The 16 NBA playoff teams, ranked by their championship chances

The bracket for the 2023 NBA Playoffs is finalized, and one of the most wide-open postseasons in league history is here.

The NBA has historically been a league that runs on superpowers, from Bill Russell’s Celtics to Magic Johnson’s Lakers to Michael Jordan’s Bulls to Tim Duncan’s Spurs to Steph Curry’s Warriors. It doesn’t really feel like there’s a team to beat this year. Instead, the parity we saw throughout the regular season is giving way to a playoff bracket that leaves more teams than ever before believing they have a real shot to win it all.

The Eastern Conference has three heavyweight teams at the top with the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Philadelphia 76ers all built to win a championship. The Western Conference feels far less likely to go chalk. Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets are the No. 1 seed, but almost every team in the West bracket can talk themselves into their path to the NBA Finals.

Here’s how we’d rank the 16 teams in the playoffs by their chances to win the 2023 championship. Our team of writers each ranked teams 1-16, and the final order is the averages of those rankings

16. Miami Heat (Eastern Conference No. 8 Seed)

The Heat came within a Jimmy Butler three-pointer of making the NBA Finals last season, but for a variety of reasons a similar roster played mediocre basketball throughout this year. The biggest culprit might have been a strange dip in three-point shooting: after finishing No. 1 in the NBA in three-point percentage in ‘21-22, the Heat were No. 27 in the same stat this year. Miami looked like a shell of itself in getting pounded by the Hawks in the first play-in game, but they rallied late in their next one to beat the Bulls and set up another playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat will never be an easy out, not with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Erik Spoelstra leading the way. The Heat are going to need to find a way to finally score some points when they face the Bucks, which is going to be extremely difficult against a top-five defense. This probably isn’t the Heat’s year, but they will certainly be annoying on the way out. — Ricky O’Donnell

15. Minnesota Timberwolves (Western Conference No. 8 Seed)

14. Atlanta Hawks (Eastern Conference No. 7 Seed)

This Hawks team just feels different from the previous years, even the one that made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021. Is this to say they’re going to make a deep run? No, but what this team has now is depth and players who can take the ball handling load off of Trae Young. Young once again finished in the top five in assists, and while the Dejounte Murray pairing didn’t lead to a ton of regular season wins, the Hawks are a more difficult team to prepare for as their win over Miami to open the play-in tournament showed. Perhaps the most important piece is big man Onyeka Okongwu. Against Miami in the Play-In game, Okongwu had 20 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, becoming a force on the defensive end. If he can consistently provide enough off the bench to spell Clint Capela, then the frontcourt becomes that much better. However, stars get you over the hump in the playoffs, and Trae Young will have to put on another show for Atlanta to make a playoff run. —J.P. Acosta

13. Brooklyn Nets (Eastern Conference No. 6 Seed)

The Brooklyn Nets’ superteam era has to go down as one of the biggest busts in NBA history. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden won one playoff series together before all forcing their way out, but the trades that sent them elsewhere helped stock Brooklyn with a perfectly respectable team. Mikal Bridges has emerged as the Nets’ go-to scorer since coming over from Phoenix, and it will be fascinating to see how to performs in a lead role in the playoffs for the first team in his career. The Nets have tons of knockdown three-point threats and a great defensive center in Nic Claxton around him. It feels like Brooklyn is still lacking a star who stirs the drink, but the length, shooting, and defensive versatility of this roster shouldn’t be discounted. Even if they don’t win a series, Brooklyn should still have something to build on with their new core with a good showing this postseason. — Ricky O’Donnell

12. Los Angeles Clippers (Western Conference No. 5 Seed)

This was supposed to be the year the Clippers finally made good on their superteam hype. As they enter the playoffs, it just doesn’t feel like it’s going to happen. The Clippers were a middling team most of the season, endured a Paul George injury at the worst possible time, and drew perhaps the toughest first round matchup with Kevin Durant’s Suns waiting. Kawhi Leonard has looked excellent as of late as he’s returned from a torn ACL, but it’s going to be tough to carry such a huge load on both ends of the floor with George likely sidelined throughout the first round. LA’s best chance is to spread the floor, bomb threes, and hope Phoenix’s own injury issues show up. Even if Leonard can be the best player on the floor against the Suns, it still feels like such an uphill fight just to win one round for a team that always had its sights on a championship. — Ricky O’Donnell

11. New York Knicks (Eastern Conference No. 5 Seed)

The last time the New York Knicks won a playoff series? You’d have to back to to the start of President Barack Obama’s second term in office, when the Knicks topped the Celtics in the first round of the 2012-13 NBA Playoffs. Obviously a lot has changed since then. New York added guard Jalen Brunson in free agency, and he’s averaged 24 ppg this season while dishing out a team-high 6.2 apg. Coupled with what the Knicks are getting from Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett — Randle led New York with 25.1 ppg this season and 10 rpg while Barrett added another 19.6 ppg — and you have a rather formidable trio. New York also ranks 12th in scoring offense (115.6 PPG) and 10th in scoring defense (112.5 PPG allowed), making them one of the more balanced teams left standing. Oh, and they received a pretty favorable draw in the Cavaliers, with the Knicks having won three of their four meetings this year, averaging 108.8 ppg in those four contests. Perhaps it is time to write a new chapter in the storied franchise’s history. — Mark Schofield

10. Sacramento Kings (Western Conference No. 3 Seed)

The last time the Kings were in the playoffs, George W. Bush was the president, Enron was on trial, and Rex Grossman was a Super Bowl quarterback. Sacramento ended the longest playoff drought in the four major American sports by building the most efficient offense in NBA history. The Kings have a simple formula: De’Aaron Fox attacks the basket with abandon as speediest guard in the league, Domantas Sabonis unlocks every halfcourt action with his playmaking, and a cavalry of shooters sprint around screens and knock down shots. The Kings are so much fun to watch, but they have two things working against them entering the playoffs: a defense that ranked No. 25 in the league, and a first round matchup with the defending champion Golden State Warriors. No one is going to give Sacramento much of a chance to beat Steph, Draymond, and company, but that also means the Kings feel like they’re playing with house money. An offense like this isn’t going to go out quietly no matter who they’re playing. — Ricky O’Donnell

9. Los Angeles Lakers (Western Conference No. 7 Seed)

The Lakers becoming one of the hottest teams in the NBA is dumb fun, and who doesn’t like dumb fun? Early in the season Los Angeles legitimately looked like one of the worst teams in the NBA. Their Russell Westbrook Big 3 dream quickly became a disaster where neither Russ, nor the Lakers looked comfortable playing together, and began the season at 2-10.

Then slowly, and without many people outside of Lakers fans really noticing, this team started to turn things around. First clawing their way back to .500, before catching fire in the final 20 games and posting a 13-7 record against some of the best teams in the NBA.

The return of D’Angelo Russell has been a huge boon. The emergence of Austin Reaves has been fascinating to watch — and this team is firing on all cylinders. Perhaps most importantly: For the first time in 2022-23 the Lakers are having fun playing basketball. On paper this isn’t remotely close to a championship team, but when you have LeBron and AD, anything is possible. — James Dator

8. Memphis Grizzlies (Western Conference No. 2 Seed)

It didn’t come without some bumps in the road, but the Grizzlies are back in the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies will be missing some frontcourt depth with Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke both likely out for the playoffs, according to Woj. However, the Grizzlies still have potential Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins plays a lot of guys in his rotation, and will have to dig even deeper to combat the injuries in the frontcourt. Oh yeah, that Ja Morant guy is also pretty good. Despite a small dip in field goal percentage and points per game, his assist numbers are up and he’s now fully back after being suspended by the NBA. If Jaren Jackson Jr. can continue his high level of play without getting into foul trouble, the Grizzlies are going to be a tough out. —J.P. Acosta

7. Golden State Warriors (Western Conference No. 6 Seed)

The Warriors suffered less from a championship hangover this season, and more from internal drama, prolonged absences for their best players, and losing some key bench pieces over the offseason. The fact that Golden State was able to climb out of the play-in tournament feels like a huge win in itself, and now there’s reason to believe this team can go on another deep run. Stephen Curry is healthy, Andrew Wiggins is back in the lineup, and Draymond Green is always at his best when the games count the most. The Warriors’ biggest obstacle as a No. 6 seed might be the lack of home court advantage: Golden State went just 11-30 on the road this year, and will have to win at least one road game in every series to claim back-to-back titles. If the Warriors can get Wiggins and Gary Payton II back to playing at their top level like they did last postseason, another championship run isn’t out of the question despite such a mediocre regular season. — Ricky O’Donnell

6. Cleveland Cavaliers (Eastern Conference No. 4 Seed)

For the first time since 1998 the Cleveland Cavaliers have made the postseason without LeBron James in the lineup, and they’ve done it thanks to their fearsome foursome of superstar scorer Donovan Mitchell, dynamic distributor Darius Garland, defensive stalwart Jarrett Allen and sophomore sensation Evan Mobley. They were the #1 defense in the entire NBA during the regular season and played at the slowest pace, which should work in their favor considering the postseason is a slower and more physical game. The Cavs are clearly an ascending team, the average age of their starting lineup is just 23.5 years old, but this will be the first postseason experience for Garland and Mobley so expectations need to be tempered. This is not a team that is ready to compete for a championship, but the results of their first round matchup with the Knicks and a potential second round battle against the Milwaukee Bucks will show us just how close they are to getting there. — Jacolby Hart

5. Denver Nuggets (Western Conference No. 1 Seed)

The Nuggets have waited two long years for their chance to prove themselves as the NBA’s best team. Denver appeared to be on the brink in 2021 with Nikola Jokic emerging as an MVP-level superstar, and a shrewd trade deadline addition of Aaron Gordon giving the team a badly needed injection of athleticism and defensive heft — then Jamal Murray tore his ACL at the end of that regular season, and the Nuggets knew they didn’t really have a shot until he came back. After missing the playoffs the last two years, Murray has looked like his old self for the most part this season in his return to the lineup, and that means the excuses for Denver are over. This team has one of the best offenses in the league with Jokic’s incredible combination of playmaking and scoring efficiency at the center of the attack. Michael Porter Jr. will knock down threes, Gordon will score on cuts and putbacks around the rim, and Murray’s off-the-dribble shot-making provides a fallback plan when all else fails. The real question for Denver is on the defensive end: Jokic’s slow feet are going to be targeted in high pick-and-rolls throughout this run, and it’s on Gordon, Bruce Brown, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to make the right rotations. For a No. 1 seed, it sure feels like no one believes in the Nuggets — especially with a Suns matchup looming in the second round — but this team has the superstar, the shooting, and enough defensive pieces to win the whole thing. Doubt Denver at your own peril. — Ricky O’Donnell

4. Philadelphia 76ers (Eastern Conference No. 3 Seed)

This might be the best team the Philadelphia 76ers have ever put around Joel Embiid, and the stakes have been higher. Philly has all the pieces to win the championship: Embiid is playing an MVP level, James Harden has been masterful as a pick-and-roll facilitator, and Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey are both capable of carrying the offense for long stretches on the right night. The Sixers enter the playoffs in the top-10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency, and feel like they have a deep roster around Embiid than ever before. Still, there are real playoff demons to reckon with: Harden’s disappearing act in the playoffs is well known, and Doc Rivers has a long history of blowing it in the postseason, as well. With Harden as an impending free agent with serious chatter about a Rockets reunion swirling around, it feels like it’s now or never for the 76ers. The talent is there, but the path — a potential second round series vs. Boston, then an Eastern Conference Finals meeting with the Bucks — is treacherous. If Philly gets its championship, they will have truly earned it. — Ricky O’Donnell

3. Phoenix Suns (Western Conference No. 4 Seed)

The Suns mortgaged their future in a midseason trade for Kevin Durant, in the process putting championship-or-bust expectations on every season with him moving forward. Phoenix barely knows what its team looks like with KD after the superstar only played eight games in his new uniform because of injuries, but the Suns went unbeaten during that stretch. While Durant and Devin Booker will get all of the attention, the Suns’ playoff success might really lie on Deandre Ayton playing with force around the basket, role players stepping up to hit key shots, and Chris Paul finding an extra gear for one more playoff run. The Suns probably have the highest ceiling of any team in the West, but they have to come together immediately after such a short runway. Can a championship team really be built overnight? We’re about to find out. — Ricky O’Donnell

2. Boston Celtics (Eastern Conference No. 2 Seed)

A season ago the Boston Celtics put together a somewhat surprising run to the Finals. Yet, despite preseason turmoil that saw the departure of then-head coach Ime Udoka right before training camp, the Celtics look to be a better — and deeper — team than they were a season ago. Derrick White took a massive step forward in his first full season with the team, starting 70 games and playing in all 82, the only player on the roster to appear in every game. White averaged 12.4 points per game while shooting 46.2 percent from the floor and a career-best 38.1 percent from 3-point range, putting himself into the conversation as one of the MVPs of the team. Malcolm Brogdon put himself into contention for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, as all of his 1,000 points this year came off the bench, third-most among players in the NBA this season. Jayson Tatum slipped out of the league MVP discussion over the winter but is still one of the best players in the league, and he forms a tremendous one-two duo with Jaylen Brown, who himself is in the mix for an All-Second or All-Third Team spot. If the Celtics can avoid some of the offensive meltdowns the ended their run at a title a season ago — and given that Boston ranked seventh in turnover percentage this season, a marked improvement from a year ago — there is every reason to expect the Celtics to make another deep run. — Mark Schofield

1. Milwaukee Bucks (Eastern Conference No. 1 Seed)

This will be the fifth straight season the Milwaukee Bucks enter the NBA Playoffs as one of the biggest title favorites. We know the Bucks can win the championship because we’ve seen them do it before, back when Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped 50 points in an all-time title clincher performance during Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals. The Bucks failed at going back-to-back when Khris Middleton went down in last year’s playoffs with a knee injury, and his health is again a big question this year in part because we mostly know what we’re getting with the rest of the Bucks’ core. Antetokounmpo remains the best player in the world for my money with a rare ability to dominate the game on both ends of floor. Jrue Holiday has had an incredible season in Middleton’s absence, and is still one of the best two-way guards alive. Brook Lopez is still protecting the rim on defense and stretching the floor on offense, and Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, Bobby Portis, and Pat Connaughton have to knock down shots and defend. If Middleton can regain the half-court shot-making that was so essential to Milwaukee’s championship run two years ago, the Bucks feel like the most complete team in the league. — Ricky O’Donnell