NBA Eastern Conference Power Rankings: Important Stretch Looms for Sixers

The Celtics are creeping back toward the top, the Raptors continue to impress, and an important stretch looms for the Sixers.

Here are our latest Eastern Conference power rankings.

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1. Toronto Raptors (23-7) Last week: 1
There's a substantial gap between the Raptors and the rest of the East, as evidenced by Toronto's 20-point win at the Warriors on Wednesday night without Kawhi Leonard.

2. Milwaukee Bucks (18-9) Last week: 2 
With last Friday's trade, the Bucks added George Hill and freed up cap space heading into the offseason. After the Raptors, it's tight at the top of the East, but unlike the Sixers, the Bucks have beaten Toronto - twice. 

3. Sixers (19-10) Last week: 3
Fortunately for the Sixers, they don't have to play the Nets again until March. The next six games up through Christmas will be a telling stretch. Can the Sixers beat the teams they're supposed to beat (the Cavs and Knicks) and pull off a couple wins against strong opposition (the streaking Spurs, the Pacers, Raptors and Celtics)?

4. Boston Celtics (17-10) Last week: 4
After their early struggles, the Celtics are gelling, with seven straight wins. All of the first six were by nine points or more, and they won the seventh thanks to some clutch shotmaking from Kyrie Irving.

5. Indiana Pacers (18-10) Last week: 6 
Victor Oladipo returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing over three weeks with knee soreness, and the Pacers beat the Bucks by 16 points. Indiana did more than just tread water without Oladipo; the Pacers have won five straight and can move ahead of the Sixers in the standings with a victory on Friday. Bogdan Bogdanovic is shooting 49.6 percent from three-point range, the highest percentage of any player with at least 25 long range attempts. 

6. Charlotte Hornets (14-13) Last week: 7
The Hornets almost lost a game in one of the worst ways imaginable vs. the Pistons. Bismack Biyombo and Malik Monk ran onto the floor after Jeremy Lamb's go-ahead jumper with 0.3 seconds left, leading to the Hornets being assessed a technical foul and owner Michael Jordan smacking Monk on the back of the head in a "tap of endearment." A win's a win, though, and the Hornets have three in a row.

7. Detroit Pistons (13-13) Last week: 5
Following a late-November stretch of five consecutive wins, Detroit has lost six in a row. The Pistons' complementary pieces around Blake Griffin just haven't been good enough to vault Detroit near the top tier of the East.

8. Orlando Magic (13-15) Last week: 8 
Nikola Vucevic is consistently very good. The rest of the team is not.

9. Washington Wizards (11-17) Last week: 9
John Wall had perhaps his best game of the season on Wednesday after missing the previous game due to bone spurs in his left heel, but the Wizards still lost.

10. Brooklyn Nets (11-18) Last week: 11
The day after dropping a career-high 39 points on the Sixers, Spencer Dinwiddie signed a three-year extension with Brooklyn. It would probably behoove the Nets to tank, but they have the talent to hang around the playoff picture.

11. Miami Heat (11-16) Last week: 10
Miami beat the Clippers by 23 and lost to the Jazz by 27 in an odd past week. In the middle of those two games was Dwyane Wade's final matchup against LeBron James, which the Heat lost.

12. New York Knicks (8-21) Last week: 12 
Undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier signed a two-year, $7 million deal Thursday, which is a nice off-the-court story. On the court, the Knicks have lost seven of eight. Frank Ntilikina is playing again after a three-game stint on the bench, and he had a career-high 18 points Sunday night.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-21) Last week: 14
"Folk hero" Matthew Dellavedova had a triumphant return to Cleveland.

14. Atlanta Hawks (6-21) Last week: 15 
Saturday's win over the Nuggets was by far the best of the season for Atlanta. John Collins is averaging 25 points on 61.6 percent shooting and 13.5 rebounds over the past four games. 

15. Chicago Bulls (6-23) Last week: 13 
A franchise-record loss, players reportedly on the brink of mutiny under new head coach Jim Boylen, and Jabari Parker out of the regular rotation. It's a messy situation in Chicago.

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