I live in Minnesota and I primarily cover the Timberwolves, so I am all #TeamWesternConference. I like comparing potential Eastern and Western All-Star teams and wondering if the guys who get left off the Western team could beat the Eastern squad. I take great pleasure in pointing out the fact that there are just three teams in the East (Toronto, Washington and Atlanta) with winning records versus Western teams. And I enjoy bringing up the East's 34 percent mark against the West as much as the next guy.
But damn if it isn't tough to do these power rankings because there are five legitimate teams that keep seesawing for the top spot. Cleveland, Toronto, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington have all been right in the mix, and while the Western Conference playoffs promise to be a bloodbath of Biblical proportions, the Eastern final four ought to be plenty entertaining as well.
With that, here are the vaunted Fear the Sword Eastern Conference Power Rankings. Agree, disagree, have a team you'd like to see us feature next week? Let us know in the comments here, Facebook or Twitter. Last week's ranking in parentheses:
1. Atlanta Hawks (5)
The day after Christmas, 2013, Al Horford was injured in a double overtime Atlanta victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The win left the Hawks sitting at 16-13, good enough for third in the Eastern Conference. Five days later, the team confirmed that Horford had torn his right pectoral muscle and was done for the season. The Hawks went 22-31 the rest of the way, and though they memorably pushed Indiana to the brink in their first round playoff matchup, without Horford, the team just wasn't the same.
Fast forward nearly a year. Horford hasn't missed a single game in the new season, and neither has Paul Millsap or Kyle Korver. In their second go-round under Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks have really taken off, improving from 15th in both offensive and defensive efficiency last year to top-10 in each category this season. Under the guidance of point guard Jeff Teague, the Hawks have the best assist percentage in the NBA (67.7 percent, more than three points better than the next closest team) and the fourth-best True Shooting percentage at 57 percent.
They just had a heck of a week, too, beating the Bulls at home, steamrolling Cleveland at the Q and knocking off the Rockets in Houston. Ten of their next 15 games will be played away from home, including visits to Dallas, Portland, Los Angeles (to play the good L.A. team), Chicago and Toronto, so we'll learn a lot about this team over the next four weeks. For now, they occupy the top spot in the vaunted Fear the Sword Power Rankings. If only they could fill their dang arena...
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (2)
3. Toronto Raptors (4)
4. Washington Wizards (1)
They didn't really do anything wrong, but somebody had to drop in the rankings. It's nothing personal. Just leave it alone, random Wizards person who has stumbled across this humble Cavs blog. "They don't deserve to fall three spots, they went 3-0 this week!" I thought you'd bring that up. "The Wizards are 3.5 games up on the Cavaliers in the standings!" Well, that's true, but... "John Wall is better than Kyrie." OH, NOW YOU'VE CROSSED THE LINE, Wizards fan I invented in my head for the purposes of this paragraph. Guess what, pal? You're blocked. How do you like them apples?
5. Chicago Bulls (5)
6. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
The last time Jason Kidd was part of a losing team for a full season was 1995-96, his second year in the league. He was part of the Mavericks' 2011 NBA title, the Knicks' last good team (2012-13), the Nets' playoff run a year ago, and now spearheads the Bucks' resurgence (14-14, just one win shy of their 2013-14 total). As corny and hot-takey as it sounds, the guy is a winner. He's also a bit slimy and Machiavellian but hey, whatcha gonna do?
Milwaukee is a great basketball town when the team is good (stop laughing) and has a rich NBA history. With new money and a renewed spirit buoying their efforts, they continue to be one of the best stories of the 2014-15 season. This week, on a west coast swing, they beat the Suns and Kings and stayed close to both the Blazers and Clippers, impressive for a team that lost Jabari Parker to a torn ACL and whose remaining primary core is 20 (Giannis Antetokounmpo), 23 (Brandon Knight) and 26 (Larry Sanders) years old.
Can they survive the loss of Parker? Time will tell. The return of Ersan Ilyasova, provided he is healthy and somewhat motivated, will help mitigate the loss at the three and four spots. As long as Knight keeps looking competent, O.J. Mayo is invested and Giannis continues improving, it seems safe to predict that the young Bucks will be a playoff team.
7. Boston Celtics (10)
8. Miami Heat (8)
9. Brooklyn Nets (7)
10. Charlotte Hornets (10)
11. Indiana Pacers (14)
12. Orlando Magic (9)
Losers of four in a row and six of their past seven, including a home loss to Philadelphia last night. Jacque Vaughn's got to be on the hot seat, right?
13. New York Knicks (13)
14. Detroit Pistons (12)
15. Philadelphia 76ers (15)
But hey, at least the Sixers won last night! They've improved to 3-23!