It seems as though the Cavs have put their January struggles behind them, as they’ve gone 7-2 in their last nine games. Kyle Korver seems to have figured out his role in the Cavaliers’ offense, and the recently signed Derrick Williams has looked solid in his first two games with Cleveland. Plus, LeBron is still doing ridiculous things on the court.
The Wizards have emerged as the Cavs’ biggest threat in the East, and I am perfectly okay with that. It seems a bit surprising since many were gearing up at the beginning of the season for another battle between Cleveland and Toronto for the Eastern Conference crown, but the Wizards have gone 9-1 in their last 10 games while Toronto has been in a bit of a slump as of late. On top of John Wall having his best season, Otto Porter is averaging a career-high 14.4 point per game and shooting a sizzling 46 percent from 3-point range. If it’s anything like the overtime thriller from last week, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cavs square off with Wall and the Wizards in the Conference Finals. It looks like the Cavs-Wizarrds rivalry has made a comeback in 2017, which is good news for anyone that loved those old duels between Cleveland and Washington.
Like Washington, Boston has been playing at a high level recently, going 8-2 in their last 10 contests. One of those losses was a 108-92 to the Kings, who were without DeMarcus Cousins, though. Even with that loss, Isaiah Thomas and company are in a good spot sitting 2.5 games ahead of the Wizards and just 2.5 games behind the Cavs.
Toronto, like Cleveland, had a rough January. The Raptors have gone just 11-13 since the calendar turned to 2017. While the offense hasn’t been stellar recently, the team’s defense has been the main issue. The Raptors are in the bottom half of the league for defensive efficiency at 19th. Toronto seems like a team that needs the All-Star break badly. Additionally, the Raptors could also use a power forward from the trade market and have been linked to a few.
The Hawks have been a really difficult to team to gage this season because they have been terribly inconsistent. They are just 5-5 in their last 10 games, but they are also only 1.5 games behind Washington for the No. 3 seed in the East. One good stretch of games could earn the Hawks home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Pacers’ 7-3 record in their last 10 games would be more convincing if those three losses had not come all in a row and all in their last three games. The first of those losses came at the hands of the Cavs when Cleveland overcame an 11 point first quarter deficit and outscored the Pacers 107-81 in the final three quarters. Friday night, the Pacers dropped a tight game to a surging Wizards team. A 112-107 loss to Washington does not look bad, but the 116-100 to the Bucks that the Pacers suffered Saturday does, especially given the fact that Milwaukee shot 54.8 percent from 3-point range and turned it over half as much as Indiana. Things won’t get any easier for the Pacers either since their next three games are against the Spurs, the Cavs and the Wizards.
There’s a bit of a drop off after the Pacers, as no other team in the East has a record above .500. The Pistons have won five of their last seven. Granted, four of those wins came against teams with losing records. The fifth win was a 102-101 win over Toronto. The Pistons have a decent chance of racking up some wins in the near future, as five of their next six games come against teams that have worse records than Detroit.
8. Miami Heat
Propelled by Dion Waiters, the Heat have won 13 of their last 14, including a win over Golden State. Waiters has scored at least 17 points in 9 of his last 10 games, and he even dropped 30 twice in that stretch. However, Waiters has missed the Heat’s last three games and is questionable for Monday’s game. Miami is currently within striking distance of the last playoff spot, but it will have to avoid losses like Saturday’s 117-109 loss to an Embiid-less Sixers squad if it wants to get that last spot.
The Bulls are a bit of a mess right now. They’ve had their two biggest stars call out their teammates’ effort level without naming any names. They’re also battling injuries. Sure, no team is healthy at this point in the season, but it’s even worse considering the fact that Chicago has lost four of its last five and barely holding on to a playoff spot.
10. Milwaukee Bucks
Not much has gone right for the Bucks lately. They’re 3-12 in their last 15. Plus, Jabari Parker was lost for the remainder of the season due to a torn ACL in his left knee, his second left ACL tear in just over two years. On the bright side, Giannis Antetokounmpo is still doing awesome stuff.
The Hornets picked a bad time to play its worst basketball of the season. They’ve won just one of their last 10 games, and as a result, they’re currently on the outside looking in on the playoffs.
12. New York Knicks
If the Bulls are a mess, the Knicks are an abject disaster. Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony are seemingly having a public staring match to determine Anthony’s future in New York. Don’t forget that Knicks owner and former Knick Charles Oakley have gotten into an ugly, public feud that has resulted in finger pointing and allegations. If it weren’t for their 94-90 win over San Antonio on Sunday, the Knicks would be even lower in the rankings.
The Sixers have won two in a row, but Joel Embiid has missed all but one of the team’s last 13 games and has a meniscus tear in his left knee.
14. Orlando Magic
Orlando has been struggling as of late, and there’s a solid chance that Serge Ibaka ends up getting dealt at the approaching trade deadline. This disappointing Magic season continues to disappoint.
15. Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn is the worst team in the league, and there is little to no reason to think that will change this year or the foreseeable future. They’ve gone 1-23 in their last 24.