There’s still not much separating the top-five teams in this week’s Eastern Conference power rankings:
1. Raptors (26-10) Last week: 1
Don’t take the Sixers’ 25-point win over Toronto on Saturday as a sign of anything seriously wrong with the Raptors. When everyone is healthy and on the floor – which hasn’t happened very often recently – Toronto is still the best team in the East.
2. Bucks (24-10) Last week: 2
The Bucks also have a very strong claim for the top spot, with six wins in their last seven games and the best net rating in the NBA. They’ll have a chance on Jan. 5 to beat Toronto for the third time this season.
3 Celtics (20-14) Last week: 3
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Celtics and Sixers swap spots in our power rankings several times over the next couple months. The dramatic overtime battle on Christmas illustrated why the Sixers need some bench help to vault decisively over Boston. Zero bench points for the Sixers until late in the third quarter is perhaps the stat that jumps out most from that loss.
4. Sixers (23-13) Last week: 4
If JJ Redick didn’t miss two free throws, or if he knocked down an open look from the wing at the end of regulation, many people would likely have a very different perspective on the Sixers. That’s not to place all the blame on Redick, but a reminder of how close the Sixers were to earning a big win at TD Garden. A 17-point victory over the Jazz on Thursday night was the perfect way to respond to that loss.
5. Pacers (23-12) Last week: 5
Indiana has won three straight games and 10 of their last 12. They’ve held opponents below 100 points in eight of those 12 games, an impressive feat in the modern NBA.
6. Hornets (16-17) Last week: 6
Wednesday night, the Hornets lost yet another heartbreaker, a bizarre double-overtime game in Brooklyn. They’re getting a lot of practice in close games. You’d expect they’ll eventually figure out how to win them, right?
7. Detroit Pistons (16-16) Last week: 7
You get the sense the Pistons would need Blake Griffin to score at least 30 points per game to have a chance of winning a playoff series. Detroit is 6-9 when Griffin posts 25 points or fewer, 10-7 when he scores 26 or more.
8. Brooklyn Nets (17-19) Last week: 9
The Nets just keep rising in our power rankings. Spencer Dinwiddie had 37 points and 11 assists in that double overtime win over Charlotte. He’s scored in double figures in all but two games this season.
9. Miami Heat (16-17) Last week: 10
A tight loss to the Raptors on Wednesday ended a five-game winning streak for Miami. Justise Winslow has done a nice job filling in at the point for the injured Goran Dragic.
10. Magic (14-19) Last week: 8
The four-game losing run Orlando is on has been an especially bad one. They’ve lost by 39 to the Spurs, 24 to the Heat, and also fell to the Bulls and Suns.
11. Wizards (13-22) Last week: 11
The Wizards are still not a team that inspires a ton of confidence, having lost eight of their past 10 games. On the bright side, Thomas Bryant made history with a 14-for-14 performance in a triple-overtime win over the Suns on Saturday, and the Wizards are encouraged by his development.
12. Hawks (9-24) Last week: 13
Atlanta’s first three-game winning streak of the season was snapped with a loss vs. the Pacers on Wednesday. Rookie Kevin Huerter is shooting 42.9 percent from three-point range since joining the starting lineup on Nov. 25.
13. Cavs (8-27) Last week: 12
Out of their 27 losses, Sunday’s 20-point defeat to the Bulls might have been Cleveland’s worst. The Cavs are dealing with a bunch of injuries and have lost four straight.
14. Bulls (9-26) Last week: 15
The Bulls are actually 4-7 since Jim Boylen took over as interim head coach, though it feels worse. Lauri Markkanen has gone for 30-plus points in two of his last three games.
15. Knicks (9-27) Last week: 13
You can always count on drama from the Knicks. Enes Kanter wasn’t happy about being replaced by Luke Kornet in the starting lineup Thursday night, then got ejected in the Knicks’ loss to the Bucks. Kevin Knox is learning how to score in the NBA, with 19.4 points per game since Dec. 9.
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