NBA Power Rankings: Celtics stay on top; Cavs slide; checking in on win projections – The Athletic

Zach HarperMar 26, 2024

With three weeks left in the 2024-24 regular season, it’s time to check in on those hallowed over/under projections from the preseason. We last looked at them back in mid-January, so it’s the perfect time to check who can still make a push in these final 10-12 games.

We’ll see how teams are projected to finish and how likely it is they do that. Plus, we can throw a little analysis in there and, of course, flawlessly rank each team for the 23rd straight week without a single complaint about said rankings.

Reminder: The Power Rankings don’t just rank the 30 teams. We divide these teams into tiers, which teams can move in and out of. We currently have the tiers broken into seven new categories:

  • Eliminated – They’ve been eliminated from the Play-In race.
  • Season is over, just not mathematically — They haven’t started tanking yet, but it’s on the table this season.
  • Looking to make the Play-In — They’ve been rebuilding/retooling and think they can crack the top 10 in their respective conference.
  • Play-In Tournament teams or better — They should be in the mix unless something disastrous happens.
  • Playoff teams — Probably don’t have to worry about dropping down to the Play-In Tournament.
  • On the brink of contention — A piece away from us believing they can win the title.
  • Contenders — They are contending for the championship, barring a massive injury.

As always, I am sure we will all agree on the placement of all 30 teams, especially your favorite team.

Here’s how the Power Rankings work:

  • It’s up to my discretion how the rankings shake out. For some teams, they’ll be hit in the short term. Others will be given the benefit for the long term. Yes, it is entirely subjective.
  • If I have a team ahead of another team, there’s no reason to ask why they’re ranked above the team you like. The answer is pretty simple: I think that team is set up better for success.
  • Yes, I watch the games. And yes, I watch your favorite team.
  • This is supposed to be fun, so let’s have fun.

With all that said, let’s dive into Week 23 of The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings. Stats and records are through Monday’s action.

Conference Eastern WesternTier Tier 1 – The Contenders Tier 2 – Brink of Contention Tier 3 – Playoff Teams Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In Tier 7 – EliminatedExpand allCollapse allLoadingTry changing or resetting your filters to see more.Tier 1 – The Contenders1

Boston Celtics

2Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 52.5

Projected record: 58-24

When we checked in during January, the Nuggets were on pace for 56 wins but have increased their pace by two since then. We’ll see if Denver can maintain the No. 1 seed in the West. The Nuggets will easily clear the over here, so they’re pretty much right in line with where they need to be. With Jamal Murray’s health this season, the Nuggets need to prioritize depth for their title defense, and they know they can go into any road building and ruin the fans’ night/season.

Key StatsRecord51-21Offensive Rating117.8 (6th)Defensive Rating112.8 (10th)Net Rating5.0Rank over timeWinsat Wolves115-112Knicks113-100at Blazers114-111Grizzlies128-103WesternTier 1 – The Contenders3

Minnesota Timberwolves

3Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 44.5

Projected record: 57-25

They’ve already blown the over/under out of the water as this impressive season by the young Thunder continues to get better. They’re fighting with Denver and Minnesota for the No. 1 seed, and we’ve seen their projected record increase by two wins since mid-January. There’s a very slight chance the Thunder could win 60 games, but they’d have to go on an even better run (11-1) the rest of the way. The Thunder record for wins in a season is 60 back in 2012-13. A team this young even approaching that feat is absurd.

Key StatsRecord49-21Offensive Rating118.6 (5th)Defensive Rating111.4 (5th tied)Net Rating7.2Rank over timeWinsJazz119-107at Raptors123-103Lossesat Bucks118-93WesternTier 1 – The Contenders5

New Orleans Pelicans

7Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 56.5

Projected record: 53-29

The Bucks won’t hit the over on this season because they’d need to win out to accomplish that. But considering how all over the place their season has been – and that they actually seem to have had three different seasons in one – getting over 50 wins with a relatively improved defense feels like it’s heading in the right direction. Expectations entering this season were crazy high, so maybe Milwaukee shouldn’t have started with a rookie coach. But now that the Bucks feel they have a direction, building the chemistry to reach contention level is the goal in this final stretch before the playoffs.

Key StatsRecord45-25Offensive Rating118.9 (3rd tied)Defensive Rating115.3 (15th)Net Rating3.6Rank over timeWinsThunder118-93Lossesat Celtics122-119EasternTier 2 – Brink of Contention7

LA Clippers

8Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 45.5

Projected record: 48-34

Assuming the Mavericks don’t fall apart in the final weeks of the season, they will clear their over. They’re on the exact same projection as we saw back in mid-January, even though they made some significant moves at the trade deadline. Everybody should be encouraged by the partnership of Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving. They really have a good balance and flow with each other, and the role players seem to know how to fit in around them. This team just needs to get a little better on defense so everything isn’t such a battle all the time.

Key StatsRecord42-29Offensive Rating117.7 (7th)Defensive Rating116.1 (21st)Net Rating1.6Rank over timeWinsat Spurs113-107Jazz113-97at Jazz115-105WesternTier 2 – Brink of Contention9

New York Knicks

11Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 44.5

Projected record: 48-34

The Kings are going to hit their over and pretty much end up where we saw them last season. The offense doesn’t feel as potent and overwhelming, but I still love the balance of this team on that end of the floor. We’ve seen a little uptick in the Kings’ defense lately, but it’s fair to wonder if that just reflects their competition. Sacramento’s consistency in the last two seasons matters because it was inconsistent for so long. It feels like we can pencil in a healthy Kings team for about 48 wins and a playoff appearance. Their next step is getting them deeper into the postseason. Maybe they’ll figure that out in a month.

Key StatsRecord42-29Offensive Rating116.6 (12th)Defensive Rating115.0 (14th)Net Rating1.6Rank over timeWinsat Raptors123-89at Magic109-10776ers108-96Lossesat Wizards109-102WesternTier 3 – Playoff Teams11

Orlando Magic

13Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 51.5

Projected record: 48-34

The Suns would need an insane finish to the season to eclipse their over/under. That’s not going to happen, although we keep waiting for them to go on a massive run. Injuries are likely the reason for falling short of this number, as they’ve battled all season with absent stars and incomplete rotations. Phoenix had two seven-game win streaks this season, but this road trip is about to test them.

Key StatsRecord42-30Offensive Rating117.3 (8th tied)Defensive Rating114.3 (13th)Net Rating3.0Rank over timeWins76ers115-102Hawks128-115at Spurs131-106Lossesat Spurs104-102WesternTier 3 – Playoff TeamsTier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better13

Indiana Pacers

15Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 47.5

Projected record: 45-37

It’s doubtful the Lakers will hit the over this season because they’d have to win nine of their final 11 games. They do have one of the easier schedules left, but I’m not sure I feel confident in them finding the stride needed to accomplish this. Still, the Lakers have been dealing with injuries and odd lineups all season long. Considering how much of a mess this has felt like at times, being seven games over .500 at this point – and looking pretty safe from falling out of the Play-In – feels pretty good for them. I just don’t know if they have enough left in the tank to match last season’s conference finals run.

Key StatsRecord39-32Offensive Rating115.5 (15th)Defensive Rating115.5 (17th tied)Net Rating0.0Rank over timeWinsSixers101-94Pacers150-145WesternTier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better15

Miami Heat

10Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 50.5

Projected record: 50-32

The Cavs were pretty much at the same pace back in January. Considering the injuries they’ve suffered, remaining at this same pace is pretty noteworthy. The Cavs really need to see what this team can do when healthy and with the knowledge of how they fell short last April. Because they’re still piecing together lineups, they’re unlikely to hit their over. But as long as they’re healthy for the postseason, they should at least put a scare into their opponents. You just don’t know if they’ll be able to generate enough offense – even when they’re 100 percent.

Key StatsRecord44-28Offensive Rating114.7 (17th)Defensive Rating111.1 (4th)Net Rating3.6Rank over timeWinsHornets115-92LossesHeat107-104at Wolves104-91at Heat121-84EasternTier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or BetterTier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In17

Houston Rockets

17Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 48.5

Projected record: 42-38

The under is hitting for several reasons. Draymond Green kept getting suspended. Andrew Wiggins and Klay Thompson haven’t looked like themselves. Chris Paul got injured. Steve Kerr took too long to embrace Jonanthan Kuminga. There was just a lot going against them. The good news is Thompson looks a lot more comfortable in his role off the bench, so we’re seeing him play pretty well. Steph Curry has been fantastic and put on another great shooting performance. So, you can talk yourself into things looking better in the Play-In, but the Warriors still have no room for wiggle, and they have to make sure they can fight off Houston.

Key StatsRecord36-34Offensive Rating116.9 (11th)Defensive Rating115.6 (19th tied)Net Rating1.3Rank over timeWinsGrizzlies137-116LossesPacers123-111at Wolves114-110WesternTier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In19

Atlanta Hawks

20Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 48.5

Projected record: 44-38

It’s not their fault that they’re going to hit way under on their over/under this season. In mid-January, they were on pace for 54 wins, Joel Embiid was the MVP and everything looked pretty dominant and promising for Philly. Once Embiid went down, the Sixers were fighting for their “top six in the East” lives. And that probably won’t happen either. The Sixers just caught the worst luck they could have encountered. Let’s just hope Embiid comes back healthy and can avoid injuries like this moving forward. He’s too fun and too good.

Key StatsRecord39-33Offensive Rating116.0 (14th)Defensive Rating113.8 (12th)Net Rating2.2Rank over timeWinsat Clippers121-107Lossesat Suns115-102at Lakers101-94at Kings108-96EasternTier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In21

Chicago Bulls

23Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 37.5

Projected record: 30-52

Wow, things fell apart for the Nets, and it turns out it wasn’t just the coach. Last we checked, the Nets were on pace for 33 wins, but that’s now down to 30. That 30-win pace might even be optimistic at this point. Injuries, mediocre defense and average offense all contributed to the Nets falling way short this season. The frustrating news is they don’t even benefit from these struggles with their own draft pick. That selection is headed to Houston, so the Nets will just have to see who should carryover and start working their way toward being a Play-In Tournament team next season.

Key StatsRecord27-44Offensive Rating112.9 (22nd tied)Defensive Rating115.5 (17th tied)Net Rating-2.6Rank over timeWinsat Raptors96-88LossesPelicans104-91at Bucks115-108at Knicks105-93EasternTier 6 – Season is overjust not mathematically23

Utah Jazz

25Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 36.5

Projected record: 26-56

The Raptors don’t even want to touch the over at this point. They have completely let go of the rope, and wouldn’t you know they have a top-six protected pick. Otherwise, it goes to San Antonio. The Raptors have lost 11 straight games and look completely lost out there with the M.A.S.H. unit they’re playing. Injuries, trades, etc. all contributed to Toronto not even coming close to the over on this one. The hope is next season’s roster is filled out a bit better to suit winning around Scottie Barnes as the Raptors’ primary special talent. This quickly turned into a transition season for Toronto, so we’ll see how active the Raptors are this summer in adding veteran talent.

Key StatsRecord23-49Offensive Rating112.2 (24th)Defensive Rating117.2 (24th)Net Rating-5.0Rank over timeLossesKings123-89Thunder123-103at Wizards112-109Nets96-88EasternTier 6 – Season is overjust not mathematicallyTier 7 – Eliminated25

Memphis Grizzlies

27Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 28.5

Projected record: 18-64

This was an incomprehensibly bad team for most of the season, especially when Victor Wembanyama wasn’t on the court .The Spurs are a much different team when Wemby is on the floor. Plus, he’s already showing glimpses of a league belonging to the Spurs again. Now that they’ve had their feel-out season with the young guys, we’ll see what their approach is this summer. However, the Spurs have a very bright future despite being on pace for first sub-20 win season in franchise history.

Key StatsRecord16-55Offensive Rating109.3 (27th)Defensive Rating116.6 (22nd)Net Rating-7.3Rank over timeWinsSuns104-102LossesMavs113-107Grizzlies99-97Suns131-106WesternTier 7 – Eliminated27

Washington Wizards

28Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 28.5

Projected record: 21-61

I actually think you can chalk up the Blazers hitting the under to the injuries this season. This was never going to be a good team, but we saw a lot of flashes of competitiveness when the Blazers had their veterans. Now, we’re at a point in the season in which they became the second team in the last 50 years to use an all-rookie starting lineup in a game. The rest of this season is about building the confidence of Scoot Henderson because that’s going to help determine them hitting the overs in the future.

Key StatsRecord19-52Offensive Rating108.7 (28th)Defensive Rating116.8 (23rd)Net Rating-8.1Rank over timeLossesClippers116-103Clippers125-117at Rockets110-92WesternTier 7 – Eliminated29

Detroit Pistons

26Last Rank

Preseason over/under: 30.5

Projected record: 19-63

This under felt pretty obvious to me in the preseason and for much of the season. The Hornets just don’t have a ton of talent or winning players. Injuries made this a lock. We spent another season without LaMelo Ball being close to healthy. He’s played in only 58 games in the last two seasons. Brandon Miller is the real deal, but the Hornets need a massive roster overhaul. There isn’t even a “keep this team together for a few years and let’s see them shine” element to the group.

Key StatsRecord17-54Offensive Rating107.9 (29th)Defensive Rating118.9 (28th)Net Rating-11.0Rank over timeLossesat Magic112-92at Hawks132-91at Cavs115-92EasternTier 7 – Eliminated

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(Top photo of Darius Garland: Rich Storry / Getty Images)

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Zach Harper is a staff writer for The Athletic, covering the NBA. Zach joined The Athletic after covering the NBA for, CBS Sports and FRS Sports since 2009. He also hosts radio for SiriusXM NBA and SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio. Follow Zach on Twitter @talkhoops