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


With three weeks left in the 2023-24 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.


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Tier 1 – The Contenders

Preseason over/under: 54.5

Projected record: 65-17

The Celtics are almost on pace to match the 2007-08 Celtics, who won the title thanks to Kevin Garnett and company, for the third-best record in team history. Boston has already surpassed its over/under projection, could likely lose the rest of its games and still end up with the best record in the East. That’s how far ahead of the field the Celtics are. They’re still winning when they throw Luke Kornet and Sam Hauser into the starting lineup. The Celtics are a machine right now and have increased their pace from 63 wins to 65 wins since mid-January.

Offensive Rating

122.5 (1st)

Defensive Rating

110.7 (2nd)

Eastern

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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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.

Offensive Rating

117.8 (6th)

Defensive Rating

112.8 (10th)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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Preseason over/under: 44.5

Projected record: 56-26

The last time we checked, the Wolves were on pace for 58 wins, but that’s now dropped to “only” a 56-win pace. That would still be the second-best record in franchise history behind the 58-win season in 2003-04, which ended with the Wolves reaching the Western Conference finals. Minnesota just needs to go 3-8 down the stretch to secure its second-best regular season ever. The Wolves must beat the Nuggets this week to have a chance at the No. 1 seed, but they also need to look out for team health and first-round seeding for the best possible matchup. What Anthony Edwards has this team doing is incredible.

Offensive Rating

114.6 (18th)

Defensive Rating

108.3 (1st)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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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.

Offensive Rating

118.6 (5th)

Defensive Rating

111.4 (5th tied)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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Preseason over/under: 44.5

Projected record: 51-31

The Pelicans just need one more win to hit the over, thanks to their fantastic second-half resurgence. Brandon Ingram’s injury is concerning because this team has such a hard time staying healthy in general. As long as he’s fine before the playoffs begin, I feel great about the Pelicans’ chances of making a good run in the postseason. That probably means at least a first-round victory – or maybe even surprising some folks and getting into the conference finals. The Zion Williamson experience has everybody wondering how you cover him when he’s the initiator, and Willie Green should be getting more love for Coach of the Year.

Offensive Rating

117.0 (10th)

Defensive Rating

111.4 (5th tied)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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.

Offensive Rating

118.9 (3rd tied)

Defensive Rating

115.3 (15th)

Eastern

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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Preseason over/under: 46.5

Projected record: 51-31

The Clippers can’t play the Blazers every night, so we’re seeing a little bit of a dip with this team at the wrong time. They’re still going to clear their over/under quite easily and will likely crack 50 wins for 2023-24. These are all good things, but this doesn’t feel like the team we saw in the middle of the season. Getting Russell Westbrook back should help keep that competitive energy high. We know what this team is capable of doing with the talent assembled, but there’s also only so many times you can keep saying that about the Clippers.

Offensive Rating

118.9 (3rd tied)

Defensive Rating

115.4 (16th)

Western

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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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.

Offensive Rating

117.7 (7th)

Defensive Rating

116.1 (21st)

Western

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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Preseason over/under: 45.5

Projected record: 49-33

The Knicks have added two wins to their projected win total since the last time we checked in. That’s pretty amazing considering Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson and OG Anunoby have all missed significant time since then. We checked in right in the middle of the Knicks’ Jansanity, but they’ve held up pretty well lately despite their injuries. If they can get Anunoby back and consistently healthy, they’ll have a chance to get to 50 wins. Even if they don’t, they just need these guys back by the first round to see if they can shake up the East.

Offensive Rating

116.5 (13th)

Defensive Rating

111.8 (7th)

Eastern

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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.

Offensive Rating

116.6 (12th)

Defensive Rating

115.0 (14th)

Western

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Preseason over/under: 36.5

Projected record: 48-34

They absolutely obliterated their over/under and have already more than surpassed it. If you paid attention to their 29-28 finish to last season, this shouldn’t surprise you. Jamahl Mosley had a young team willing to defend and learn how to win on the fly. The Magic front office decided to stick with the young core and see if it held true over an entire season. It got even better, so now the Magic have gone from a non-Play-In team last year to the good version of a non-Play-In team this season. Orlando’s future is so bright.

Offensive Rating

113.0 (21st)

Defensive Rating

110.9 (3rd)

Eastern

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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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.

Offensive Rating

117.3 (8th tied)

Defensive Rating

114.3 (13th)

Western

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

Preseason over/under: 38.5

Projected record: 46-36

The Pacers already hit the over, but they have lost a little bit off their 47-win pace (pun always intended) from the last time we checked. Indiana hasn’t been nearly the same team since the Tyrese Haliburton injury, and trading away Buddy Hield definitely cost them some shooting and spacing. Indiana also lost Bennedict Mathurin for the season. And yet, the Pacers are still pretty good and have a formidable offense. If Haliburton gets his jumper back, we could see them get pretty dangerous in the postseason. It’s a big reason they need to grab a top-six spot in the East and ensure they have a few extra days of treatment to rest for their All-NBA point guard.

Offensive Rating

120.2 (2nd)

Defensive Rating

118.0 (25th)

Eastern

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

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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.

Offensive Rating

115.5 (15th)

Defensive Rating

115.5 (17th tied)

Western

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

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Preseason over/under: 46.5

Projected record: 45-37

The Heat have an easy schedule the rest of the way, but they’d have to go 8-3 to hit the over. Miami has not shown the necessary consistency or urgency to find that peak and inspire confidence of replicating last year’s Finals run. The defense is still excellent, but this team cannot score consistently to save itself. One day, the Heat are dropping 121 on the Cavs. Another day, they’re failing to score more than 91 points against a broken 76ers squad. Miami needs these final two weeks desperately to find its groove.

Offensive Rating

112.9 (22nd tied)

Defensive Rating

112.1 (8th tied)

Eastern

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

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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.

Offensive Rating

114.7 (17th)

Defensive Rating

111.1 (4th)

Eastern

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

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Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

Preseason over/under: 31.5

Projected record: 41-41

The Rockets have already hit the over, which felt pretty easy in the preseason because they added a great coach and some important veteran talent. But their recent surge has been spectacular. And don’t look now, but they might fight their way right into the Play-In and ruin everybody’s hopes of a LeBron versus Steph do-or-die game. The Rockets have gotten by on defense, but their offense is coming around. It’s pretty surprising considering Alperen Şengün has missed much of this streak. This is the Jalen Green we need to see consistently next to Şengün.

Offensive Rating

113.7 (19th)

Defensive Rating

112.1 (8th tied)

Western

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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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.

Offensive Rating

116.9 (11th)

Defensive Rating

115.6 (19th tied)

Western

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Preseason over/under: 42.5

Projected record: 37-45

The Hawks have frustrated me to no end. I’ve been very open about that this season in writing, on podcasts and on the radio. I keep believing there is more to this team, but it keeps falling well short of reasonable expectations. You can’t even really blame it on injuries or Trae Young being out. This team is just destined to keep underperforming with this group. Even if the Hawks head into next season with the same level of talent, I’m not sure it’s wise to predict a .500 team. The Hawks will just keep falling way short of what their talent level should make them.

Offensive Rating

117.3 (8th tied)

Defensive Rating

118.7 (26th tied)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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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.

Offensive Rating

116.0 (14th)

Defensive Rating

113.8 (12th)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Preseason over/under: 37.5

Projected record: 38-44

It’s impressive the Bulls are going to hit the over because someone they’ve tied $40 million to per season has missed the majority of the action. The roster has responded to the injuries and missing players extremely well. Coby White emerged as a legitimate scorer and threat. Ayo Dosunmu has been really good in his role. And, when they run two-big lineups with Nikola Vučević and Andre Drummond, it actually works out pretty well. DeMar DeRozan has helped keep everything steady. The Bulls even have a chance to make it to .500 by the end of the season, but they’ll probably hit the over regardless on their way to the do-or-die Play-In showdown with Atlanta.

Offensive Rating

113.6 (20th)

Defensive Rating

115.6 (19th tied)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Tier 6 – Season is over, just not mathematically

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.

Offensive Rating

112.9 (22nd tied)

Defensive Rating

115.5 (17th tied)

Eastern

Tier 6 – Season is over

just not mathematically

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Preseason over/under: 35.5

Projected record: 33-49

This season, the Jazz have gone from being surprisingly competitive, kind of feisty and on a 43-win pace in mid-January to not being very competitive and battling it out with the Wizards for which team will have the worst defensive rating of all-time. Utah still could hit the over, but its recent stretch of 16 losses in 20 games probably negates that possibility. The Jazz should keep getting reps for the young guys and hope for closer games to give them valuable experience. They’re hitting the under, though.

Offensive Rating

115.0 (16th)

Defensive Rating

119.4 (29th tied)

Western

Tier 6 – Season is over

just not mathematically

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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.

Offensive Rating

112.2 (24th)

Defensive Rating

117.2 (24th)

Eastern

Tier 6 – Season is over

just not mathematically

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Tier 7 – Eliminated

Preseason over/under: 45.5

Projected record: 27-55

There was hope for the under at the beginning of the season simply due to the fact that Ja Morant would be back. And we know how good this team looks when he is on the court. Once Ja returned and made the Grizzlies winners (6-3 in his appearances), we also saw a brief hope of Memphis at least making the Play-In. But once he went down with the season-ending shoulder surgery, everything else deflated. The good news is the Grizzlies have received some nice production from the young guys, so it’s easy to feel pretty good about Memphis when everybody is healthy next season.

Offensive Rating

106.8 (30th)

Defensive Rating

113.6 (11th)

Western

Tier 7 – Eliminated

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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.

Offensive Rating

109.3 (27th)

Defensive Rating

116.6 (22nd)

Western

Tier 7 – Eliminated

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Preseason over/under: 24.5

Projected record: 16-66

Obviously, the Wizards have some work to do if they want to hit the over on this season. They’d have to win the rest of their games, hope the NBA granted them an 83rd game due to some sort of money-laundering revenue scheme, and they’d then need to win that game. That would put them at 25 wins for the season. This is also becoming a slog to get to the end of their season. Without Bilal Coulibaly playing anymore, you really have to want to watch Corey Kispert shoot the ball or be a member of Johnny Davis’ family to check out a Wizards game.

Offensive Rating

110.3 (25th)

Defensive Rating

119.4 (29th tied)

Eastern

Tier 7 – Eliminated

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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.

Offensive Rating

108.7 (28th)

Defensive Rating

116.8 (23rd)

Western

Tier 7 – Eliminated

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Preseason over/under: 28.5

Projected record: 13-69

Obviously, the Pistons won’t have a chance to hit their over at this point because they can max out at 22 wins. Without a clearcut “We must tank for this guy” (unless you believe in Alex Sarr that much, which I kind of get), it would be best for the Pistons to try to build some good habits with the young core still left healthy. Ausar Thompson and Isaiah Stewart are out for the season with other guys who are banged up, but let’s see what good habits Cade Cunningham (22 years old), Jaden Ivey (22) and Jalen Duren (20) can build together the rest of the campaign.

Offensive Rating

109.8 (26th)

Defensive Rating

118.7 (26th tied)

Eastern

Tier 7 – Eliminated

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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.

Offensive Rating

107.9 (29th)

Defensive Rating

118.9 (28th)

Eastern

Tier 7 – Eliminated

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(Top photo: Rich Storry / Getty Images)





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