As soon as Atlanta clinched the top seed in the East, they sat all five of their regular starters, thereby handing a victory to the Charlotte Hornets and spitting in the faces of the other four teams (Miami, Brooklyn, Boston and Indiana) clawing and scratching and falling and bumbling their way towards a postseason berth. With two weeks remaining in the season, the factory of sadness in the middle part of the Eastern Conference standings is still churning out a semi-interesting competition to see who will earn the right to get railroaded by Atlanta or Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs.
But the Hawks spat in the face of the sobering integrity of the five-team sad-fest by ceding an elusive victory to one of the teams who is supposed to be trying honestly (and failing often) to get them on their own. For shame, Atlanta! As punishment, they've been kicked out of the top spot in the vaunted Fear the Sword Power Rankings. We're not mad. We're just disappointed.
As you may have guessed, the new team in the top spot is...
1. Cleveland (1)
Hooray! Huzzah! First place! Terrific! The Cavs' big win in Memphis was the high point of a 3-1 week, with victories over the Bucks and Sixers and a loss to the surging Nets rounding out their slate. All aboard! NBA Finals, here we come!
2. Atlanta (1)
3. Chicago (3)
The return of Jimmy Butler from an elbow injury has been a huge boon to their offense, but Nikola Mirotic has been the real story for the Bulls. In the month of March, the 23-year-old rookie averaged 20.8 points and 7.6 rebounds on 57.1% True Shooting, a vast improvement over the 7.2 / 4.3 / 54.8 line he was posting previous to that.
Since Chicago swept the season series versus Toronto, the one game actual lead they hold on the Raptors is really more like two, with eight games left for each club. It appears as though the Bulls have the inside edge on the East's third seed, which would help them avoid Washington (who's scuffling, but beat them in the playoffs last year) and instead allow them to play Milwaukee, who they've beaten in each of their three meetings this season. Derrick Rose is close to a return, so things are looking promising for Chicago as we turn the corner into April and the playoffs.
4. Toronto (5)
5. Milwaukee (6)
6. Washington (4)
7. Brooklyn (10)
Make up your damn mind, Brooklyn. Do you want to make the playoffs, or not? A 4-1 record since our last Power Rankings has them just a game back of the eighth seed, and has also shot them all the way up to seventh in the rankings that really count (ours). If the Nets had managed to show up at home versus the Celtics on the 23rd, they'd be in the driver's seat for a playoff spot. At any rate, Brooklyn has won seven of nine overall, led primarily by Brook Lopez (23 and 9 on 60% shooting over that stretch) and Thaddeus Young (who continues to hit threes at a much higher rate than he did in Minnesota).
Say what you want about how miserable they've been this season; Lionel Hollins is a good coach and there are plenty of veterans on the team, all of whom seem to be healthy at the right time. This team is chugging along. Atlanta could be facing Brooklyn in the first round of the postseason. NBATV, where you at?
8. Miami (7)
9. Boston (8)
10. Indiana (9)
11. Charlotte (11)
12. Detroit (14)
Seriously, Pistons? Now they decide to get their crap together? They're 4-1 since the 21st, with wins over Chicago and Toronto at home, and Boston and Orlando on the road. Detroit went 1-10 in Reggie Jackson's first 11 games with the club, but now that he's settled in and getting triple-doubles and whatnot, the team is improving, having gone 5-2 over their past 7. Technically, they're still alive for a playoff spot. The East is a trainwreck that we can't look away from, isn't it?
13. Philadelphia (13)
14. Orlando (12)
15. New York Knicks (15)
Just picture the couple in front of the house as Phil and Carmelo.