1. Cleveland Cavaliers (17-5)
Despite a 3-game losing streak at the start of the month, the Cavs are still the best team in the East. After dropping those three straight, Cleveland went on to win four straight games and rather convincingly at that. The Cavaliers’ average margin of victory in that stretch was 21.8 points per game. With LeBron feeling his best in a long time and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love playing at the top of their games, the Cavs look comfortable atop the East standings.
2. Toronto Raptors (17-7)
The Raptors had a legitimate chance to claim the top spot in the Fear the Sword Power Rankings when they faced off with the scuffling Cavaliers last Monday, but the Cavs victory kept Toronto in the second spot. The Raptors still pose the biggest threat to the Cavs this season, and there’s little reason to think that would change barring injury to any key players. DeMar Derozan is having a career-year, averaging 27.8 points per game. Perhaps the most impressive thing about DeRozan’s emergence this season is how efficiently he’s playing, as he’s shooting 47 percent from the field. Factor in that Kyle Lowry is putting up 21.3 points and 7.3 assists per game, and it’s clear that the Raptors along with the Cavs are on a different level from the rest of the East.
3. Charlotte Hornets (14-11)
I really wanted put the Hornets elsewhere after Monday’s loss to Indiana, but I couldn’t bring myself to put the Knicks in the top three of the East. Even with the loss to the Pacers, though there is still reason for optimism in Charlotte. Kemba Walker is posting career-highs in points per game (23.3), field goal percentage (47.5 percent) and 3-point field goal percentage (41.8 percent). Aside from Walker, no one’s stats really pop out, but the team is playing well as a unit and taking care of the basketball.
4. New York Knicks (14-10)
I can’t say that I expect the Knicks to stay this high in the rankings all season, but it’s difficult to deny that New York is playing good basketball right now. The loss to Cleveland was the only Knicks only blemish over the last six games, and Kristaps Porzingis is lighting it up. Plus, the Knicks just got Derrick Rose back from injury.
5. Chicago Bulls (13-10)
After beating the Cavs and the Spurs in a two week period, and it stands to reason that the Bulls would move up in the rankings, but it’s really difficult to move them up when a 25-point loss to Dallas, a 112-110 loss to Portland and a 102-91 loss to Detroit are sandwiched in between those wins.
6. Boston Celtics (13-11)
The Celtics have been battling injuries for most of this season. Isaiah Thomas went down recently, and the Celtics certainly could have used him in their recent losses to Toronto and Oklahoma City. Even though they haven’t been terribly impressive this season, it still feels like the Celtics will turn things around. If Boston can get healthy and more importantly, stay healthy, expect Brad Stevens and company to look like the team many felt they could be coming into the season.
7. Indiana Pacers (13-12)
8. Detroit Pistons (13-13)
9. Milwaukee Bucks (11-12)
10. Atlanta Hawks (12-12)
It’s really difficult to separate these teams. Each one had had bright spots, but each one had had disappointing stretches that erase most of the optimism created by the aforementioned bright spots. Take Milwaukee for example. From the end of November into the beginning of December, the Bucks had a stretch where they won five of six games, and the one loss was just a 1-point loss to San Antonio. They swiftly followed that stretch with a three-game losing streak with losses to Atlanta, Washington and Toronto. Speaking of Atlanta, the Hawks are winners of two straight, but before that they had lost seven straight. Indiana has been the best of this bunch recently, winning four of their last six with two of those wins coming against the Clippers and the Hornets.
11. Orlando Magic (10-15)
12. Washington Wizards (9-14)
13. Miami Heat (8-17)
14. Brooklyn Nets (6-17)
15. Philadelphia 76ers (6-18)
Frankly, there is not much to say about these teams that their records don’t already say for themselves. All of these teams have struggled quite a bit this season, and that likely won’t change any time soon.
But at least one of them has Joel Embiid.