Tier five: have fun at the lottery
15. Philadelphia 76ers (8-49 record, -10.7 net rating)
Some people might argue that Brooklyn has been worse lately. Those people are wrong. These guys are just terrible.
14. Brooklyn Nets (15-42 record, -7.3 net rating)
While deciding not to sell off their few valuable players at the deadline may not have been the best managerial decision, and hiring a new general manager one day before the trade deadline may have been a questionable ownership decision, the team has actually played not terrible basketball since the break. A win against the Knicks, and two relatively close losses to Charlotte and Portland. Not great, but better than Philly.
13. New York Knicks (24-35 record, -2.7 net rating)
Sinking fast. Only two wins in their last fifteen games. They were in the playoff race at one point this year, but those hopes are now gone.
Tier four: running out of time
12. Milwaukee Bucks (24-33 record, -4.5 net rating)
Have won four of five, but still 5.5 games back from the last playoff spot.
11. Orlando Magic (25-30 record, -1.2 net rating)
After a terrible month of January, this team is quietly picking up steam. Back-to-back wins against ATL (both home and away) and a two-point loss to the Spurs right before the break, then wins against Dallas and Philly plus a three-point loss to Indiana after the break. This young team can play some pretty good defense. If they can maintain their improved offense they just might claw their way back into the playoff picture.
10. Washington Wizards (26-30 record, -2.1 net rating)
They made a splash at the deadline by acquiring Morris the lesser right before the buzzer sounded. He probably will help them when they go super-small, but those lineups are kind of bad anyway and Jared Dudley is a better stretch four in any other circumstance. I hope they stay in the race until the end, with Atlanta dashing their hopes on the final day of the season.
Seriously, though, there are probably five playoff teams in the East without a player as good as John Wall. The East being stronger this year may have seemed valid early in the year, but now? They just need to step it up and fight their way back into the playoff race.
Tier three: hello, mediocrity
9. Detroit Pistons (29-29 record, +0.9 net rating)
After making the biggest splash at the deadline, Detroit appears to be poised for a second half run. I really like their starting lineup now, but they'll have to prove it on the court before they move up my power rankings. Post All-Star break losses to Washington and New Orleans don't inspire confidence, although they followed that up with a big win against Cleveland. A team to watch moving forward, but on the outside looking in for now.
8. Atlanta Hawks (31-27 record, +2.3 net rating)
3 straight losses after the break to Miami, Milwaukee and Golden State pushes Atlanta down my power rankings. Perhaps Jeff Teague and Al Horford were not inspired by their team actively shopping them?
7. Charlotte Hornets (29-27 record, +1.2 net rating)
They've won seven of nine, including a win against Cleveland, and blowouts of Chicago and Indiana. Adding Courtney Lee at the deadline gives them another quality rotation player in the wake of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's season-ending injury.
6. Chicago Bulls (30-26 record, -0.4 net rating)
I have to give them props. I expected them to lose almost every game while Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic are out with injury, but they've won three straight against the Raptors, the Lakers and the Wizards. Derrick Rose has gone from actively destructive near the start of the year to moderately helpful as of late. Mike Dunleavy has returned from injury and is playing 20-plus minutes again. If this keeps up, Chicago could move up the standings in a hurry when Jimmy Butler rejoins the rotation.
5. Indiana Pacers (31-26 record, +2.2 net rating)
3-1 record in the past week, with a quality win over Oklahoma City. Somehow, they are still the #2 defense in the league with a front court rotation of Lavoy Allen, Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill. Frank Vogel has done a great job with this team, and Paul George has silenced any doubts that he would return to superstar status after his leg injury.
4. Boston Celtics (33-25 record, +4.0 net rating)
Boston won 10 of 12 leading into the All-Star break, but have sputtered over the last week. They were blown out by Utah and also lost to Minnesota.
3. Miami Heat (32-25 record, +0.2 net rating)
Chris Bosh is in danger of missing the rest of the season, but Miami has taken off in the last week. Quality wins against Atlanta and Indiana, a blowout of Washington, and a near-miss against the defending champs. Hassan Whiteside is putting up some ridiculous numbers. They've won 9 of the last 13 games they've played. Unless Bosh returns it will be difficult to maintain this level of play, but right now they are playing great basketball.
Tier 2: the lone fringe contender
2. Toronto Raptors (38-18, +5.2 net rating)
With 17 wins in their last 20 games, this team is on fire. I was surprised they didn't try to upgrade their power forward position at the deadline, but perhaps that would be trying to fix something that isn't broken. Even with an upgrade, their ceiling likely remains the same: conference finalist, but nothing more. Still, this is clearly the second best team in the East, and I doubt anyone seriously challenges them for that spot over the last 26 games.
Tier 1: future Eastern Conference champion
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-15 record, +6.8 net rating)
The best team in the East already, they were the only one to improve at the trade deadline by adding big man Channing Frye. An excellent fit, he could provide a boost to the entire bench unit with his floor spacing. Now armed with a 10-deep rotation, I doubt Toronto will seriously challenge Cleveland for the top seed in the East.