NBA Eastern Conference Power Rankings: A Lot to Like About How Sixers Have Started Tough Stretch

1. Raptors (36-14) Last week: 1 
After resting for the past four games (during which Toronto went 3-1), Kawhi Leonard is set to return Friday vs. the Rockets. You can't fault the Raptors for being protective of their star with the playoffs in mind. 

2. Bucks (34-12) Last week: 2 
Yes, it's boosted by the occasional 30-point blowout, but the fact that Milwaukee's 9.7 net rating is three points better than the Warriors' tells you how good this team is. 

3. Celtics (30-18) Last week: 3
The unpredictable Celtics have followed up a run of three consecutive losses with five straight wins. The Sixers are on their heels, but it would be hard to knock Boston out of this spot in the middle of a winning streak.

4. Sixers (32-17) Last week: 4 
The uncertainty about Jimmy Butler's right wrist sprain takes a little of the shine off the Sixers' 3-1 start to their challenging, 12-game stretch before the All-Star break. Still, Corey Brewer looks like he could improbably turn out to be the perimeter defensive player Brett Brown wanted to add, Jonah Bolden seems to be the real deal as Joel Embiid's backup, and the Sixers are playing good basketball.

5. Pacers (32-15) Last week: 5
Victor Oladipo is out for the season with a ruptured quad tendon in his knee, which is obviously devastating news for Indiana. The Pacers still have the depth to compete without Oladipo, as they showed earlier in the season, but his injury likely removes a potential contender for the Eastern Conference title if the Pacers don't make a trade. But as our Tom Haberstroh writes, Mike Conley could make sense for Indiana (see story).

6. Nets (26-23) Last week: 6 
Speaking of injuries, Spencer Dinwiddie could be out for an extended period with a right thumb injury, which would be a big blow for Brooklyn. Dinwiddie has been one of the breakout players in the league this season. 

7. Hornets (23-24) Last week: 8 
Kemba Walker's scoring has dipped a little after an incredible start, but he's still deserving of his place as an All-Star starter for carrying Charlotte to playoff contention.

8. Heat (22-24) Last week: 7
The Heat have lost four of their last five games but hey, at least they beat the Bulls. 

9. Pistons (21-26) Last week: 9 
Blake Griffin isn't pleased with the team's issues closing out games, and it's hard to blame him. He's not getting a ton of help.

10. Wizards (20-26) Last week: 10 
Since beating the Sixers on Jan. 9, the Wizards have been playing solid basketball, with wins over Milwaukee, New York and Detroit. Their owner, Ted Leonsis, says the team "will never, ever tank," so we'll see how a Bradley Beal-led postseason push looks.

11. Magic (20-28) Last week: 11 
The Magic are three games out of the eight-seed in the East. Even if they manage to earn a playoff spot, can you really imagine them winning a series? 

12. Hawks (15-32) Last week: 12
Atlanta is the best of the worst. 

13. Knicks (10-36) Last week: 13
As usual, there's drama with Enes Kanter, and the Knicks have reportedly made Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee available ahead of the trade deadline.

14. Bulls (11-37) Last week: 14 
Wednesday's 20-point loss to the Hawks tells you all you need to know about the Bulls.

15. Cavs (9-40) Last week: 15 
With 17 losses in their past 18 games, the only light at the end of the tunnel for the Cavs is the franchise-altering player (Zion Williamson) all this losing could land them. 

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