NBA: Eastern Conference Power Rankings

David DietzContributor IIIMarch 7, 2012

NBA: Eastern Conference Power Rankings

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    More than halfway through the season, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape. Chicago and Miami have continued to pull away as the top two teams, while coming off a recent six-game win streak keep knocking on the door.

    On the flip side of the coin, Philadelphia has lost eight of ten while in Orlando the trade talk surrounding Dwight Howard is reaching epic proportions. 

    Here are the latest installments of the power rankings as teams kick off the second half and prepare for the home stretch of the season.

1. Miami Heat (28-9)

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    Chicago might have a better record, but they also have causes for concern. Rip Hamilton is hurt again, Derrick Rose has been slowed by injury and is having trouble scoring on bigger guards and Joakim Noah is consistently inconsistent. 

    Meanwhile Miami is rolling. LeBron is the best player in the league, Dwayne Wade is playing well and the Heat expect to get Chris Bosh, who is having a strong year, back in the lineup. 

    Even a recent two-game slide is hardly anything to worry about given they were on a 12-1 run before that.

2. Chicago Bulls (32-8)

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    The Bulls have the best record in the league and are riding a seven game win streak.

    Still as good as they are, questions remain whether Derrick Rose's supporting cast is deep enough to carry them when the going gets rough come playoff time.

    If Monday's win over Indiana was any indication, the Bulls should be fine.

3. Indiana Pacers (23-13)

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    Last night's loss was a blow to the Pacers who were feeling good and riding high.

    The bad news for Indiana fans is that in three games against Chicago and Miami the Pacers have lost by a combined 70 points. 

    The good news, they are still one and one against Chicago and are 22 and 10 against everyone else. 

4. Orlando Magic (25-14)

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    How long will Orlando remain this high?

    Well like everything else surrounding the Magic, it depends on Dwight Howard. Should he stay, expect Orlando to remain in contention throughout the year. If not, clearly Orlando will slide. 

    The decision to trade Howard is getting more difficult as the Magic have gone seven and three in the last 10 games and are playing as good as basketball as they have all season.

5. Atlanta (22-15)

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    The Hawks have another big test tonight in Indiana against the Pacers.

    They have been treading water for sometime now and need a marquee win to get back on the right track and continue their recent two-game win streak.

6. Boston Celtics (19-17)

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    After looking a bit tired and slow most of the first half of the season, the Celtics are finally looking like the Boston teams of years past.

    During their current four-game win streak, Pierce has been averaging over 21 a game while Kevin Garnett's own strong showing and recent average of 20 and 10 has been widely and unfairly overlooked. 

    Throw in Rajon Rondo's recent 18 point, 20 assists and 17 rebounds, which was single-'handedly the most impressive performance in the NBA to date this season. 

7. New York Knicks (18-19)

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    With Jeremy Lin, the pieces are starting to fall into place as the Knicks are finally a complete team.

    They have their bonafide scorers in Melo and A'mare, they have their point guard facilitator in Lin and they have an interior defender in Tyson Chandler. 

    Still, there are concerns as to whether they've been overhyped given they have only managed a three and four record since the nation first was captivated by Linmania and the Knicks seven-game win streak.

8. Philadelphia 76ers (22-17)

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    The stats are good—ninth in rebounds, seventh in assists, first in points allowed—but they are sliding hard and fast. The surprise and feel good story of the league has lost eight of their past ten games in what has been a brutal schedule.

    Unfortunately for Doug Collin's group, the next six games aren't much easier: Boston, Utah, New York, Indiana, Miami, Chicago.

    If Philadelphia can't win three of those they might suddenly find themselves in the unenviable seventh or eighth spot in the East.

9. Milwaukee Bucks (15-23)

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    Milwaukee, Cleveland and Toronto are all doing their best to play themselves out of the playoffs. Given that they are on the outside looking in, they've done a good job.

    The best of the worst is probably Milwaukee who without Andrew Bogut, doesn't have much bite but is still putting up a good fight.

    Ersan Ilyasova might be the best player nobody has heard of so at least the Bucks have that going for them.

10. Cleveland (13-23)

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    Kyrie Irving has been better than advertised.

    But at this point, sitting at 13-23 in the East and 4.5 games back of New York, a lot of fans in Cleveland probably wouldn't mind adding another high lottery pick to team with Irving, Casspi and Thompson.

11. Detroit Pistons (12-26)

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    After going 2-17 during January, the Pistons finally figured out how to turn around the sinking ship.

    Problem is, it was too late. Still an 8-6 record since then is promising. If they could keep up this pace, the Pistons could play themselves into the ninth spot, but at this point Detroit would need a major collapse from New York or Boston to sneak into the playoffs.

12. Toronto Raptors (12-26)

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    That Toronto is this bad with a trio of Bargnani, DeRozan and Calderon is surprising.

    That six players score in double figures on a nightly basis and yet the Raptors still only manage 89 points per game, is even more so.

    Things will get better when Bargnani's calf finally heels, but the pain his absence caused will linger with Toronto fans. 

    Another high draft pick is likely.

13. New Jersey Nets (12-26)

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    If Brook Lopez could stay healthy, the Nets might have a chance. Unfortunately for Brook, Deron and the Nets he can't get through more than five games at a time.

    If you need 50+ points from your point guard to beat the Charlotte Bobcats, you aren't going to be very competitive. 

14. Washington Wizards (8-29)

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    Wizards list of areas to improve on:

    Scoring, passing, defense, rebounds, chemistry, effort....

    At this point in the midst of a 1-7 slide, it's clear that John Wall is the only player to build around. High draft picks and the emergence of Jan Vesely will help. There will be brighter days in D.C. but getting through this year will be tough.

15. Charlotte Bobcats (4-31)

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    One of the dirty truths discussed during the lockout that was never resolved and got lost in the jubilation of resumption of play was the fact that the NBA really will eventually need to contract a few teams.

    First on the list, Charlotte. At this point could Charlotte make the sweet sixteen? Debatable. 

    The Bobcats ended a 16-game losing streak only to follow up a win in Toronto with another five-game losing streak that is likely to continue.