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Eastern Conference power rankings: Cavaliers plummeting

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The Cavs may not land this low for the rest of the LeBron James era, but as it stands, they’re nowhere near the top of the East.

NBA: New York Knicks at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavs have been a disaster and the Pistons are destroying the opposition. The 2017-18 season is weird. Let’s see how the East stacks up.

1. Washington Wizards | 4-2 (+5.8 point differential)

The Wizards are a stupid brawl against the Warriors away from being 5-1, with a loss to the Lakers being their only black mark on their resume. This team always talks a big game, but this year at least, they look to be delivering.

2. Detroit Pistons | 5-2 (+5.4 point differential)

Detroit continues their long, storied history under Stan Van Gundy of zigging when we think they’ll zag. Nobody expected much of them two seasons ago, and they won 44 games. Last year, people thought they could jump to the four or five seed out East, and they were a disaster. This year, amid zero hope and a seemingly dysfunctional roster, they’ve leapt to a 5-2 start with wins over the Warriors, Clippers and Timberwolves. This is an odd league.

3. Boston Celtics | 4-2 (+5.5 point differential)

The Celtics have recovered from Gordon Hayward’s injury and an 0-2 start to win four straight games. They have the second-best defensive rating in the league despite starting Kyrie Irving and a rookie in Jayson Tatum, putting a feather in Brad Stevens’ coaching cap, much to the chagrin of Cavs fans everywhere.

4. Toronto Raptors | 3-2 (+10.2 point differential)

Toronto’s wins haven’t been super impressive (vs CHI, vs PHI without Embiid, @LAL) but their losses have been competitive (lost by four @ SA and by five @GSW). They look like a middle-of-the-pack team in the East playoff race, and thus, here they are.

5. Milwaukee Bucks | 4-2, (+0.8 point differential)

Giannis remains amazing, and the Bucks look like they could make a real push for the one seed in the East. They got shellacked by the Cavaliers and dropped a tough one at home to the Celtics, but are buoyed by strong wins at Boston (the day after the Celtics opening loss to Cleveland) and Charlotte.

6. Orlando Magic | 4-2 (+7.8 point differential)

Who knows what to make of Orlando? They’ve looked bad against mediocre teams in spots, but have posted wins against Cleveland, San Antonio and Miami. Having four players in Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Jonathon Simmons all posting over 15 points per game certainly has helped.

7. Charlotte Hornets | 3-3 (+0.8 point differential)

Dwight Howard is having a miniature renaissance while averaging 15.7 points and 16.3(!) rebounds per game. Kemba is awesome. The Hornets will probably finish 41-41.

8. Indiana Pacers | 3-3 (-0.8 point differential)

The Pacers are making people who made jokes about Russell Westbrook’s supporting cast during the duration of the 2016-17 season look really bad. Victor Oladipo is your Eastern Conference player of the week while averaging 25.5 points while posting a 26.2 PER, and Domantas Sabonis is putting up a solid 13.0 points and 10 boards as well.

9. Cleveland Cavaliers | 3-4 (-5.4 point differential)

The Cavs sort of stink right now. They don’t know how to play together, the pieces don’t really fit, and their effort is abominable. I don’t know if I’ll ever rank them this low again, but if Power Rankings exist as a function of describing where each team currently is playing, I don’t really see how you could argue for putting them higher. The schedule has been cake outside of the first two games (one of which featured the opposing team’s star acquisition’s ankle going the wrong way), and the Cavaliers have managed to get destroyed by the Pelicans, Knicks and Magic while losing a close game to the Nets and nearly dropping a game to the Bulls.

YIkes.

10. Brooklyn Nets | 3-4 (-3.6 point differential)

The Nets have come back to earth a bit after a 3-2 start to the season after losses to the Knicks and the Nuggets. They’re not great, but they will make you earn it. The Cavs are doing favors for their own pick after losing to Brooklyn by letting their bottom-feeding competitors beat the tar out of them, so that’s good at least.

11. Miami Heat | 2-3 (-3.0 point differential)

Maybe locking yourself into a roster that started last season 11-30 was a mistake?

12. Philadelphia 76ers | 2-4 (-6.2 point differential)

Philly has two wins - one against an impressive Detroit squad and a two-point win against a Dallas team that could be the worst in the league so far. Not an inspiring start for the process.

13. New York Knicks | 2-3 (-1.2 point differential)

Kristaps Porzingis is amazing and this team will bully you on the offensive boards. If you play smart, they’re just not that hard to beat, ultimately.

14. Chicago Bulls | 1-4 (-12.2 point differential)

If Lauri Markkanen continues to play well and Zach LaVine returns to good health, the team’s return for Jimmy Butler doesn’t look quite so terrible. It still is, but it doesn’t look quite so terrible.

15. Atlanta Hawks | 1-6 (-8.0 point differential)

The Hawks have absolutely zero talent when Dennis Schroder can’t suit up. They’ll play smart and work hard, but there’s not much for Mike Budenholzer to work with. They’ve lost six straight.