In the interest of full disclosure: I missed the Monday deadline for your vaunted Fear the Sword Eastern Conference Power Rankings. I was just too pumped for Tinder night, too busy celebrating the Smoove-less Pistons, too enamored with watching Stan Van Gundy talking about forming walls to get it in before today.
It won't happen again.
The previous week's ranking is in parentheses. This week, we'll be highlighting the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets. As always, if there's a team you'd like to see featured, let us know in the comments section below!
1. Atlanta Hawks (1)
Man, I really wanted to go off the grid and do this for the top spot:
1. Smooveless Detroit Pistons, 7-0 (previously unranked)
But I just couldn't bring myself to do it (more on them later). Instead, let's swipe right on Tinder night.
How freaking genius was that? Tied for the second-best record in basketball, the Hawks are still 24th in the league in attendance, but it's not for lack of trying. While some may feel it's a bit gimmicky and perhaps a tad minor-league-baseball-kitsch, it's refreshing to see marketing, social media and game operations people work so well together to get people talking about their team. There were over 1,000 extra butts (scandalous, scandalous butts) in the seats for Tinder night than their average home game.
It also helps to have Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, plus talented and skilled role players coming off the bench, all managed by a very good coach with an innovative system. Plus, it seems like the team has found a match for a new ownership group, leaving the apathetic former regime in the past. Things are looking up in the ATL.
2. Toronto Raptors (3)
3. Chicago Bulls (2)
4. Washington Wizards (4)
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (5)
Yes, everybody is hurt, and yes, they'll probably be fine once everyone comes back, even though they'll need time to gel and figure out rotations. Right now, their goal ought to be overcoming Washington for the 4th seed (they currently trail by 5.5 games) in order to secure home court advantage for their inevitable first round showdown.
6. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
They gave Kenyon Martin a ten day contract? Does he know where Jason Kidd has hidden some bodies, or something? You know what, don't answer that.
7. Brooklyn Nets (7)
8. Detroit Pistons (13)
I love this ridiculous, crazy league. Since telling Josh Smith to take his millions, poor attitude, and crappy shot selection and kindly hit the friggin' road, Stan Van Gundy's Wall Builders are undefeated (7-0). Sure, the Nets, Pacers, Magic and Knicks are hardly a murderers row of opponents, but they've also beaten the Cavs and taken both ends of a Texas back-to-back in San Antonio and Dallas. In all, five of the seven victories on their current streak have come outside of Motown.
The front line of Drummond and Monroe has been better since Smith has been gone, probably because they have slightly more space to operate. Brandon Jennings and Jodie Meeks have both been hot, particularly from downtown. And the team's defense over the streak has improved nearly ten points over their season average. What to make of the new Pistons? Can they keep playing anywhere close to this level for the rest of the season?
Unfortunately, as the great Seth Partnow pointed out via Twitter, the Pistons are really just hitting an insane amount of midrange jumpers at the moment. And during their winning streak, Detroit's assist percentage has actually gone down (52.5% during past 7 games, 56.5% overall), so theories about Smith killing the ball movement may be slightly exaggerated.
If nothing else, the Pistons should bring a little excitement to the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race (no, seriously, they're just 3 games out of the final spot).
9. Miami Heat (8)
10. Indiana Pacers (10)
11. Charlotte Hornets (11)
Before waiving Josh Smith was the thing that seemed to turn a poor team's season around, it was Lance Stephenson. The Hornets won four straight when he first went down, then lost five in a row, and now they've quietly put together a three game winning streak, bringing their total Lance-less record to 7-5. The loss of Al Jefferson hurts big time, but if they find their defensive mojo again, they, too could bring a little bit of life to the race for the final spots in the East.
12. Boston Celtics (12)
13. Orlando Magic (9)
14. Philadelphia 76ers (14)
15. New York Knicks (15)
Their bench last night read like a Summer League lineup: Shane Larkin, Cleanthony Early, Langston Galloway, Travis Wear and Jason Smith. Tough times in the Big Apple.