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Eastern Conference Power Rankings: Are the Cavs in trouble?

A pair of back-to-back troubling has the Cavs looking for answers.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Cavs in trouble after a few bad games? We ponder that and more in this week’s power rankings.

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers (28-9)

No, the Cavs have not fallen out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference, though their play of late has been less than stellar. When they’ve built leads, they have had trouble keeping them. For example, the Cavs built a 22 point lead over Phoenix to see it completely erased by the Suns. Cleveland still managed to win the game, but it should not have been just a four point victory. The Cavs followed that effort with an even worse showing.

The Cavs only put up 12 points in the second quarter Tuesday against the Jazz and trailed 56-41 at halftime. They erased the deficit and managed to take 60-58 lead with 6:48 left in the third. However, the lead did not last long, as the Cavaliers headed into the fourth quarter trailing 75-66. Cleveland could not overcome that lead and dropped the game 100-92.

The Cavs’ problems carried over into their 102-86 loss to Portland. The offense was stagnant, as the ball often stuck in people’s hands. Cleveland could not find any kind of rhythm Wednesday night, and it didn’t help that LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving combined to go just 14-43 from the field.

Despite this rough patch, Cleveland still has the most talented roster in the East, and the addition of Kyle Korver will certainly pay dividends. If the Cavs still look out of sync Friday against the Kings, though, then it could be time to move the Cavs out of this top spot. For now, they’ll stay put because they have still won seven out of their last 10 even with the ugly performances.

2. Toronto Raptors (25-13)

Toronto has been shaky recently as well, but a big 114-106 comeback win over a hot Boston team Tuesday righted the ship. Had the Raptors lost to Boston Tuesday, they would have fallen to the third spot in both the Eastern Conference Standings and the Fear the Sword power rankings.

3. Boston Celtics (24-15)

As of right now, there does not seem to be much separation between the Raptors and the Celtics, and it would not be surprising to see those two teams battle for the second seed for the remainder of the season. Even with the loss to Toronto, Boston is still 10-3 in its last 13 games. Combine that with the fact that Isaiah Thomas is putting up 28 points per game, and it looks like the Celtics are trending upwards.

4. Atlanta Hawks (22-16)

The Hawks came in the sixth spot in the last set of power rankings here at FTS, but going 4-0 since then helped them jump up two spots. It’s difficult to forecast what’s next for Atlanta because the future of Paul Millsap is still up in the air. I know, I know. The Hawks told Millsap he will not be traded, which could be the case. However, I have a hard time believing that Atlanta won’t send Millsap elsewhere if it got the offer it wanted.

5. Milwaukee Bucks (19-18)

My goodness, I love Giannis Antetokounmpo. The lanky 22-year-old is averaging a career-high 23.3 points per game while also grabbing 8.8 rebounds and dishing out 5.6 assists per game. Pair Antetokounmpo with another budding star in Jabari Parker, and it’s pretty clear that the future is bright for the Bucks. That does not mean that things are bleak for Milwaukee right now, though. In fact, it’s actually the opposite. Antetokounmpo and company have won four of their last six games with an impressive 109-107 win in San Antonio over a Spurs team that had won 12 of its last 14 games before falling to the Bucks Tuesday.

6. Indiana Pacers (20-18)

As owners of a five-game winning streak, the Pacers are one of the hottest teams in the East. However, the winning streak comes immediately after a four-game losing streak that featured a loss to the Knicks, who are 4-11 in their last 15 games. It’s this inconsistency that makes Indiana so difficult to trust. In fact, most of the teams from the fourth spot through the tenth spot are inconsistent.

7. Washington Wizards (19-19)

Prior to the loss to Boston Wednesday night, Washington had won three straight and six of its previous eight games. John Wall is having his best season, averaging a career-high 23.3 points per game and putting up a double-double for the third season in a row. Wall struggled Wednesday night, going just 4-21 in the loss to the Celtics. When John Wall is good, so are the Wizards, but when he struggles, the team as a whole typically struggles as well.

8. Charlotte Hornets (20-19)

The Hornets have been scuffling recently, as they’ve dropped five of their last six. Kemba Walker is still playing the best basketball of his career, but he could use some help.

9. Chicago Bulls (19-20)

Chicago has been a bit of a mixed bag lately. The team has lost two straight, but that is after winning three in a row, including wins over Cleveland and Toronto. Those wins are impressive, but the Bulls need more consistency given that they’re just 5-5 in their last 10 games.

10. Detroit Pistons (18-22)

Detroit’s recent win over Portland gave them their second win in a row, which was the first time the Pistons had consecutive wins since they won three in a row between Nov. 30 and Dec. 2. However, they followed those wins up with a 100-94 loss to Sacramento on the road, and with matchups with Golden State and Utah on the horizon, it’s hard to see Detroit putting together more wins in the immediate future.

11. Orlando Magic (16-23)

The Magic have dropped four straight and six of their last seven. The only win in that stretch came against the Knicks, which is the main reason Orlando is ahead of New York here. Both of these teams are bad, but Orlando is slightly less bad.

12. New York Knicks (17-22)

After starting out 14-10, the Knicks have fallen apart. There really isn’t any other way to put it. They’ve won just three games while dropping 12 since the decent start, and half of those 12 losses have been by double digits.

13. Philadelphia 76ers (11-25)

14. Miami Heat (11-29)

15. Brooklyn Nets (8-29)

None of these teams has played good basketball lately—or all season for that matter. The Nets have the worst record in the league and are the only team that has yet to reach double digit wins. Meanwhile in Miami, the Heat recently lost Justise Winslow to what it is likely a season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum.

The only positive here is that Joel Embiid is still all sorts of fun. Naturally, the Sixers are trying to capitalize on that fact with a campaign to get Embiid to the All-Star Game in New Orleans next month.