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Eastern Conference Power Rankings: New hope for New York and Boston

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Eastern Conference is a strange place right now. It’s only November and it’s probably safe to bet that only three teams in the Eastern Conference have any sort of shot of walking away with a title this year, one of which would have to get incredibly hot (Atlanta), one of which would probably have to make a trade or two (Miami) and, the other, the Cavs, of course, would have to stay healthy. Maybe I’m jumping the gun. I’m not a big fan of predicting anything this early, but the rest of the conference seems to be dwelling on the bottom, stuck in limbo or are a rebuilding team that’s actually trying to be competitive, but just isn’t there yet. And, right now, those are the most interesting teams in the Eastern Conference.

15. Philadelphia 76ers (0-11)

I’m not sure how much longer it will be before a lack of results interrupts The Process, but my guess is next year. They’re already pot committed to tanking again this year and will land another top lottery pick next year, but I think there will be more pressure on Hinkie to try to add some additional talent and a few veterans via free agency, so they’re not a dumpster fire of an NBA team for yet another year. That said, I like Jahlil Okafor, who is averaging 19.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and Nerlens Noel, but they have to add depth and, you know, some guards and wings and little things like that. On the bright side, they have more promise than the next team on this list, who really aren’t even worth talking about.

14. Brooklyn Nets (2-9)

13. Charlotte Hornets (5-6)

12. Orlando Magic (5-6)

11. Milwaukee Bucks (5-6)

10. Indiana Pacers (6-5)

9. New York Knicks (6-6)

Now that the dust has settled a bit — and the New York fans who were booing and crying during the draft probably now own Kristaps Porzingis jerseys — there’s something interesting happening here. Melo is back to looking a part-time scoring machine, who can get hot and bury you when he feels so inclined, and Porzingis looks better every game, from throwing put-back dunks on three different power forwards last week (this is relevant because of the litany of assumptions that he was soft before the season due to his body type) to dropping 29 points and pulling down 11 rebounds last night in a win over the Hornets. So, now that Porzingis is someone who is ready to impact games right now, but still has a ways to go development-wise, and Melo is on the tail-end of his prime, there’s a bit of a dilemma: go all in with this team — which with the hour glass draining they would have to get pretty wild next offseason — or try to jumpstart the rebuilding process by having a firesale later this season? They have room to rise or fall.

8. Washington Wizards (5-4)

7. Boston Celtics (6-4)

Boston is sitting in rebuilding paradise, with a wealth of picks and assets and a team that’s actually watchable — and one that will probably make the playoffs and still have a good chance at having a higher pick than the 76ers next year. They actually have four first-rounders next year, each of which has a chance of materializing (besides their first, they have the Nets’ unprotected first, Dallas’ top-7 protected and Timberwolves’ top-12 protected). But, even right now, they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Boston is a well-coached, hard-playing team that’s already beaten the Wizards, Bucks, Hawks, Thunder and Rockets.

6. Toronto Raptors (7-5)

5. Detroit Pistons (6-5)

4. Chicago Bulls (7-3)

3. Miami Heat (6-4)

The Miami Heat are a dangerous team if they stay healthy. With proven veterans, who may not be what they used to, but, sans any sort of lingering pain to slow them down, can still play at a relatively high level — Dwayne Wade is averaging 17.1 points per game and is still armed with that savvy vision, while Bosh is putting up 18.1 points and 9.4 rebounds. Add Dragic, Whiteside and a quickly-developing Justise Winslow to the mix. Then factor in Loui Deng, a surprising Tyler Johnson and taking a chance on an aging Amar’e Stoudemire. They are both in a position to become a lot better with this squad or make a mid-season trade. Of course, they could also fall apart, but I’m certainly not counting them out.

2. Atlanta Hawks (8-5)

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-3)