Hey gang, it's Power Rankings time. The Cavs have now won five in a row and re-distanced themselves from the pack. How is the East looking at the moment?
Well, your boys are still on top. The Tyronn Lue coaching change seems to be taking, and while the pace hasn't statistically improved, the team is getting into their sets more quickly, and the shot distribution seems to be favoring Kevin Love. The defense has slipped, and they've been up-and-down, but they seem to have rediscovered whatever mojo they left on the court against the Warriors on MLK day.
This team is comfortably the hottest team in the East. They're 12-1 in their last 13 games with a net rating of 9.0 in that span, good for third in the league in that stretch. I think folks are pretty desperate to find a competitor for the Cavaliers in the East, and the Raptors could be that, but they need to be fully healthy if they want to pose problems for Cleveland. DeMarre Carroll should at least bother LeBron James, and without him firing on all cylinders, the Raptors don't really have an option to deal with him.
Also, Jonas Valanciunas is very skilled and talented, but I can't help but feel like he doesn't quite fit the rest of the personnel on the team.
I was a bit surprised to see that the Hawks were reportedly shopping Jeff Teague. With Al Horford hitting free agency, this franchise needs to decide what direction it's going in. Dennis Shroder is a popular name, but he's really not ready to lead a contender. Are the Hawks preparing to retool, and does Mike Budenholzer have the chops to rebuild the team now that he's running personnel?
6. Miami Heat
The Bulls and Heat are sort of in similar places, in their own ways. Neither team is good enough to win a title, and probably aren't good enough to really challenge the Cavaliers in the East. That doesn't mean they shouldn't try. Neither team is in a position to go the other way and tank (especially not the draft-pick deficient Heat,) but both could have moves in them at the trade deadline. The Bulls have too many players past their prime, or have had their prime robbed by injury, while the Heat are just coming back to Earth. They played 15 of their first 19 games at home, and the road heavy portion of their schedule dropped them down to a more reasonable spot in the standings.
Both the Pistons and Pacers have an opportunity to solidify themselves as playoff teams. The next tier in the East have fallen off, but neither are really doing enough to separate themselves. Both squads actually have better point differentials than the Bulls and Heat, who are ahead of them in the schedules, and both are very well coached. The Pacers have cooled down after a hot start, as Paul George probably wasn't going to be able to sustain the kind of shooting numbers he was putting up earlier in the year. Still, as far as seven and eight seeds go in the playoffs, these teams are much more competitive than what the East has seen in recent years.
11. New York Knicks
12. Milwaukee Bucks
Well, the uber-competitive middle class of the Eastern Conference turned back into a pumpkin as of late. The Hornets, Knicks, and Magic have collapsed, due to combinations of injuries, youth and general talent deficiencies. It's looking more and more like it will end up being a nine-team race for eight playoff spots, but the Wizards are going to have to get their act together soon if they want to leapfrog their way into getting steamrolled in the first round.
14. Orlando Magic
15. Brooklyn Nets
Well how about that! The 76ers are all the way up to 13 in this edition of the East Power Rankings, and it's really a byproduct of how bad the other two teams below them are. The addition of Ish Smith has really oddly propelled the 76ers into not being actual nuclear waste and into being a real basketball team, and it's showing.
Meanwhile, the Magic's lack of identity and mismatched parts is burning them, and their lack of top end talent is starting to burn them.
Oh, and also the Nets are terrible.