No huge lead up today, as there really isn't much to discuss in terms of the overall East picture. There of course has been some shuffling of deck chairs at the bottom of the playoff picture, with the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics replacing the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets as the 7th and 8th seeds. Other than that, the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers have still looked 10x better than anyone else in the conference, the Chicago Bulls are still sad, the Milwuakee Bucks still can't string three quality performances together, and the Toronto Raptors might be tanking. Naturally, the only teams who have majorly improved have been the Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic, my two go-to whipping boys in these here Power Rankings for most of the season. So today, I guess I have to be nice.
1. Atlanta Hawks (1)
Consecutive losses to the Thunder and Warriors on the road are nothing to be ashamed of. The Hawks have regressed majorly of late, going just 6-4 in their last 10, but after their Sunday tilt with the Spurs, the schedule lightens up a lot for them. Plenty of time to fine tune for the playoffs.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (2)
The team seems just ready for the playoffs to start, and a trio of the Miami loss, the sluggish Brooklyn start, and the struggle to combat whatever voodoo hex C.J. Miles put on the team when he left raises some questions about the team. But, as opposed to earlier this season, it more seems like they're on autopilot. Wouldn't be surprised if they started giving guys more regular rest here soon.
3. Chicago Bulls (3)
The Bulls have definitely not been good lately, but they picked up two nice double-digit wins over the Pacers and Raptors this week. Their offense isn't scoring at a great rate (99.6 ORtg in the last 10), but their offense has shifted to a much larger perimeter focus, and that's worked for them. Chicago has shot 36.1 percent from three in that stretch, and they're taking almost 24.9 threes per game. They could be better, because Aaron Brooks and Nikola Mirotic are combining to hit 25.9 percent on 10.8 threes per game, but it's a nice philosophy shift to see after how this offense has looked in the past under Tom Thibodeau without Derrick Rose.
Mirotic in particular has put on the after-burners without Rose, averaging 21/8 over the last 10. He's so fun to watch. He pump fakes way too much, but he's cut down on that lately, and when he does it, guys bite consistently, somehow. He's a superb passer, and actually a pretty decent rebounder for a young, undersized big. Mirotic's ability to get to the line has also been pretty nice for a team that will take all the points they can get from there. Mirotic has played himself into the Rookie of the Year discussion, and one of the few perks of the Bulls being so ridiculously injured is that he has gotten increased playing time.
4. Washington Wizards (7)
Last night's trouncing by the Clippers notwithstanding, the Wizards finally have started putting a string of competent basketball games together. They're 7-3 in their last 10, putting up a +7.7 Net rating and a very healthy 51.6 eFG% over that span. Washington's offense has been what has made them look like a borderline lottery team for much of the second half of the season, but it's finally coming around.
There have been several reasons for this upturn on offense for the Wizards. Probably most notable is that Marcin Gortat has been a monster inside, finishing everything from the field at a 66.7 percent field goal percentage over this recent solid stretch. Gortat's rediscovered his touch in the PNR in recent weeks, and the Wizards have been running it for him regularly with good results. It helps that John Wall is still cooking, of course, but Gortat's looked very good of late.
Drew Gooden and Kevin Seraphin have also emerged over this stretch as a pretty dynamite frountcourt pairing with Kris Humphries out. Both are also seeing the same positive trending with finishing as Gortat, and that's also been because the Wizards have been sharing the ball more, and things like Gooden ISO long twos and Seraphin post-ups aren't coming with as high a frequency as we've seen at times this year. It's also worth noting that it is a miracle of modern medicine that Drew Gooden can still play 21 NBA minutes a night and be productive in those minutes.
Can they sustain this positive movement into the playoffs? Who knows. But for right now, they're playing way, way better than either of the next two teams on the list, and that's why they're back at number 4.
5. Toronto Raptors (4)
The Raptors haven't beaten a team with a winning record since February 20th, in a win over the Hawks. FEBRUARY. 20TH. ONE MONTH AGO. They've won three of four, but still, this team doesn't have a whole lot in terms of positive mojo going right now.
6. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
OOOOOOF. Many teams had rough weeks this time around, but the Bucks had one of the roughest. They dropped a game at Memphis, then lost to the Pelicans by 1, then had a back-to-back loss to the Spurs where they received Pop's Hellfire after the Spurs' loss to the Knicks, and last night they had a 128-127 bonkers 3-OT loss to the Nets. Let's look at their next five games:
PLEASE HAMMER DON'T HURT 'EM.
7. Miami Heat (8)
Shredded the Cavs while they were on a back-to-back, beat Portland at home while they were in the middle of a five-game road trip, killed Denver. Taking this Miami win streak with a giant shaker of salt.
8. Boston Celtics (10)
Back up to a positive point differential in their last 10 even with last night's double-digit loss to the Spurs. I really hope the Celtics make the playoffs, for the following reasons:
1. Playoff Isaiah Thomas could be a thing, maybe
2. Brad Stevens in a playoff series? SHENANIGANS!
3. The scenario where they get into the 8-seed and create a bizarro version of the 2008 Celtics/Hawks first round bonanza. LET'S DO THIS.
9. Indiana Pacers (5)
I rank the Pacers fifth two weeks ago and they follow up by losing four straight and falling out of the 8th playoff spot. Thanks, guys. And things don't get easier: Games against the Rockets, Wizards, Bucks, and Mavericks this week.
10. Brooklyn Nets (11)
Three quarters of the Cavs shelling them notwithstanding, the Nets actually kind of played well this week. Wins over Philly and Minnesota were nice, and that Bucks win was really a good one for a team that's had a little bit of trouble with close games this year. I'd still hate to see this giant lump of sadness get a playoff spot (Unless it's the seventh seed and a matchup against the Cavs, of course), but this wasn't bad.
11. Charlotte Hornets (9)
Got the unholy wrath of Sauron unleashed on them in a game against the Jazz on Monday, and have followed that up with losses to the Clippers and Kings, the latter of which was their second in ten days. Their point guards (Mo Williams, Brian Roberts and the freshly returned Kemba Walker) have shot 33.5 percent from the field combined in their last ten contests. This team needs an exorcism on offense.
12. Orlando Magic (15)
Got blasted by three good offenses in Cleveland, Houston, and Dallas last week, then somehow beat Portland last night. Even though their defense has been abysmal lately (109.0 DRtg over last 10), Their offense has actually looked pretty solid, which is promising, given how little offensive talent there's been on this team over the last couple of seasons. Channing Frye's a big part of that, shooting 46 percent from three in the last 10, and Tobias Harris is quietly posting 16.6 points per game in that span. However, it's the Magic's young backcourt that's made the biggest difference in the Magic's offense.
Elfrid Payton has been a stud lately, and was a huge reason that the Magic beat Portland, notching a 22/10/10 triple-double with four steals. Elf's been a pretty inconsistent shooter for the season (42 percent shooting, 25 percent from three), but lately he's seemed to be turning it around, shooting 43.5 percent from the field and a healthy 36.4 percent from three over the last 10. His playmaking has been very instrumental, especially for guys like Dwayne Dedmon and Nikola Vucevic who are better feeding off the looks Payton can create with penetration. Dedmon in particular has found a nice two-man game with Payton, putting up 58.3 percent shooting on Payton assist opportunities.
Oladipo, meanwhile, has emerged as a legitimate top option scorer for this offense. His ability to create off the bounce has drastically improved from where it was even earlier this season, and he's blossoming as an outside shooter, getting up to 41 percent over his last 10 games from three. He's putting things together at a quicker rate than even I expected, and if the Magic can get a competent coach in to guide him, the sky is the limit.
I've crapped on the Magic plenty in this space, but their offense has actually been kind of interesting of late, especially when you get the chance to watch Oladipo and Payton work in unison. The rest of this season is a wash for them, but with the right next hire, they can put something nice together here.
13. Philadelphia 76ers (14)
Beat the Pistons and Knicks this week by double digits, so here by default. Them's the rules.
14. Detroit Pistons (12)
They beat Memphis while they were on a back-to-back, but this team has lost 10 of 11, they have an offensive rating of 96.3 in their last 10 games, and their eFG% over that span is 44.9. The Pistons are AWFUL.
15. New York Knicks (13)