This past week in the Eastern Conference got weird.
Several top Eastern Conference teams continued long win streaks from last week, and several teams who had been struggling continued to struggle. However, there were also a bunch of teams who looked solid for a couple of games, then crapped the bed in one game, or vice/versa. The Nets beat the Spurs and got trounced by the Hawks. The Raptors looked great on a West coast back-to-back, then lost to the Cavs at home by 14. The Bulls went toe-to-toe with the Mavs and Warriors, but that was sandwiched between a struggle to beat the Hornets. The bottom of the conference.......just wait, we'll get there. But for now, let's start off our power rankings with a new Number One, a team on a win streak that isn't the Cavs:
1. Washington Wizards (4)
The Wizards have been on a tear since last week's loss to the Cavs, beating the Heat, Lakers, and Nuggets all at home by double-digits. Bradley Beal has been fun in his return, and if they're getting huge contributions from role players like Rasual Butler (23 points against Miami) and Kris Humphries (20 vs. Denver), it's going to be really tough to keep up with them at full strength. They looked the most impressive last week, and get another week of lead-padding (another game against Boston, at Orlando, at Utah) surrounding a big test Friday at the Clippers. They should take at least three of four this week and make their record justify this ranking.
UPDATE: I wrote this Sunday morning before their loss to the Celtics. Given last week, when Justin picked the Raptors and they lost to the Lakers on Sunday, I'm opening the idea that this spot is cursed.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (2)
The comfortable win over Toronto on Friday was very impressive for a road back-to-back, but Tuesday and Thursday's three-point wins over the Bucks (Not great defense) and Knicks (Ugly Offense) keep them from ascending at all this week.
3. Atlanta Hawks (5)
The Hawks have quietly won six straight behind the best point guard play in the league. Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder have been unstoppable offensively, prompting a fantastic profile of Schroder from Grantland's Zach Lowe. The two are breathtaking to watch, and watching Schroder - a player I loved in the 2013 Draft process - dissect Jarrett Jack on Friday brought me much glee. They're also getting great play from their bench as a whole right now and hitting a ton of threes. This might be my favorite East team to watch right now, and have gone nowhere but up since the Cavs vivisected them a few weeks ago.
4. Toronto Raptors (1)
Move down three spots because they didn't look impressive against the Cavs and lost to the Lakers last Sunday. Their defense is a trainwreck right now without Demar DeRozan as their perimeter fulcrum: a 116.7 DRtg for the week is awful.
5. Chicago Bulls (3)
Tough schedule with a double-OT game, a back-to-back, and a game against the league-leading Golden State Warriors, but without Taj Gibson their defense has been suspect.
6. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
Had competitive losses to tough teams and wrecked the Heat at home. Good enough to stand pat. Who's excited for Kevin Durant vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo Tuesday?
7. Orlando Magic (11)
The Magic? Yes. They finished a hellacious six-game road swing this week, and looked very good, beating the Jazz and Kings and putting a serious scare into the Warriors. They've been a tough contest most nights this season, and Tobias Harris is quickly becoming one of my favorite players to watch. Harris averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists last week on a TS% of 60.8. He carried the team to their win over the Kings with a 27-point effort, and has been their best offensive player this season. He's a matchup nightmare for opposing forwards and Magic lineups with Harris and Frye as the frontcourt are really starting to click. If you're willing to forgive their 28-point ass-kicking by the Los Angeles Clippers (Winners of seven straight and unstoppable offense right now), the Magic had a very, very promising week.
8. Brooklyn Nets (9)
Did you know Jarrett Jack is hitting 11 percent on 3-pointers this season and still averaging an attempt per game? That's about all you need to know about how Brooklyn's season is going.
9. Miami Heat (7)
Continue to oscillate between exciting and horrible depending on their health. Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts, and Norris Cole all missed time this week, and they lost every game by double-digits.
10. Boston Celtics (10)
Stand pat because they gave Atlanta a game, and beat the Lakers by 17 before winning against Washington yesterday. Also, Tyler Zeller had 24/14 in that Lakers game. Miss u, boo.
11. Indiana Pacers (8)
The other team on a West road trip currently, and they lost three games to the Suns, Blazers, and Kings. That 88-82 slugfest against Portland Thursday is up their for least watchable game of the season.
12. Charlotte Hornets (14)
13. New York Knicks (12)
14. Philadelphia 76ers (T-Kentucky)
THAT'S RIGHT, SUCKAHS! The Sixers had a better record this week than the Bulls, Heat, Bucks, and Pacers. They beat the Timberwolves and Pistons, and gave the Spurs and Thunder close contests. Michael Carter-Williams looks like the MCW that tore up the league last November, and their defense has suddenly crept up to around league average. Who cares that they can't score and that the Timberwolves game was like a bad Big Ten game? The Sixers are currently not the worst team in basketball, because.......
15. Detroit Pistons (13)
The Sixers aren't trying as a franchise and have won two of four. The Pistons are trying as a franchise and have dropped twelve straight. They're doing this despite Brandon Jennings somehow looking functional offensively for the first time in three years. They lost to the Lakers AND 76ers this week. Pistons, it's a dubious honor to welcome you to the bottom. Just remember, had you only lost one of those two games.........