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.
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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