Now that I’ve completed all my division previews and given brief thoughts on every team’s offseason and 2024 outlook, it’s time for a bit of an overview on what that will look like at the conference level. I will note as I did in the division previews that I don’t do the math to make sure that these projections are mathematically possible – they are simple guesses based on needing to play 82 games. I’ll also share some very, very early predictions on how I think the NBA playoffs might go.

Predicted Eastern Conference Standings

1. Milwaukee 52-30

2. Cleveland 52-30

3. Boston 52-30

4. Philadelphia 49-33

5. New York 47-37

6. Miami 46-36

7. Atlanta 46-36

8. Orlando 41-41

9. Indiana 41-41

10. Chicago 38-44

11. Toronto 37-45

12. Brooklyn 34-48

13. Washington 29-53

14. Detroit 28-54

15. Charlotte 27-55


Obviously, it’s unlikely that three teams end with 52 wins, two at 46, and two more at 41, but again, these are rough. This is also pending the Harden and Lillard trades, which could bump or lower the Heat or Sixers depending on the packages. Overall, I think Milwaukee, Boston, and Cleveland are the highest floor regular season teams, but Miami and Philadelphia probably have more “championship equity” than Cleveland barring a star leap from Evan Mobley. New York should be very good in the regular season as well, but they don’t have a Tier I or even Tier II star, so it’s tough to see them winning more than a round or maybe two in the playoffs. I feel similarly about the Hawks, who have very good players but shaky depth and a star in Trae Young who is maybe the worst defender in the NBA.

The rest of the conference can be lumped into three tiers, in my opinion. The next tier up are the Pacers and Magic, two younger teams who played at an around .500 level when their point guards (Tyrese Haliburton and Markelle Fultz) were healthy. Both teams can count on natural progression from their younger players, while the Pacers also made some nice free agency adds with Bruce Brown and Obi Toppin. Both teams could be a bit worse and fall into the lower tier, but also have upside for hitting the Hawks/Knicks tier as well. Then come the Bulls, Raptors, and Nets, all more veteran-heavy teams with fairly limited upside and potential for blow-ups if things go south. I think the Nets have the most upside, but also probably the lowest floor. Finally, we have the Wizards, Pistons, and Hornets, who are all very young and will probably be very bad, though each of them should be pretty fun to watch.

Predicted Western Conference Standings

1. Denver 54-28

2. Phoenix 53-29

3. Memphis 50-32

4. Sacramento 48-34

5. Los Angeles Lakers 47-35

6. Dallas 46-36

7. Los Angeles Clippers 46-36

8. Golden State 45-37

9. Minnesota 45-37

10. New Orleans 44-38

11. Oklahoma City 43-39

12. Utah 33-49

13. Houston 28-54

14. Portland 27-55

15. San Antonio 26-56


I have projected an incredible 11 teams in the Western Conference to win at least 43 games, but only two winning more than 50. That speaks to the parity we saw in the West last year as well as the fact that so many teams are really going for it this season. At least one of those 11 won’t even make the play-in, and if you told fans of any of those teams now that their team would miss the postseason entirely they probably wouldn’t believe you.

The other tough part is that some of the teams in the West with the lowest floors – Warriors due to age and some roster uncertainty, Clippers and Lakers with age and injury concerns, and Pelicans with Zion’s whole situation – also have the highest ceilings. On the other hand, Sacramento, Dallas, and Minnesota all have more stability (Dallas missed the postseason last year but it was a bit of a worst case scenario and Luka looks very healthy) but lower ceilings. It’s a complete mess, and you could tell me almost any of those 11 teams won the conference and I wouldn’t be *that* surprised.

At the bottom of the conference are four teams, the Jazz, Rockets, Blazers, and Spurs. The Jazz were competent last year but traded away a lot of their veterans and have no urgency to win. The Rockets signed a bunch of veterans and should be a lot more competent this year, but I didn’t love most of their signings outside of Fred VanVleet and their core roster is still very young. The Blazers should lean into the tank once they trade Dame, though depending on their return they could be decent. And finally, while the Spurs do have Wemby, their roster is extremely young and will need time before they’re playoff ready.

Playoff Predictions

If the Heat do make the Lillard trade, it’s hard for me to not put them back in the NBA Finals. Erik Spoelstra is always able to magic up depth from the fringes of rosters, and a troika of Dame-Jimmy-Bam is an awesome group in both overall talent and fit. The Bucks continue to age, though I do think a major mid-season move could be on the horizon for them. The Sixers are pending the Harden trade, and I hated the Smart trade for the Celtics. If the Lillard deal doesn’t happen I would still lean Celtics for Eastern Conference champs but not feel good about it. My dark horse is the Cavs, who were awful in the first round last year but have much better depth this year and one more year of experience for their young guys.

The West is even tougher. I will say the Nuggets as of right now: the loss of Bruce Brown will hurt them a lot, and it seems unlikely they’ll be as healthy again as they were in 2023, but Jokic is the best player in the NBA and the Nuggets’ awesome starting lineup is still intact. The Suns are probably the closest challenger with their star scoring trio and decent enough depth, though injuries and Durant’s age are a huge worry with them. Even though I have the Thunder 11th, they’re also maybe my dark horse candidate to far exceed expectations if some of their myriad young guys take steps forward. The Lakers, Clippers, and Warriors all have the upside to win the West, but have major injury and age concerns that prevent me from marking any of them.

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