NBA Power Rankings: Can Celtics crack East's elite?
For all the off-court drama that fuels the NBA, there's a pretty compelling story playing out on the court.
The Boston Celtics enter the NBA All-Star break in the thick of a tight Eastern Conference playoff race. The Celtics currently are tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for fourth in the East, just behind the Indiana Pacers (who continue to win without Victor Oladipo) and ahead of the Brooklyn Nets (who continue to win despite no true stars to speak of).
The Celtics have 24 games to prove they're worthy of their lofty preseason expectations and improve their playoff standing. But where do they stand right now?
Here are our definitive NBA Power Rankings of the 16 teams that would qualify for the postseason if the season ended today.
16. Detroit Pistons (26-30, 8th in East)
There's quite the logjam for the final East playoff spot, as four teams are separated by two games or fewer. We could easily see the overachieving Orlando Magic slipping past an uninspired Detroit team down the stretch.
15. Charlotte Hornets (27-30, 7th in East)
The Hornets are the definition of an average team: They have a minus-0.5 point differential this season and are 4-6 in their last 10 games. But as long as Kemba Walker keeps balling, they should hold onto a playoff spot.
13. Brooklyn Nets (30-29, 6th in East)
The feel-good Nets have fallen back to earth a bit, losing five of their last seven games. But they're still above .500 entering the All-Star break. If you say you predicted that before the season began, you're a liar.
12. San Antonio Spurs (33-26, 7th in West)
The Spurs are making their hay in San Antonio, boasting the third-best home record (22-7) in the West. If they can catch the Portland Trail Blazers, who are just two games ahead of them in the No. 4 seed, they could make some noise in the first round of the playoffs.
11. Utah Jazz (32-25, 6th in West)
Donovan Mitchell (22.4 points per game) is back to filling up box scores, and Utah is back in the playoff mix after starting the New Year 14-6.
10. Houston Rockets (33-24, 5th in West)
James Harden hasn't scored fewer than 30 points in a game since Dec. 11, which is absolutely insane. But will Harden's heavy workload catch up to him this spring?
9. Portland Trail Blazers (34-23, 4th in West)
The Blazers had quite the productive Wednesday, defeating the defending champion Warriors in their final game before the All-Star break and scooping up big man Enes Kanter on the buyout market. Portland could give a team like Golden State some problems in May.
8. Indiana Pacers (38-20, 3rd in East)
Yes, the Pacers have won six of their last seven games. Yes, they've proven some doubters wrong since Victor Oladipo's season-ending injury. But we just can't see them sustaining this pace without their star player. Expect Boston and Philly to overtake Indiana at some point down the stretch.
7. Philadephia 76ers (37-21, 5th in East)
Tobias Harris' addition gives the Sixers one of the best starting fives in the NBA, but their lack of depth is a concern, as the Celtics exposed Tuesday night. We could see Philly jelling and making a serious push for the East's top spot -- or overworking its starting unit and flaming out early (again) in the postseason.
6. Boston Celtics (37-21, 4th in East)
A five-game winning streak. Two horrific losses to the Clippers and Lakers. Back-to-back wins without Kyrie Irving. It's been a roller-coaster two and a half weeks for the Celtics, who still are out to prove they're legitimate title contenders.
If Gordon Hayward and Al Horford continue their strong play when Kyrie Irving returns, those odds increase exponentially. A great test awaits next Thursday in Milwaukee.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (37-20, 3rd in West)
Here's Russell Westbrook's legendary quote about his critics: "I've been blessed with the talent not to give a f---."
He's also blessed to be playing alongside Paul George, who's averaging 28.7 points per game in a career season for the Thunder.
3. Toronto Raptors (43-16, 2nd in East)
The Raptors sacrificed some depth to acquire All-Star Marc Gasol, but so far, it looks like a great move: Toronto's winning streak is up to six as it closes in on the Bucks for the East's No. 1 seed.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (43-14, 1st in East)
The Bucks have feasted on the East this season, boasting the best in-conference record (30-8) of any NBA team. When Nikola Mirotic suits up, he'll give Milwaukee even more length and better spacing to allow Giannis Antetokounmpo to wreak havoc in the lane.
This team will be very, very hard to beat in a competitive East.
1. Golden State Warriors (41-16, 1st in West)
The Warriors' continued success is academic at this point. They'll drop games here and there (example: Wednesday night), but the NBA still runs through them until further notice.