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The Eastern Conference Power Rankings are Avoiding the Cavs

Another Weekly look at the state of the East, featuring the return of Thibs-Ball, Indiana's rise, and the Bucks and Wizards stealth-tanking.

Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

We have to stop tanking in the NBA.

It's an annoying tactic. Losing on purpose for long stretches of time to get what you want isn't how this sport should be played. It's one thing to be bad by design, like the 76ers. But to intentionally continue to lose games you have no business losing in order to better your chances of success, like say, losing 12 of 15 in order to avoid facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 4/5 matchup in the first round? Or dropping three straight to the Lakers, Jazz, and Nuggets because you don't want a team to tank you into that 4/5 matchup? Washington, Milwaukee, you are downright despicable.

Now that the appropriate Wizards shade has been thrown, TO THE RANKINGS:

1. Atlanta Hawks (2)

Four game win streak has them back on top. Well, at least until they face the Cavs Friday.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (1)

Looked lost without Kyrie offensively over the weekend, but when they're full strength, they can beat anyone. Really, only lost the top spot because of Matthew Dellavedova's presence on the court.

3. Chicago Bulls (4)

Life without Derrick Rose hasn't been the worst thing so far for Chicago. They did lose to the Hornets and Clippers this week, but went 2-2 with wins over the Timberwolves and Wizards at home.

Predictably, with Rose out, the Bulls' offense has slowed to a crawling pace and has been just wretched to watch. In the five games without Rose, the Bulls have not eclipsed 100 points, and their offense is basically a turtle flipped onto its back when they aren't giving it to Pau Gasol in the post. They've given Aaron Brooks the green light to chuck in the same way Rose has been this season, and that's been a bit of a disaster. The Clippers game was this all coming to a head - Pau went 2-13 from the field, the Bulls couldn't establish a post presence, Brooks had 14 points on 17 shots, and the Bulls lost 96-86.

But at the same time, the Bulls' defense has been pretty solid over this stretch, too. They held Milwaukee to just 71 points, and have done a great job of frustrating opposing offenses by packing the paint, as really only Chris Paul has given them problems over the past week. Charlotte probably had the best team offensive performance against the Bulls this week, and they shot 46 percent from the field and 29 percent from three.

For better or worse, the Bulls have retreated to the cocoon of Thibs-ball without Rose: An unwatchable offense coupled with a stifling defense and cripplingly slow pace. Do they have a bunch of national TV games during this time? OF COURSE THEY DO! Protip: Watch the Bulls a bunch prior to the NCAA tournament. It prepares you well for the horrific offense you will see played in March Madness.

4. Toronto Raptors (3)

Banged up. Not playing good defense. Lost to the Knicks this week. Somehow still the three seed.

5 Indiana Pacers (7)

YOU'RE DARN RIGHT, INDIANA AT FIVE! The Pacers have won eight of ten, beat the Cavs at home on Friday, and look pretty smart for standing pat at the trade deadline and not unloading David West or George Hill. They're playing very sound basketball on both ends of the floor right now, coupling their usual strong defense with a top-10 offense over the last ten games.

Their catalyst over this stretch? Rodney Stuckey. Over the 8-2 stretch, Stuckey has been shooting at a break-neck rate, averaging 16.4 points per game on ridiculous 51/48/96 shooting splits. His 30-point efforts were very key in the Pacers' back-to-back wins over the 76ers and Warriors last week, and he's taking over on the Pacers' best lineup, a Hill/Stuckey/C.J. Miles/West/Roy Hibbert outfit that's posted a net rating of +20.2 in 81 minutes. After some major early-season struggles, Stuckey finally looks like he's enjoying playing basketball again for the first time in years, and he's been huge for Indiana's recent success.

6. Milwaukee Bucks (5)

7. Washington Wizards (6)

Washington feels like they're on a 20-game losing streak, and Milwaukee went on a west road trip and lost to the Lakers, Jazz, and Nuggets. No one wants the five seed and to have to face the Cavs. We will confirm this when the Cavs finally overtake the Raptors for the three seed and the Wizards and Bucks automatically rip off huge win streaks to get out of the 6-spot.

8. Miami Heat (10)

Nice wins over the Lakers, Magic, and Suns coupled with very close losses to the Hawks and a scalding-hot Pelicans team. That's good for a small jump. Now, let's watch Hassan Whiteside dunk on Alex Len's mug and then try to end him:

9. Charlotte Hornets (12)

Hanging on by a thread until Kemba comes back. I have no idea what to make of this team week-to-week.

10. Boston Celtics (11)

The Cavs ruined what was overall a good week for them, as they were competitive against Golden State and beat the Knicks, Hornets, and Jazz. They also had an open roster spot, so what are their plans for that, I wonder?


Oh my.

11. Brooklyn Nets (9)

Looked great in competitive losses to the Pelicans and Rockets, beat the Mavs on the road and the Warriors at home, were looking like maybe number 8 or 9......and then lost at home to a Hornets team on a back-to-back. Oh well. Let's just watch that Jarrett Jack game-winning heroball again:

12. Detroit Pistons (8)

The bottom has somewhat fallen out on the Pistons, as they've lost four straight games and just dropped consecutive games to the Knicks and Wizards. They're 3.5 games out of the 8 seed, and things are just

Their biggest problem likely stems from the play of new acquisition Reggie Jackson. Jackson has been really, really bad in his five games as a Piston. He's chucking up 17 shots per game, which is four more than noted field goal attempt enthusiast Brandon Jennings was posting, and while he is averaging 15.6 points per game, that's coming on 35.3 percent shooting from the field and 21.1 percent from three. 21 percent! On nearly four threes attempted per game! Jackson's usage is 27.7 percent and he's taking 28 percent of the team's field goal attempts when he's on the floor. That is what Dion Waiters dreams of.

Now, there are other reasons the Pistons are struggling besides Jackson. Outside of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (37.7 percent), no one can hit a three right now on this team. They're playing Tayshaun Prince too much. Greg Monroe has been a turnover machine. But still, Jackson needs to figure out how to shoot the ball effectively, or greatly reduce his number of attempts. Otherwise, he's just hurting the team and his own free agent stock.

13. New York Knicks (15)

The Knicks......

[Checks standings]

[Checks standings again]

Won two games this week?

Good for New York, who sweated out a double-OT game against Detroit and then turned around and beat Toronto on a back-to-back. That's not easy, especially when your leading scorers over the past five games have been Andrea Bargnani, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Alexey Shved.

Looking at New York's roster, it's really bad that outside of Carmelo Anthony, Hardaway might be the only player who has any sort of NBA future, much less a future with this team. Of the current active roster, Hardaway and Shane Larkin are the only guys who were first-round picks within the last four years. Langston Galloway was a nice story, but he's cooled off significantly in the last couple of weeks. Cleanthony Early and Quincy Acy have basically no offensive upside. Shved, Lance Thomas, and Cole Aldrich are all basically at the end of the line. We've spent a lot of time discussing the 76ers being bad on purpose and not fielding an NBA roster, but man......where do the Knicks go from here? I mean even if they land a top three pick, and can sign a reasonably talented free agent this summer.......there is nothing here that can provide depth for them.

14. Philadelphia 76ers (14)

Beat Washington, took OKC to overtime, lost to the Pacers by 20 at home. Typical week of weirdness for Philly.

15. Orlando Magic (13)

0-4 week. Just frantically hitting "sim to end of season" so they can hire a coach and move on.