After a drama-filled week in Cavalier-land, it's time to take stock of the Eastern Conference with some good old-fashioned power rankings. Let's get started.
For the first time this season, at least in my personal power rankings, I've dropped the Cavaliers out of top billing. The Raptors are playing very well, and sit just two games back of the East lead. What seemed unfathomable at the mid-point of the season is looking like a real possibility: the Cavaliers might have homecourt throughout the East playoffs.
Kyle Lowry continues to play out of his mind, and while he's great, the Raptors are hard to beat. It'll be interesting to see how DeMarre Caroll is re-integrated into the offense, and the Luis Scola-Jonas Valanciunas pairing isn't really holding up defensively, but right now this team is playing together, they're playing well, and might actually be making those wearing Wine and Gold sweat a bit.
Still gotta win a playoff series, though.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
This team has just been exhausting off the court, and it's bled onto the court as well. They're 4-4 in their last eight games, with several brutal efforts among them. Still, much of this is just noise. As much as LeBron James tweets can madden and frustrate, the team is still very good, and even after spotting the Celtics an 18 point lead, they were able to end up stomping them.
The team should be fine, and they've actually had a bit of fun in the last 6 quarters or so, but it sure would be nice to see them appear to like eachother and to go a few weeks without a thinkpiece on what's wrong with the team. It's easy to blame the media and fans for overreacting to this stuff, and there's certainly something to that.
That said, you're fooling yourself if you don't think this team has a flair for off-court intrigue and drama.
3. Miami Heat
4. Boston Celtics
The Heat are sort of lighting the league on fire. They've won 14 of their last 20, which is stunning considering the loss of Chris Bosh, comfortably their best player. Joe Johnson has fit beautifully in the six games he's suited up for them so far, shooting just under 60 percent from the field and averaging 15.8 points per 36 minutes. He'll inevitably cool down, and you wonder if spacing could eventually doom this team, but in the short term, dear god, they're beating the hell out of teams.
The lower-middle class of the East is starting to settle. The Hornets have been blitzing teams behind a career-best stretch from Kemba Walker, the Hawks are settling back in after an odd post-trade deadline malaise and the Pacers weird roster continues to grind out wins. That Frank Vogel can coach, and that Paul George can play basketball. Also, Myles Turner is close to my favorite rookie in the class.
Honestly, you can switch any of these three around however you wish. I just happened to choose alphabetical order (that's not true, just coincidental.)
The Bulls haven't really been winning, but Derrick Rose did just finish a February in which he put up 22 points, six assists and 5.6 boards in eight games. If his play continues trending up, that only bodes well for the team as they await Jimmy Butler's return.
The Pistons haven't really flown out of the gate since acquiring Tobias Harris and have a propensity to lay stinkers. A few mentioned after the trade that due to Harris' age, the Pistons might not really look too much better for the remainder of the season, and it's starting to look like those people were right.
The Wizards were looking like they might claw into the 8-seed before losing three straight games. I don't know what to make of this team, but they can't really seem to get out of their own way, and honestly just might not be well-constructed enough to make a push.
11. Milwaukee Bucks
This is probably a lost season, but it's nice to see Jabari Parker showing really the first prolonged stretch of productivity in his career. One would hope that the team can pivot from its disastrous last offseason and move forward with the workable pieces of core, like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari, and Khris Middleton.
12. Orlando Magic
The Aaron Gordon experiment is fun, at least.
13. New York Knicks
14. Brooklyn Nets
The Knicks are mired in Rambis-land, the Nets are the most screwed franchise I've ever seen and the Sixers, after a backlash at the beginning of the season are quietly in the midst of a 13-game losing streak and sit at 8-56. Egads.