NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Sixers look ready to climb

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Sixers look ready to climb

In our Eastern Conference power rankings this week, the Sixers may be ready to start climbing. 

1. Raptors (34-13) Last week: 1
Despite Wednesday’s loss to the Celtics, it’s hard to take the Raptors off the top spot. Kawhi Leonard continues to play at an MVP level and Pascal Siakam is one of the most unique players in the league. Kyle Lowry hasn’t quite rounded into form since returning to the lineup, but expect him to soon.

2. Bucks (32-12) Last week: 2
If it wasn’t for James Harden going bonkers recently, Giannis Antetokounmpo would easily be the MVP favorite. Milwaukee has won 14 of its last 17. While there’s no star complementing the "Greek Freak," the Bucks’ depth is serious. 

3. Celtics (26-18) Last week: 3
The Celtics may be the most confounding team in the NBA. In between crushing the Pacers and a dramatic win over the Raptors, they lost three straight to the Heat, Magic and Nets, respectively. Gordon Hayward seems to be a big part of the equation. Still not all the way back from a gruesome leg injury, Hayward is shooting 48 percent in wins and just 34 percent in losses.

4. Sixers (30-16) Last week: 4 
Speaking of confounding teams … the Sixers followed up what might have been their worst week of the season with arguably their best. After demolishing the Timberwolves, they took care of the Pacers in convincing fashion. The Sixers have hit a brutal stretch in their schedule, but they’re currently playing their best basketball. They stay at No. 4, but if they keep playing like this, look out.

5. Pacers (29-15) Last week: 5
The Pacers are just clearly a tier below in the East. They’re deep, but what they really need is another star to complement Victor Oladipo and take up some of the offensive load.

6. Nets (23-23) Last week: 7
When Brooklyn was on the outside looking in, I said in this space that it would be a playoff team. That prediction is looking pretty good right now. While the Nets have been led by their scoring guards, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, second-year center Jarrett Allen really looks like a player.

7. Miami (21-21) Last week: 6 
Turns out an injury to Goran Dragic may have been a blessing in disguise for the Heat. Justise Winslow has stepped into Dragic's spot in the starting lineup and been a revelation. Over his last 12 games, Winslow is averaging 15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 40 percent from three and 49 percent overall.

8. Hornets (21-23) Last week: 8
Since they appear dead set on re-signing Kemba Walker, you have to get the man some help. If they do, they should be able to hold onto this spot.

9. Pistons (19-24) Last week: 9
It was super fun watching Blake Griffin go for 44 against the Clippers and also telling owner Steve Ballmer to go somewhere with his handshake offer. Other than that? The Pistons just aren’t good.

10. Wizards (19-26) Last week: 10
Bradley Beal has been fantastic since the calendar turned to 2019, posting 30.6 points per game since Jan. 1. Too bad he’s stuck in D.C. as the Wizards refuse to “Trust the Process.” Bold strategy, Cotton. 

11. Magic (19-25) Last week: 11
It appears Orlando will value trying to get the eighth seed in the East over getting value for the expiring contracts of Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross.

12. Hawks (14-30) Last week: 12
Atlanta might be playing a little too well. Kevin Huerter is one of the culprits as the rookie is averaging 15.6 points and shooting 42 percent from three over his last eight. With John Collins, Trae Young and Huerter, the Hawks have a few intriguing pieces.

13. Knicks (10-34) Last week: 13
Tank …

14. Bulls (10-35) Last week: 15
… for …

15. Cavs (9-36) Last week: 14
… Zion.

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More on the Sixers

Marc Jackson tearfully remembers his friend Kobe Bryant

Marc Jackson tearfully remembers his friend Kobe Bryant

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Marc Jackson knew Kobe Bryant during his early days in Philadelphia, when the two were working toward their grand NBA dreams.

On Sunday evening, after the sudden, tragic death of Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash (see story), Jackson discussed how he learned of Bryant's passing, and recounted some of his fondest memories from his time training with Bryant when they were kids.

"It's just a shame. It's a bad day. It's a very horrible day, not just in sports but in life," Jackson said. "Because this guy — this guy, from the very first moment I met him. He's a day off the plane from Italy, and we're working out with John Arnett, he was 12 at the time. I was 15, 16. We're working out at Temple, he's this 12-year-old lanky kid. We finished working out, it must've been about two, three hours, and afterwards he got ice on his knees. I said, 'What are you doing, getting ice on your knees?' He's like, 'I'm trying to have a long career.' He was 12 and I was 15, and I remember looking at him and laughing, like, 'That's interesting.' 

"And I'll never forget the time when he was getting ready to make a decision about whether he was going to college or the NBA. We were working out of Temple. He had this thing called 'Crown,' where he was trying to dunk on you, and he'd say he was going to 'Crown' you. That stuff just started going through my head.

"Now I'm just thinking about his wife and his children, and I'm thinking about his mother Pam, and I'm thinking about Coach Joe, who was one of my first coaches when I first started playing the game. I'm looking at that and thinking about that, and then I just have 1,100 emails, texts, and phone calls, in a matter of hours. It's just to say, he's a very important person."

You can listen to Jackson talk more about Bryant in the video above.

Remembering Kobe Bryant's final game in Philadelphia

Remembering Kobe Bryant's final game in Philadelphia

Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine who died Sunday in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California (see story).

For Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star, his final game in Philadelphia was a meaningful moment in his basketball career. He was born in the city and went to Lower Merion High School in Ardmore.

“I wasn’t expecting that type of reaction, the ovation,” he said after the Lakers’ game against the Sixers on Dec. 1, 2015. “It was emotional. I’m deeply appreciative beyond belief. It was really, really special.”

You can watch the video above for a look back at Bryant’s last game in Philadelphia.