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NBA Power Rankings: Playoff Edition

by Josh Mullenix | @TheJMULL_

The NBA invited 22 teams to the bubble in Orlando, Florida, to resume the NBA season on July 31. On Aug. 17, 16 teams remain with a chance to win an NBA title. The only logical thing to do now is to put them in order from most likely to win the NBA championship, to least likely.

Unlike the first 110 Sports power rankings, current form at the end of the regular season won’t play all that much into these rankings. Were the Lakers inspiring in their eight seeding games? Not even a little bit. But LeBron James and Anthony Davis are without a doubt one of the favorites to win an NBA title. Therefore, they’ll be much higher than they would be if we were considering their last four games more heavily. 

With that being said, let’s rank these remaining 16 teams.

  1. Los Angeles Clippers

This should surprise no one. With the backcourt issues on the other side of the coin in Los Angeles, the Clippers are the favorite, in my opinion, to win the title. They have not one, but two guys who can guard the best player on the other team in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They are a nightmare matchup for pretty much anyone and have the scoring from those two along with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell to keep up with anybody offensively. The Clips are built for the playoffs in every way you want a team to be.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks 

As long as Giannis refrains from headbutting anybody else, the Bucks are the favorite in the Eastern Conference. The best regular season team in the NBA this season went 56-17, had the best defense in the league by a wide margin and has the probable MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. The biggest question for the bucks is role player scoring. Can Khris Middleton be the go-to second scorer throughout the playoffs? Will Eric Bledsoe be better than he was last year in the postseason? Will shooters like Wesley Matthews, George Hill and Kyle Korver step up? The Bucks’ chances of making it to the Finals also increased with the season-ending injury to Ben Simmons.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers

There are major questions about the Lakers offense after James and Davis. However, LeBron has taken worse teams deep into the playoffs without the help from another top seven player in the NBA. The lack of a real backcourt might keep them from winning a championship, but it won’t keep them from making a run deep into the Western Conference playoffs. LeBron just doesn’t lose playoff series in the early rounds.

  1. Toronto Raptors

The defending champs truly are defending champs. They finished 53-19 in the regular season and reminded people just how good they are in the bubble. They have all the fixings of a title contender; a great coach, good defense, a go-to scorer and experienced backcourt play. If Pascal Siakam can be the guy in crunch time (with the help of Kyle Lowry), the Raptors have a guy in OG Anunoby who can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum, reliable bench pieces and a strong interior. It is not a foregone conclusion that Milwaukee will represent the East. Toronto and this next team might have something to say about that.

  1. Boston Celtics

The most recent update on Kemba Walker suggests he is ready to roll for the playoffs. Boston at full strength is the most interesting team in the NBA. They also have multiple high level defenders and scorers in Tatum and Jaylen Brown and having a point guard they can trust in Walker changes everything in the postseason. As long as Gordon Hayward doesn’t have to leave for the birth of his child, Boston will contend. The possible second-round series between Boston and Toronto might end up being one of the better ones of the entire playoffs. 

  1. Denver Nuggets

Denver’s chances of winning an NBA title increased with the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. Now, the core of Jamal Murry, Nikola Jokic and Porter doesn’t sound all that unattractive. Gary Harris has already been ruled out for Game 1 against the Jazz and so has Will Barton. If they get those guys back, Denver is now one of the deeper teams in the West and is built a little better for the playoffs. Their edge in terms of experience puts them above some others on this list. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they have to play the Clippers in the second round.

  1. Miami Heat

Miami has an interesting concoction of young talent and experienced leadership. Jimmy Butler has been there before and almost went to the Finals last season with Philadelphia and we all know what Andre Iguadola brings to a playoff team. They also have not insignificant role players such as Jae Crowder and Goran Dragic. But after Butler, the go-to players on their team are very young. Everyone in their starting lineup other than Butler is under the age of 27 and a lot of them are playing in their first playoff games. They should be able to handle the Pacers in round one, which sets up a very interesting series with Milwaukee in the second round.

  1. Portland Trail Blazers

Portland is a top five team in the West when healthy. There’s an argument they should be placed ahead of Miami and Denver, but neither of those teams have to face the Lakers in the first round. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic went to the Western Conference Finals just a year ago and this team is better in several ways than they were last year. They are deeper in the interior, Carmelo Anthony has been a positive role player and Gary Trent Jr. provides more shooting off the bench. They may be an eight seed, but putting them anywhere near the bottom of this list would be disrespectful.

  1. Philadelphia 76ers

It truly is devastating that Ben Simmons is out for the season and won’t be playing in the playoffs. The Sixers had a real shot. It was an outside chance considering they will have to beat Boston, Toronto and Milwaukee, in theory, to get to the NBA Finals. But Boston doesn’t have an obvious answer for Embiid, they almost beat Toronto last year and did beat Milwaukee in 2019. However, without Ben Simmons, the dynamic drastically changes and they aren’t good enough without him to beat those three teams.

  1. Houston Rockets

We’re going to find out if fatigue or playoff defense is the reason James Harden’s playoff efficiency decrease because he’s only had to play eight games before the postseason rather than 82. They are going to score enough and shoot enough threes to hang around in any game, but until the small ball experiment proves it can work in the playoffs, I refuse to believe this will actually care them through multiple series. Anthony Davis might average 40 points and 17 rebounds per game if the Rockets make it through the first round to play the Lakers.

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder

In many ways, I love the Oklahoma City roster. I love the three guard lineup of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder. I love the shooting ability of Danilo Gallinari and the interior presence of Steven Adams. But they’re missing something. Maybe it’s a go-to scorer on the wing that can create his own shot or another high level defender to guard the best player on the other team. Whatever it is, it will be more clear after these playoffs, but this is a well-coached team that shouldn’t be glossed over.

  1. Indiana Pacers

Without Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers’ ceiling is only so high. Yes, T.J. Warren has been sensational, but they don’t have enough without their best interior player to make it through the gauntlet of the Eastern Conference. With this version of Warren, Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon, they will make round one versus the Heat enticing. But even if they make it through that series, they won’t make it much further. 

  1. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas has the unfortunate task of playing the Clippers in round one. There is no team in the NBA better equipped to deal with Luka Doncic than Los Angeles, who can throw both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on him and make his life miserable. The Mavericks’ inability to close games in crunch time makes them even more unlikely to win a series against the Clippers. At some point, the Mavericks will contend with a core of Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but it won’t be this year.

  1. Utah Jazz

Scoring has looked really difficult for Utah in the bubble. Adrian Wojnarowski also reported on Aug. 16 that Ed Davis will miss their first round series against Denver, making depth even more of a problem. They have too many on-ball scorers and not enough players like Bojan Bogdanovic, who is out for the season and didn’t play in the bubble. Even with Bogdanovic, Utah wouldn’t be contending for a title at all, now they probably won’t even make it to round two.

  1. Orlando Magic

Put these last two teams in any order you want. Orlando has a group closer to their actual roster than the Nets did so they go in 15th. With that being said, Milwaukee is going to make quick work of the Magic in round one.

  1. Brooklyn Nets

The same is true for Brooklyn. While Caris LeVert is a very good NBA player, he’s not “go-to scorer in the playoffs” good and half of their starting lineup wouldn’t be starting on any other playoff team. Brooklyn will be very good next season due, in part, to the pieces that have proven that in the bubble, but they will get beat by Toronto quickly in these playoffs.

Photos by: Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons

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