Power rankings

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: As Sixers look to seal No. 3 seed, race is tight for final few playoff spots

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: As Sixers look to seal No. 3 seed, race is tight for final few playoff spots

The top five seeds in the Eastern Conference have all sealed playoff spots, while several teams below them are still jostling to get in to the postseason in this edition of our power rankings. 

1. Bucks (57-19) Last ranking: 1
After losing to the Cavs last Wednesday, Milwaukee rattled off four straight wins. Injuries remain a bigger concern for the Bucks than on-court performance. Giannis Antetokounmpo still doesn’t feel like he’s recovered from the ankle sprain he sustained on March 17 vs. the Sixers, and he tweaked the injury again Thursday night. Rookie Donte DiVincenzo is out for the season with a heel injury. 

2. Raptors (53-23) Last ranking: 2 
Four games behind Milwaukee with six to play, Toronto looks locked in to the No. 2 spot. Marc Gasol has yet to become a real part of the Raptors’ offense. Over his last two games, wins by Toronto over the Bulls and Knicks, Gasol scored a total of four points and shot 1 for 10 in 43 minutes. 

3. Sixers (48-27) Last ranking: 3 
The Sixers appeared borderline invincible at this time last week. Disappointing losses at Atlanta and Orlando have changed that, though Thursday’s win over Brooklyn was the ideal response. Wednesday vs. the Hawks is a good opportunity for the Sixers to fully wipe away some of the bad memories from their last two games against Atlanta, and to show their pick-and-roll defense is capable of doing the basics right consistently. 

4. Celtics (44-31) Last ranking: 4
It’s just never straightforward with the Celtics, who snapped a four-game losing streak Tuesday by beating Cleveland. Boston is a game back of the No. 4 seed but, with two of their seven games left against the Pacers, has a good chance to overtake Indiana and earn home court advantage in the first round. 

5. Pacers (45-30) Last ranking: 5
Indiana returned home Sunday after a hellacious four-game trip out west and crushed the Nuggets, then fell Wednesday at Oklahoma City. Bojan Bogdanovic had an excellent week, scoring 63 points on 24 for 36 shooting (11 of 15 from three-point range).

6. Pistons (38-37) Last ranking: 6
The six through 10 spots in the East have been very tight all season, and that’s still the case — no team has truly separated themselves from the middle of the pack or fallen completely out of the playoff race. Detroit is at six, both in the standings and these power rankings, after a good win Thursday over the Magic in which Wayne Ellington scored a season-high 25 points.

7. Nets (38-38) Last ranking: 7 
D’Angelo Russell and the Nets clearly weren’t at their best Thursday at Wells Fargo Center, playing the final game of a seven-game road trip. With two games against the Bucks and matchups against the Raptors, Celtics, Pacers and Heat left, Brooklyn would do well just to hold on to a playoff spot — forget about seeding.

8. Magic (37-39) Last ranking: 9 
Orlando’s loss to Detroit ended a six-game winning streak. If the Magic can sneak in, they won’t be an easy team to play in the postseason. They have the best defensive rating in the NBA since February, over two points better than any other team in the conference.

9. Heat (37-38) Last ranking: 8
Goran Dragic started for the first time since Dec. 10 and posted a triple-double in Miami’s win Thursday night over fellow Slovenian Luka Doncic and the Mavs. The Sixers will see the Heat on Apr. 9 before Miami’s regular-season finale the next day in Brooklyn, a game which will almost certainly have some sort of playoff implications. 

10. Hornets (35-39) Last ranking: 10
Just when you thought the Hornets were out of it, they rip off wins over the Celtics, Raptors and Spurs. Jeremy Lamb’s game-winner from half court Sunday in Toronto was one of the most improbable shots you’ll ever see. Maybe it will spark a playoff push.

11. Wizards (31-45) Last ranking: 11 
The Wizards are officially done. Losing would, of course, help their lottery odds … but that’s apparently not how they do things in Washington.

12. Hawks (27-48) Last ranking: 12
Atlanta, winners of three straight, has the fourth-best offensive rating in the East since the All-Star break. The Sixers saw firsthand how dynamic the Hawks' offense can be.

13. Bulls (21-55) Last ranking: 13
Lauri Markkanen is out for the rest of the season after a “episode of a rapid heart rate and fatigue” Tuesday in Toronto, which sounds alarming. The Bulls are understandably being cautious with the 21-year-old Markkanen.

14. Cavs (19-57) Last ranking: 14
Collin Sexton is behind only former Sixer Landry Shamet for three-point percentage among rookies (41.4 percent), which is pretty incredible for a player who shot 33.6 percent from long range in his single season at Alabama.

15. Knicks (14-61) Last ranking: 15
There’s not a ton of good news on the court for the Knicks, who have lost 13 of 14 games and will likely have the fewest wins in a season in franchise history. Frank Ntilikina is out for the season with a groin injury. On the bright side, the Westchester Knicks, the team’s G-League affiliate, is in the conference semifinals. 

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NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: As Bucks limp to finish line, Sixers starting to look dangerous

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: As Bucks limp to finish line, Sixers starting to look dangerous

In this edition of our Eastern Conference power rankings, things are getting interesting at the top as we inch closer to the playoffs.

1. Bucks (53-19) Last ranking: 1
Milwaukee had one of its toughest weeks of the season. After the Bucks lost to the Sixers at home, they beat the Lakers before losing to the lowly Cavs. The biggest culprit is the injury bug which has ravaged their deep roster. Giannis Antetokounmpo missed two games with an ankle injury. Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic are both out for an extended period. George Hill and Sterling Brown are also out. Milwaukee is limping to the finish line.

2. Raptors (51-21) Last ranking: 2 
There’s a chance Toronto could catch Milwaukee, though the Raptors are dealing with injury issues of their own. Kyle Lowry missed their win over the Thunder and will miss the rematch Friday night. Kawhi Leonard is still on his back-to-back restriction. The other thing I’m still curious about is Marc Gasol. He’s been OK. Meanwhile, Jonas Valanciunas has been really good for Memphis. He had a monster 33-point performance against the Rockets and has averaged 19.4 points over his last 11 games.

3. Sixers (47-25) Last ranking: 3 
Don’t look now, but the Sixers are the hottest team in the NBA. They’ve won six straight — including wins over Milwaukee and boogeyman Boston — and are now 7-1 when all five members of their new starting five are in the lineup. The Sixers have one of the easiest remaining schedules, but it seems unlikely that they’ll catch the Bucks. They appear to be a near-lock for the three seed.

I’m keeping them at three here only because of the body of work this season. With that said, the Sixers have to be looked at as a team nobody wants to face in the postseason. We’re just eight games into “Sixers 3.0.” This new starting unit may just be scratching the surface. Scary.

4. Celtics (43-29) Last ranking: 4
Boston continues to be one of the most confounding teams in the NBA. On some nights, they look unbeatable. On other nights … not so much. There still appears to be a struggle to mesh Kyrie Irving’s abilities as an iso player with Brad Stevens’ offensive system. It’s also evident that the Sixers picked on Irving defensively with great success Wednesday night. We won’t truly learn about the Celtics until the playoffs begin.

5. Pacers (44-29) Last ranking: 5
Indiana has dropped four in a row and that’s to be expected while missing All-Star Victor Oladipo and having one of the toughest schedules in the league to close out the season. The Pacers are clinging to the four seed but will likely drop and face off against Boston in the first round.

6. Pistons (37-34) Last ranking: 8
Detroit came back down to earth after its ridiculous run, but this is a team that’s figured some things out. The Pistons will go as far as Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond will take them, but it’s the recent resurgence of their perimeter players like Reggie Jackson, Wayne Ellington and Langston Galloway that’s fueled their recent success.

7. Nets (37-36) Last ranking: 6
I did struggle to drop Brooklyn because they did have a brutal road trip that took them to Oklahoma City, Utah, Los Angeles (to play the good L.A. team), and Sacramento. As their monster comeback against the Kings — in which D’Angelo Russell dropped 44 — shows, they can be wildly entertaining when playing well.

8. Heat (35-36) Last ranking: 7 
Miami is doing its best to hang on to that eighth seed with three impressive wins this week over the Hornets, Thunder and Spurs. Goran Dragic is rounding into form since returning to the lineup and has given Miami a huge boost off the bench. He averaged 22.3 points in the three wins and shot a sizzling 64 percent from three.

9. Magic (34-38) Last ranking: 9 
Orlando kept pace with Miami, winning three in a row as well. All three wins occurred after the arrival of Michael Carter-Williams. Coincidence? Yes, definitely.

10. Hornets (32-39) Last ranking: 10 
Charlotte gave the Sixers quite the scare, but it’s looking like the Hornets will come up short in their quest for the playoffs. It’s not surprising. All season in this space we referenced the need to get Kemba Walker help. That help never came.

11. Wizards (30-43) Last ranking: 11
Thomas Bryant looks like he might be a legitimate prospect. Other than that … #FreeBradleyBeal

12. Hawks (25-48) Last ranking: 12 
You have to respect what Lloyd Pierce is doing in Atlanta. The Hawks are coming off a nice win against Utah and Trae Young is making a late push to overtake Luka Doncic as Rookie of the Year. They won’t be a pushover for the Sixers Saturday.

13. Bulls (21-52) Last ranking: 13 
Same deal with the Bulls, who look like they might have something with the quartet of Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. Though they’re playing to win, it would be something if they got the No. 2 pick and wound up with Murray State’s Ja Morant.

14. Cavs (19-53) Last ranking: 14 
Speaking of Morant, he’s looking like one hell of a consolation prize if Cleveland can’t get the No. 1 pick (again). A backcourt duo of Collin Sexton and Morant could run a few teams out of the building.

15. Knicks (14-58) Last ranking: 15 
They’re watching the NCAA Tournament with bated breath, hoping Zion Williamson gets delivered to them healthy.

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NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Where things stand heading into final month

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NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Where things stand heading into final month

In this edition of our Eastern Conference power rankings, we look at the impact of Joel Embiid's return and how things stand heading into the final month of the season. 

1. Bucks (51-17) Last ranking: 1
The Bucks are beatable — they had a hiccup in San Antonio Sunday — but they sure look like a difficult team to top in a seven-game series. Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn’t shot worse than 50 percent from the field in a game since Jan. 27.

2. Raptors (49-20) Last ranking: 2 
Monday was not a pleasant night in Cleveland for the Raptors, who lost to the Cavs by 25 and lost Serge Ibaka for three games after his fight with Marquese Chriss. Ibaka’s suspension should mean more playing time for Marc Gasol and a chance to further develop his chemistry with his new teammates, writes Lori Ewing of The Globe and Mail.

3. Sixers (43-25) Last ranking: 3 
After going 4-4 since the All-Star break without Joel Embiid, the Sixers are 2-0 since their big man returned. They understandably weren’t satisfied with their performance Tuesday in the second and third quarters vs. Cleveland, but they’ll take the win and hope to build a little cohesiveness now that the rotation is finally intact again. 

Brett Brown said after practice Thursday that the Sixers are “not even close” to where he wants them to be, but “there is time, in my opinion. There is time to have as perfect vanilla as we can have and use it as a launching pad to ride the wave of playoff emotion, momentum. You hear me talk about let’s land the plane, let’s keep everybody in the boat, let’s keep the spirit, let’s grow the structure, let’s understand rotations. … That’s the plan.”

4. Celtics (42-27) Last ranking: 4
Down as many as 17 points Thursday night, the Celtics came back to top the Kings. Boston has now won four of five, with games vs. Atlanta and Denver up next before Wednesday’s matchup in Philadelphia.

5. Pacers (44-25) Last ranking: 5
Surviving these next seven games will be critical for the Pacers if they hope to hold onto the No. 3 seed. In a brutal stretch, Indiana plays the Nuggets twice, the Trail Blazers, Clippers, Warriors and Celtics. Oh, and six of those seven games are on the road.

6. Nets (36-34) Last ranking: 6
The Nets crushed the team right behind them in the standings on Monday, holding the Pistons to 75 points on a season-worst 27.8 percent mark from the field. D’Angelo Russell has cooled off slightly as of late, but he still has a good shot at averaging over 20 points per game for the first time in his career. 

7. Heat (32-35) Last ranking: 8 
Detroit followed up that 75-point effort against Brooklyn with a 108-74 loss Wednesday in Miami. That victory gave Miami six wins in seven games, and the Heat find the growth of the Justise Winslow/Josh Richardon/Bam Adebayo trio especially encouraging, writes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.

8. Pistons (34-33) Last ranking: 7
To be fair to the Pistons, they were due for a clunker or two after a five-game winning streak. Detroit still has a 3.5-game edge over the No. 9 seed Magic and, barring a bad collapse, should be a playoff team.

9. Magic (32-38) Last ranking: 9 
Since the Markelle Fultz trade, Orlando has the best defensive rating in the NBA — by almost two points.

10. Hornets (30-37) Last ranking: 10 
There’s still a chance the Hornets manage to earn the eighth seed, though their odds aren’t great given the way they’re currently playing. Charlotte has won one of its last five games and has important matchups coming up Friday in Washington and Sunday in Miami. Meanwhile, Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer reports the Mavericks are the top threat to sign Kemba Walker this summer.

11. Wizards (29-39) Last ranking: 11
To make the playoffs, the Wizards are probably going to need their first four-game winning streak of the season. Their current streak is at two following a nice win over Orlando on Wednesday. 

12. Hawks (24-45) Last ranking: 12 
Altanta, following decisive wins over New Orleans and Memphis, has the third-highest scoring average in the NBA since February.

13. Bulls (19-50) Last ranking: 13 
The Bulls say they “aren’t prioritizing draft lottery positioning this season,” according to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, and you believe it. Zach LaVine is probable for Friday’s matchup against the Clippers after missing the past two games with a right patellar tendon strain.

14. Cavs (17-52) Last ranking: 14 
A 25-point win over the Raptors; a close contest in Philadelphia; a 29-point loss to the Magic. That final result best captures the Cavs team we’ve seen all season.

15. Knicks (13-55) Last ranking: 15 
In each of their past four games, the Knicks have been held under 100 points. The Sixers have scored under 100 points in a game only five times all season. 

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