This week, FTS' power rankings take a look at the Cavaliers, Nets and Pacers. As usual, if there is a team you'd like to see us cover, tweet us at @FearTheSword or me personally at @cwmwrites.
1. Washington Wizards (1)
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (2)
The Cavaliers have won eight of their past 10 games, although coming into tonight's game against the Hornets the Cavs have lost two straight. Out of those two losses, only the Pelicans loss feels like a game that got away. LeBron James scored 41 with Luke Babbitt defending him and Anthony Davis only played seven minutes due to a chest contusion, but the Cavs ultimately lost 119-114. In comparison, the Thunder game that saw the Cavs take on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook without LeBron felt like the Cavs did the best considering Cleveland finished shooting 36.5 percent from the field.
Still, everything is looking up for the Cavs after their perplexing awful start. There are some short term injuries piling up - Mike Miller is out another week or so with a concussion, both Dion Waiters and Matthew Dellavedova are day to day - but if the Cavs had beaten the Pelicans, they would have been No. 1 in these rankings. Depending on how the Wizards, Bulls and Raptors do this week, the Cavs could be No. 1 this time next week. Going 3-1 or 4-0 against the Hornets, Hawks, Nets and Grizzlies as part of a five-game home stand would speaking volumes about this team. Saturday's Memphis matchup, considering how good the Grizzlies have been his season, stands out as the must watch game of the week.
3. Chicago Bulls (5)
4. Toronto Raptors (4)
5. Atlanta Hawks (3)
6. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
7. Brooklyn Nets (8)
The Nets, like the Pacers, are reportedly interested in acquiring Lance Stephenson. Stephenson is from Brooklyn and seemingly willing to work with a player who has already lost fourth quarter minutes in Charlotte. Paired with a report from ESPN's Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk that the Nets are willing to trade Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and/or Brook Lopez, it's hard to figure out from the outside what's going on with the Nets. In the ESPN report, sources told Stein and Youngmisuk that the Nets aren't just looking to dump salary from their $94 million dollar payroll and want to win right now.
In reality, the Nets are 8-11 with an older roster and are on path to playing Cleveland, Chicago and Toronto in the first round. No one would blame them for trying to dump anyone of those three albatross contracts on another team and/or pulling off a Stephenson trade. In reality, the Nets are going to be what they are right now and, barring a team willing to take a contract before the deadline, see what ultimately becomes of this team. You can't dump really expensive players with little upside and expect to get franchise defining talent in return.
The lone bright spot is the minor resurgence of Williams, who has battled lots of injuries over the past few seasons. His raw shooting numbers are down, but he looks spry and is moving more fluid than he has in years past.
8. Miami Heat (9)
9. Orlando Magic (7)
10. Boston Celtics (10)
11. Charlotte Hornets (12)
12. Detroit Pistons (15)
13. New York Knicks (13)
Let's check in on the Knicks, a team just barely better than the 76ers.
14. Indiana Pacers (11)
Losers of eight straight, the Pacers are downright dreadful. Indiana is still battling injuries and an offense that featured Stephenson and Paul George has continued to descend into an abyss. Barring something unexpected happening - say the Pacers get healthy, C.J. Miles and/or Rodney Stuckey rebound and someone out of the Heat/Bucks/Hawks group falls off a cliff - Indiana is lottery bound. That's partly what makes Indiana a team to monitor the rest of the season.
Say the Pacers end up picking in the back end of the lottery. At that spot in the draft, the Pacers will have a nice group of players to pick from. My personal favorite (a tip of the hat to FTS' Trevor Magnotti for the idea) is Kansas freshman Cliff Alexander. Alexander is raw, but you can play him behind David West for a few years as West heads into his late thirties. Other options are two wings - D'Angelo Russell from Ohio State and Caris LeVert from Michigan - that would pair nicely with George.
The Pacers, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, have also talked to Hornets about trading for Stephenson. He's been horrible in Charlotte this season while falling out Steve Clifford's fourth quarter rotation and hasn't meshed well with the recently extended Kemba Walker. The Nets are also reportedly interested and, while Stephenson is from New York, Indiana was the place he found his place in the league. Perhaps a reunion would be good for both sides now and into the foreseeable future, provided Indiana isn't coaxed giving up anything substantial.
But maybe it doesn't happen. But the next eight months or so, with George presumably coming back at the beginning of next season, are going to be interesting in Indiana - just not for reasons that are particularly comforting from the Pacers perspective.
15. Philadelphia 76ers (14)