Kristaps Porziņģis and Nikola Jokić Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Realistic Best and Worst-Case Scenarios for 2024 NBA Playoff Teams

Andy Bailey

With the play-in tournament in the rearview, the 2024 NBA playoff field is set.

Eight teams from each conference remain, and several have a realistic shot to be the last one standing. Others should probably be happy to have simply made it this far.

There's a wide range of potential outcomes from here, and Bleacher Report has the best- and worst-case scenarios for each of the teams still in the mix.

All 16 are below, sorted by their current odds to win it all from FanDuel's sportsbook.

Miami Heat (+16000)

Tyler Herro Eric Espada/NBAE via Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

Without Jimmy Butler, who suffered an MCL injury in the 7-8 play-in game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, the Miami Heat absolutely dominated the Chicago Bulls to secure a playoff berth on Friday.

Tyler Herro finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists against the Bulls, and he'll have to be at least that good to steal any games from the top-seeded Boston Celtics in the first round.

Without Butler, that's probably the most Miami can possibly expect from that series. A couple wins, given how hampered the Heat are by injuries (Terry Rozier is out too), could probably be spun as a success.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

But that's probably not the likeliest outcome. The Celtics are a historically dominant team (more on that later). They're the current betting favorite to win the title.

And operating at full strength, Boston has a pretty good shot to sweep the banged-up Heat.

Orlando Magic (+16000)

Paolo Banchero Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Second-Round Exit

The Orlando Magic are a real threat to upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. They were neck and neck in season-long net rating, but Orlando was significantly better post-All-Star break.

And the key ingredients for beating the Cavs in last year's first round, defense and physicality, are possessed in abundance by the Magic.

Orlando's frontcourt features tons of scoring from Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, and plenty of versatile defense from those two, Jonathan Isaac and Wendell Carter Jr.

But unfortunately, the Magic wound up on the same side of the bracket as the Boston Celtics. And that means that they'd almost certainly follow up an upset against Cleveland by getting blown out by this regular season's best team.

Boston is deeper, more experienced and far more explosive offensively. It'd win a second-round series against Orlando, but the experience would do the Magic good in the long run.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

Of course, beating Cleveland is far from a given. For his career, Donovan Mitchell has averaged 27.8 points per game in the playoffs. A monster series from him alone could be tough for Orlando to overcome.

And after getting bullied by the New York Knicks in 2023, bigs Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen may have redemption on their minds.

New Orleans Pelicans (+6500)

Brandon Ingram Jeff Haynes./NBAE via Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

There's a temptation to say the New Orleans Pelicans can upset the Oklahoma City Thunder, especially after seeing how well they played without Zion Williamson in Friday's play-in game against the Sacramento Kings.

Down their leading scorer, who isn't likely to be back at any point in the first round, they just don't have enough firepower to beat the West's top seed four out of seven times.

That doesn't mean they can't steal a game, though. The absence of Zion doesn't really hurt New Orleans' defense, and their wealth of length and athleticism could cause OKC some problems on that end.

If they combine that with hot shooting nights from CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram or Trey Murphy III, they might sneak a couple wins.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

But the Thunder are entering the playoffs healthy, with one of this season's 3-5 best players and a loaded supporting cast.

The banged-up Pelicans will likely be done in relatively short order.

Indiana Pacers (+6500)

Tyrese Haliburton Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Conference Finals Exit

With Giannis Antetokounmpo's status up in the air heading into the first round, there's a very real chance the Indiana Pacers have a chance to secure the upset.

Even if he can go for a couple of games, Indiana went 4-1 against the Milwaukee Bucks this season and just looks like a generally bad matchup for the 2021 champs.

Perimeter defense remains an issue for Milwaukee, and Tyrese Haliburton, though his outside shot sort of abandoned him in the second half of the season, can still dissect the opposition as a passer.

Being on the opposite side of the bracket as Boston means Indiana has an outside shot at a second-round upset too.

The Knicks are without Julius Randle, and the Philadelphia 76ers look gettable after just squeaking by the Miami Heat in the 7-8 play-in game. Joel Embiid doesn't look quite like he did pre-injury, and physicality has been a problem for him in previous postseasons.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

The Bucks were one of this season's biggest disappointments, but they're still loaded with raw talent. And if Giannis can make it back in time for a few games, Milwaukee advancing would be far from surprising.

As you'll see as we work our way through this, there are several real contenders this season, the Bucks are among them.

Cleveland Cavaliers (+5000)

Donovan Mitchell Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Second-Round Exit

Like Orlando, Cleveland's ceiling is sort of capped by the side of the bracket it wound up on. If they make it past the Magic, the Cavs would have to face the Celtics in the second round.

But that's not the only thing preventing confidence in their chance at a long run. After a 17-1 stretch in January and February, Cleveland finished the season 13-18 in its last 31 games. And during that stretch, the Cavs had a minus-3.5 net rating that ranked in the bottom third of the league.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

Coming into the postseason with that kind of disappointment is far from ideal. The fits between both Darius Garland and Mitchell (too small and too much need for the ball) and Mobley and Allen (not enough shooting) are wonky.

And if the Cavs can't smooth that out and suddenly rediscover their offense, Orlando's No. 2 defense could stifle Cleveland right out of the playoffs.

New York Knicks (+2900)

Jalen Brunson Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Conference Finals Exit

Jalen Brunson might be the hottest player in the league entering the postseason.

Over his last 10 regular-season games, he put up 37.8 points, 8.3 assists and 3.2 threes, while shooting 40.0 percent from deep.

And he's surrounded by a seemingly perfect Thibs-ian combination of grit and defense with role players like Josh Hart, Donte DiVincenzo, OG Anunoby and Isaiah Hartenstein.

Even without Julius Randle, this group has been playing well enough to beat the 76ers in the first round, and either one of the Bucks are Pacers in the second.

The problem for them is the same one that awaits everyone in the East: the Celtics.

New York can slow things down and generate enough physicality to prevail in the first two rounds, but they don't have the firepower to keep up with Boston's attack. Nor do they have enough attackers to flummox defensive lineups that include Derrick White, Jayson Tatum and Jrue Holiday.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

If Embiid gets to around 90-95 percent of what he was prior to this season's meniscus injury, the 76ers could end New York's run long before it gets to the Celtics, though.

If you count the play-in game, Philadelphia went 32-8 in games Embiid played. And his prolific scoring and ability to draw fouls could have the Knicks' frontcourt in foul trouble and on its heels.

Los Angeles Lakers (+2800)

LeBron James Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Championship

Everyone outside the Los Angeles Lakers' fanbase may meet this with a collective eye roll. Every year, regardless of the Lakers' level of play, the media seems intent on making them a contender. Every signing, trade and individual performance is overhyped.

At times, it almost sounds like some of the mainstream voices are trying to Secret the Lakers to a championship.

But this season, there really is a chance.

It took coach Darvin Ham way too long to get to this roster's most obvious starting five, but he's finally there. And L.A. is plus-6.6 points per 100 possessions with a 99th percentile effective field-goal percentage when D'Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, LeBron James, Rui Hachimura and Anthony Davis are all on the floor.

With two top-10 players in LeBron and AD surrounded by plenty of shooting and playmaking, the Lakers offense is good enough for another deep playoff run. And unlike last year, they get the Nuggets in the first round, when the two superstars are likely fresher than they were for the 2023 conference finals.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

Of course, the Lakers are playing the Denver Nuggets in the first round. The team that swept them in the conference finals last year also went 3-0 against L.A. this regular season.

Even with AD on the roster, the Lakers just don't seem to have a single good answer for Nikola Jokić (something they have in common with every other team in the league). And Jamal Murray always seems to find an extra gear when he faces L.A.

There's a reason Denver is a pretty overwhelming favorite to advance, and the Lakers' postseason could very well end in Round 1.

Minnesota Timberwolves (+2400)

Anthony Edwards David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Championship

This may be a bit premature. Anthony Edwards is still a few years shy of his prime. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have never been past the first round.

But there are plenty of playoff scars between Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley. And Minnesota's biggest strength, defense, is something that translates a bit more naturally to the intense environment of the postseason than offense.

Of course, the Wolves are starting off with a tough matchup against a Suns team they couldn't beat in the regular season. And even if they do escape that, the Nuggets could be waiting for them.

Their path to a title won't be easy, but the team with the league's top defense and a budding superstar has to be in the mix with those who can win it all if everything breaks right.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

But again, Minnesota is facing a huge hurdle right off the bat. Phoenix has had the Wolves' number all season, and it's loaded with postseason experience.

Durant has two Finals MVPs. Booker was just in the Finals in 2021. And most of their rotation regulars have all played in multiple playoff series.

The T'Wolves going out in the first round is very much in play.

Milwaukee Bucks (+2000)

Giannis Antetokounmpo Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Championship

This is another optimistic projection, but this time, it's all about the health of the team's best player.

The timeline for a Giannis return remains unclear. If he's out for a few weeks, it's hard to imagine Milwaukee going far, especially after it went 19-20 after dismissing Adrian Griffin midseason.

But if a veteran-heavy roster that includes Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez can steal a couple games from the Pacers without Giannis and buy him some time to get back into action, the top of the Bucks roster is about as talent-rich as any.

Yes, the defense has looked dreadfully bad at times. And there still seems to be a bit of confusion on the balance of power between Giannis and Dame.

But that duo, at least on the offensive end, has immense upside. And if the Bucks find some rhythm in the playoffs, they can go all the way.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

On the other hand, Indiana dominated Milwaukee in the regular season. Lillard has looked hopeless on the defensive end against Haliburton.

And even if a slightly below-100-percent Giannis is able to return before the end of the first round, the Pacers have plenty of bodies (like Pascal Siakam, Obi Toppin and Aaron Nesmith) to throw at him.

The Bucks getting out of the first round is far from a given.

Phoenix Suns (+2000)

Kevin Durant David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Championship

The Phoenix Suns were rarely healthy this regular season, but they seem whole now. And this roster undoubtedly has championship upside.

The starting five (Bradley Beal, Grayson Allen, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Jusuf Nurkić) is plus-10.4 points per 100 possessions. And there's decent depth behind them with Eric Gordon, Royce O'Neale and Drew Eubanks. Even Bol Bol has had some moments this season.

And just regarding their first-round matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix went 3-0 with two double-digit wins in April.

Few teams have enough one-on-one firepower to frustrate the T'Wolves' top-ranked defense, but having Durant, Booker and Beal qualifies the Suns.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

Still, Minnesota is among that big group of legitimate contenders. And that, of course, means it can overcome its regular-season struggles with Phoenix and come out on top in this series.

The Suns had, by far, the worst fourth-quarter net rating in the league this season, and they could have a hard time stopping Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns in the clutch.

Philadelphia 76ers (+1900)

Joel Embiid Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Championship

At times during their win in the 7-8 play-in game, Embiid looked tired. In a couple spots, he even looked compromised. But in the fourth quarter, he was plus-six, scored 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting, grabbed four rebounds and handed out two assists.

The 76ers beat the Heat by one, and Embiid's late takeover was a big reason.

If he's able to sort of play his way into shape over the next few weeks, and his supporting cast can help him get through at least the first round, Philadelphia has championship upside.

When healthy and engaged, Embiid is the game's most dangerous scorer and foul-drawer. And Tyrese Maxey has joined him as a real star this season.

In any given series, including in the first round against New York, the Sixers have the potential to have the two best players for at least four games.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

If, however, Embiid continues to look a little slower or less explosive than usual, there's a real chance Brunson and New York end the Sixers' run in the first round.

Philadelphia barely sneaked by the Heat in the play-in game, and the Knicks can similarly confound opponents with creative and aggressive defense.

Los Angeles Clippers (+1700)

Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Championship

Much like Milwaukee, L.A.'s prospects are heavily reliant on the health of its star.

Kawhi Leonard missed the last eight games of the Clippers' season, and he still isn't guaranteed to be back for Game 1 against Dallas.

If he's back at some point in that series and somewhere near 100 percent, L.A. can beat anyone. It was plus-10.6 points per 100 possessions when Leonard, George and James Harden were all on the floor this season. And it was 23-4 in games in which Harden handed out at least 10 assists.

With those three, the Clippers have about as much firepower as any team in the league. And their ceiling is a title.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

Whether Leonard is back or not, Dallas is good enough to straight-up beat L.A.

Luka has a pair of painful series losses to the Clippers in his past, so he may have revenge on his mind. And since February's additions of Daniel Gafford and P.J. Washington, Dončić and Irving are backed up by enough size and defense to beat anyone.

Dallas Mavericks (+1600)

Luka Dončić Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Championship

As just noted in the Clippers slide, Dallas is another team capable of beating anyone in a seven-game series.

Like Philadelphia, it has two players who could emerge from any matchup as its best performers.

And though the moves to add Gafford and Washington were costly, they're already paying short-term dividends.

When Dallas' current starting five (Luka, Kyrie, Derrick Jones Jr., Washington and Gafford) is on the floor, the team is plus-15.9 points per 100 possessions.

The sample size on that number is small, but it's easy to see why it's working right now. The lineup features two borderline unstoppable offensive weapons, two versatile wing defenders and one of the game's most dangerous rim-runners to pull defenses toward the paint.

In just his age-24 season, Dončić is very much in the mix for a championship.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

Of course, he has some playoff demons against the Clippers. Despite averaging 33.5 points, 9.5 assists and 8.8 rebounds in those two series, L.A. has eliminated him twice.

And if Leonard is available for most or all of the series, the Clippers are capable of sending Luka packing a third time.

Oklahoma City Thunder (+1400)

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Joshua Gateley/Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Championship

This is another prediction that may cause some to balk. There's essentially no playoff experience on this roster.

Gordon Hayward has been in plenty of series, but he's barely in the team's rotation. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been to the postseason once, but that's when he was a Los Angeles Clipper and playing an entirely different role.

Teams that are brand new to this experience rarely make deep runs, but the Oklahoma City Thunder finished first in the West for a reason.

They have one of the game's most dynamic scorers in SGA, a budding star wing in Jalen Williams and a three-and-D center who played around an All-Star level as a rookie in Chet Holmgren.

Everyone else on the roster knows their roles and are willing to magnify them, no matter how thankless they might be.

Beating the more experienced teams, especially in the West, won't be easy, but it's also not impossible.

Worst-Case Scenario: Second-Round Exit

Having said that, the Thunder are on a collision course with some postseason killers, whether the Clippers or Dallas Mavericks prevail in the first round.

On the one hand, they might wind up facing Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving, who are leading a Mavericks team that is among the hottest in the league. On the other, they'd get Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

OKC has the talent to beat either, but picking it might be tough in the second round.

Denver Nuggets (+300)

Nikola Jokić Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Championship

We just saw this formula play out last year.

Jokić and Murray deploy the league's most devastating two-man game, particularly in the playoffs. Flanking them with the shooting of Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, as well as Aaron Gordon's prowess from the dunker's spot, makes this attack borderline unstoppable in high-leverage possessions.

Not having Bruce Brown's tenacity, defense and ball-handling is a concern, but Christian Braun and Peyton Watson have both had their confidence-inspiring moments this season.

The defending champions are more than good enough to repeat.

Worst-Case Scenario: First-Round Exit

They're not invincible, though. And despite sweeping the Lakers in both the 2023 playoffs and the 2023-24 regular season, there's a world in which L.A. scores a first-round upset.

No one in the league has gotten a friendlier whistle than the Lakers over the last two seasons. The sure-to-come free-throw discrepancy and the possibility of foul trouble for Jokić (which doomed Denver against this team in 2020) are legitimate concerns.

LeBron could be the best player on the floor for at least one game. AD could be in another. If that gets them two wins and they steal another at the free-throw line, suddenly, L.A. would be within striking distance of the second round.

It's certainly not the likeliest outcome, but it's also not an impossible one.

Boston Celtics (+135)

Jayson Tatum Danielle Parhizkaran/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Best-Case Scenario: Championship

Few in the media summarized the brilliance of this Celtics regular season quite like play-by-play man Sean Grande did:

The Celtics were, in a couple words, historically great. And the only teams to ever finish with higher point differentials all won the title.

Boston not only can finish as the least team standing. It probably should.

Worst-Case Scenario: Conference Finals Exit

Technically, a first-round exit is the worst-case scenario for every team. From an "anything is possible" perspective, even the Bulls can beat the Celtics.

But barring injuries (and the plural form is intentional there), that result would be catastrophic. That's probably true of a second-round matchup with Cleveland or Orlando too.

This team has two star wings who can consistently get to 30 points in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Holiday and White are the best defensive backcourt in the league. Kristaps Porziņģis has been an ideal fit alongside them as a floor-spacer and rim protector. And even the bench that features Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser and Al Horford has developed into a strength.

This team almost has to make the conference finals.


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