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
14. Bulls (10-35) Last week: 15
… for …
15. Cavs (9-36) Last week: 14
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