 in early February, then misplaced in Oakland by 32 lower than three weeks later. However the Thunder is usually a good defensive workforce, and the postseason schedule is about up to profit a workforce with a weak bench like this one — OKC is 38-25 when it has one or two days off, and 9-9 in any other case.

9. Celtics

Greatest case: Japanese Convention semifinals

Greatest-case outlook: Wounded, however viable. Information that Kyrie Irving will be a part of star Gordon Hayward in civilian garments for the Boston playoff run put a tough cap on how lengthy that playoff run can go. The Celtics nonetheless have sufficient expertise to get previous a going-by means of-the-motions group like Milwaukee or Miami, and they might slightly not see rival Washington, which might snap out of its funk within the first spherical if the Celtics are on the docket.

However there’s nearly no probability the Celtics can deal with both Cleveland or Philadelphia within the second spherical as brief-handed as they’re.

victor-oladipo-ftr-021518.jpg

10. Pacers

Greatest case: Japanese Convention semifinals

Greatest-case outlook: Matchup points. The Pacers stay the final workforce to have crushed the Sixers, and gained three of 4 towards Cleveland this season. That ought to give them some optimism towards both of their potential first-round opponents in a four-5 matchup. However the decisions are usually not nice.

Indy might wind up with the Sixers, enjoying with out Embiid, however wouldn’t have residence-courtroom benefit in that case. Or the Pacers will get Cleveland, with a shot at residence courtroom, however with a wonderfully wholesome LeBron within the wine-and-gold. An upset of the Embiid-much less Sixers is feasible, however Philadelphia is a deeper workforce able to merely outrunning the Pacers in a playoff collection.

eleven. Wizards

Greatest case: Japanese Convention semifinals

Greatest-case outlook: John Wall is all the best way again. There’s an excessive amount of expertise to write this group off utterly, however Washington is 6-thirteen since late February, which incorporates two losses in three video games with Wall again.

The Wizards are wanting on the probability of the No. eight seed, however they’re skilled sufficient to probably pull issues collectively as soon as the postseason begins. There’s little proof of an impending resurgence recently, nevertheless.  

12. Timberwolves

Greatest case: Western Convention semifinals

Greatest-case outlook: Jimmy Butler is all the best way again. The Timberwolves have Butler on the ground once more, which makes them a harder draw than most No. 6-eight seeds, and provides them a small probability at a first-round shock. However they need to make the playoffs first, and a house recreation towards Denver on the final day of the season will decide whether or not that occurs.

thirteen. Spurs

Greatest case: Western Convention semifinals

Greatest-case outlook: Meh. We may even see the Spurs slide to No. eight within the convention, relying on how they play in New Orleans on the season’s last day. Which may arrange a playoff catastrophe, although, as Houston can be a horrible matchup for this Spurs bunch, regardless of the flameout of a yr in the past by Rockets star James Harden. Ought to the Spurs land at No. 6 and get a matchup with the Path Blazers, they’d no less than have an opportunity at a collection win.  

14. Pelicans

Greatest case: Western Convention semifinals

Greatest-case outlook: Longshot. The issue is the Pelicans are missing depth outdoors Anthony Davis and Jrue Vacation, and it’s onerous to discover a favorable matchup for them. The presence of Davis and the projected absence of Curry are the one causes they’re not a sure first-round out. However they’re shut.

giannis-antetokounmpo-ftr-030918.jpg

15. Bucks

Greatest case: Japanese Convention first spherical

Greatest-case outlook: Already accomplished. We’ve all been sucked into believing the Bucks might be a shock too many occasions, haven’t we? They’ve the expertise to beat a banged-up No. 2 seed in Boston, however they don’t appear to have a lot drive or willpower. Perhaps they’re letting unfastened on the reins to guarantee a collection with the Celtics, however they’ve been disappointing all yr.

sixteen. Warmth

Greatest case: Japanese Convention first spherical

Greatest-case outlook: Accomplished. If a 24-level loss to the Knicks on Friday night time is any indication, this workforce shouldn’t be going into the playoffs in tip-prime form. They play sufficient protection to muck up a collection, however not sufficient offense to win one.

17. Nuggets

Greatest case: Western Convention first spherical

Greatest-case outlook: Surprisingly potential. Beat the Timberwolves on the street, and the Nuggets are in. They’d get swamped towards the Rockets, in fact, however contemplating they’ve not been a playoff staff in 5 years, they’ll settle for that destiny.