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NBA Power Rankings: Celtics lead eight remaining playoff teams, with Wolves, Nuggets in second-round showdown

With the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ Game 7 win over the Orlando Magic on Sunday, the first round of the 2024 NBA playoffs is officially behind us. We saw sweeps from two of the Western Conference’s best teams, one of the most exciting first-round series in recent memory between the New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers, and a dominant performance from the league’s best regular-season team.

As we move into the conference semifinals with the matchups now completely set, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at how the eight remaining postseason teams stack up against each other. No surprise here, but the Boston Celtics land at No. 1 on the list after winning their four games against the Miami Heat by an average of 22 points. Behind them is a battle of Western Conference giants — who also happen to be playing each other — with the Minnesota Timberwolves edging out the defending champion Denver Nuggets for the No. 2 spot.

Showing the disparity in the conferences, three of the bottom four teams in the pecking order come from the East — but keep in mind that at this point in the postseason, there are no bad teams.

As the second round begins in full, here are the NBA Playoff Power Rankings for the eight remaining teams.

1. Boston Celtics

Even without Kristaps Porzingis, the Celtics enter the second round as the league’s most formidable team. There were some heart palpitations among the Celtics faithful following a traumatic Game 2 loss to the Heat, but Boston responded in the exact way that it had to — thorough domination. Even with the loss, the Celtics’ net rating of plus-17 was the best of the first round, even higher than the Thunder and Wolves who swept their respective series. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Derrick White all averaged 20-plus points against the Heat, while Al Horford stepped into the starting center role after Porzingis’ calf injury with his usual professionalism and grace.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves

If there was any doubt following their first-round sweep of the Phoenix Suns (who were actually the favorites entering the series), the Wolves cemented their legitimacy with a brilliant Game 1 win over the Nuggets on Saturday. There’s just no denying what Minnesota has done so far this postseason, with a plus-13 net rating in five games. And remember the offensive issues most pointed to entering the playoffs? All they’ve done is post a league-best 122 points per 100 possessions so far, including a laughable 180 offensive rating in five clutch minutes. That success is largely due to Anthony Edwards‘ latest superstar turn, as the fearless 22-year-old is second in the league with 33 points per game in the postseason, including a league-best 10.8 in the fourth quarter.

3. Denver Nuggets

Let’s try not to let recency bias get in the way too much and remember that the Nuggets picked up a gentleman’s sweep against a pretty good Lakers team in the first round while delivering a ridiculous plus-41(!) net rating in three clutch games. That being said, they weren’t exactly dominant, and their Game 1 loss to the Timberwolves on Saturday is yet another indicator that the defending champs have yet to reach last year’s level. Nikola Jokic has been Nikola Jokic, but Jamal Murray — despite his two game-winners against the Lakers — has not given them the production they need offensively while battling through a calf injury, averaging 23 points on 40/32/88 splits. Still, they’ve earned some cachet because we’ve seen their ceiling. The question is whether they’ll be able to reach it again.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

It’s easy to forget because it seems like it ended three weeks ago, but the Thunder shook off a shaky Game 1 to crush the souls of the New Orleans Pelicans in an opening-round sweep. A top-five offense and defense during the regular season (the Celtics were the only other team to accomplish the feat), OKC — and Lu Dort in particular — put the clamps on Brandon Ingram and the Pelicans in the first round with a league-best 93.5 defensive rating. With Zion Williamson out it’s hard to gauge just how much that will translate to their series against the Mavericks, but as of now the Thunder look every bit of the No. 1 seed that they earned. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander battled through some rough shooting nights to get his average up to 27 points per game, while second-year wing Jalen Williams showed he is ready for his first playoff appearance, contributing 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game on 53/39/75 shooting splits.

5. New York Knicks

Throw out the stats when it comes to the Knicks, because they didn’t face a typical first-round opponent in the Joel Embiid-led Philadelphia 76ers. With a rotation thinner than a slice of prosciutto, the Knicks gritted and gutted their way to victory in one of the most intense, entertaining first-round series in NBA history. It all starts, as it has all season, with Jalen Brunson, who shook off two uncharacteristically poor performances to finish the series with four straight games of at least 39 points. He received just enough help from the likes of Josh Hart, OG Anunoby and Donte DiVincenzo, while New York rebounded 37% of its own misses in the first round for over 19 second-chance points per game — by far the most of any postseason team. Due to their physicality and relentless effort, the Knicks have become a team that you just don’t want to face, which is as high a compliment as you can receive in the playoffs.

6. Dallas Mavericks

Prone to stretches where they look completely lost on both ends, the Mavericks shook off two losses to the Kawhi Leonard-less¬†Clippers to seize their first-round series in six games. Luka Doncic played through illness and a knee injury, finally looking more like himself in the final two games, while Kyrie Irving showed why he’s 13-0 in closeout situations over the course of his career. The offense continued to be top-heavy, with Doncic and Irving combining to average 56 points and PJ Washington the next-highest at 11 per game. Most encouraging in the first round was the defense, however, which held the Clippers to under 110 points per 100 possessions. Assuming we get the Luka we saw in Games 5 and 6, the Mavs could easily move up in these rankings very quickly as the second round progresses.

7. Indiana Pacers

Sure, the Bucks suffered injuries to their two best players, but the Pacers showed that they can put up high point totals in a postseason situation. Indiana’s pace dropped from 102 in the regular season to 93 in their first-round series, but it still managed to score 119 points per 100 possessions — second in the NBA during the postseason. Tyrese Haliburton hit a game-winner in Game 3, but was disappointing overall with 16 points per game on subpar 30% 3-point shooting. Pascal Siakam ended up being the go-to scorer, putting up 22 points per game, including 73 combined in the first two games, on 55% field goals for the series. The question with the Pacers, as usual, is their defense, which allowed 117 points per 100 possessions (12th out of 16 playoff teams) to a Bucks squad missing Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard for much of the series.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers

To borrow an analogy from an anonymous CBS Sports colleague regarding the Cavs’ first-round performance: “Donovan Mitchell and the Cavs right now are like an eighth grade team with one really good kid.” If that doesn’t sum up their seven-game series win over the Orlando Magic, I don’t know what does. Mitchell was absolutely brilliant, scoring 89 points combined in the final two games alone, but overall Cleveland didn’t inspire much confidence in its ability to compete with the juggernaut Celtics in the second round. Jarrett Allen will certainly help if he’s able to return, but Darius Garland’s inconsistency and Evan Mobley’s no-shows will lead to blowout losses against Boston. On the plus side, Cleveland’s defense was pretty good against a not-so-great Magic offense.

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