The Los Angeles Lakers, the Denver Nuggets, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Houston Rockets, the Atlanta Hawks, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Boston Celtics have all been excised from the discussion. Either the Chicago Bulls or the Brooklyn Nets will join them after their win-or-go-home Game 7 showdown on Saturday night has been decided.
But while the rest of the kiddies are busy fighting in the yard and hurting each other therein (Russell Westbrook? Stephen Curry? Joe Johnson? Half of the Chicago Bulls?), the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have spent the past week healing up.
As you can imagine, all of this action has wrought havoc on the playoff power rankings.
(This is when you start clicking through, before the next Patrick Beverley or Kenneth Faried "ruins" another series.)
*Updated by Zach Buckley at 2:15 a.m. on May 4
It's pretty amazing that Kirk Hinrich has suddenly emerged as the fulcrum upon whose ailing leg the Chicago Bulls' hopes currently rest.
With Derrick Rose all but officially ruled out until the fall, Captain Kirk had done a solid job of filling in as the team's floor general on offense while pestering Deron Williams on the other end.
Well, that is until a bruised left calf forced him to sit out Games 5 and 6. As if the Bulls needed another injury to worry about, what with Rose's knee, Joakim Noah's foot and the flu-ridden bodies of Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Nate Robinson already consuming the full efforts of the team's training staff.
Luckily for the Bulls, they've shown that they can win on the road. This group will need to do just that in Game 7 at the Barclays Center.
That is, if limping into a second-round slaughter at the hands of the Miami Heat is something that still appeals to them.
What do you get if you don't have your health?
How about a decoy? That's what Joe Johnson says he's been reduced to on account of plantar fasciitis (per Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com).
Johnson's honesty is easy to appreciate—among the media and the opposition, but probably not by his own teammates and coaches. Has Joe said too much? Has he given away the goose to a Chicago Bulls coaching staff, led by Tom Thibodeau, that ranks among the best and smartest in the NBA?
Or is he messing with everybody's heads? Is he healthier than he's letting on? Is he simply trying to get the Bulls to back off so he'll have room to shoot?
Or am I overthinking this?
Whatever the case may be, the Nets need "Iso Joe" to be a credible offensive threat at the very least. He came through in Brooklyn's Game 6 win, with a team-high-tying 17 points.
The more Johnson scores, the more opposing defenses have to pay attention to him, the easier it is for Deron Williams and Brook Lopez to operate, and the less Williams and Lopez have to do to keep the Nets afloat.
The Golden State Warriors did everything they could to hand Game 6 to the Denver Nuggets. The Warriors were sitting on an 18-point lead with 8:19 to go before the Nuggets ripped off a 13-0 run, helped in large part by some of Golden State's 10 turnovers in the final period.
And yet, it wasn't enough for the Nuggets in the end. Golden State managed to hang on for a 92-88 win to complete the upset of third-seeded Denver.
It certainly helped that Andrew Bogut came up as big as he did. The injury-plagued Aussie had arguably his finest performance in a Warriors uniform, piling up 14 points, 21 rebounds, three assists, four blocks and a steal.
Let's not forget, either, about the efforts of Draymond Green. The rookie out of Michigan State scored nine of his 16 points (and grabbed half of his 10 rebounds) in the fourth to help the Warriors extend their lead and later cut short the Nuggets' run.
David Lee didn't do much in his token minute of play, though his mere presence as a "zero calorie" version of Willis Reed undoubtedly gave his 'mates a bit of a lift.
Now, the Dubs move on to face the San Antonio Spurs, who have the requisite skill, experience and ability to execute under pressure to make Golden State pay for its myriad mistakes.
Survive and advance.
It's a mantra that's been beaten to death over the past two weeks, but one that Scott Brooks never anticipated selling to his team so soon.
A 103-94 win over the Houston Rockets in Game 6 kept his club from complete disaster, but the Oklahoma City Thunder have begun to come apart in Russell Westbrook's absence. Kevin Durant is doing his darndest to keep OKC afloat, with averages of 35.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists in the four games since Russ went down.
His 4.5 turnovers per game in this series and his uneven performance in Game 5 (1-8 from three, scoreless in the fourth quarter) point to a player who's still getting the hang of this whole "jack-of-all-trades" thing.
And one who can't carry a team to the Promised Land all by his lonesome. Some serious scoring from Kevin Martin (25 points in Game 6) and Reggie Jackson (17 points in Game 6) would help to ease Durant's burden, as would support from OKC's defense. The Thunder struggled to slow down the Rockets in Games 2 through 5, allowing Houston to outshoot them and top the 100-point plateau each time.
OKC showed a measure of improvement in Game 6, when they limited the Rockets to just 94 points on 41.1 percent shooting in the series-clincher. But Houston's 14 threes in that contest ensured that the sirens would continue to scream as the Thunder prepare for a matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies.
They recovered in time to hold the potent Houston Rockets to just 94 points on 41.1 percent shooting in the series-clincher. But 14 Houston long-range bombs in Game 6 did nothing to quiet the alarms sounded after the Rockets outshot the Thunder and topped the 100-point plateau in each of the previous four games of the series.
Should Brooks pack defibrillators for Round 2? Or are Kevin Durant and company ready to show that they can survive just fine without Westbrook?
If only the Indiana Pacers could play all of their games at home, they might be the odds-on favorites to win the NBA title. They won each of their three meetings with the Atlanta Hawks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse by an average of 18.3 points, including a 106-83 drubbing in Game 5.
Not that such dominance is entirely surprising. The Pacers were 30-11 at home during the regular season and outscored the opposition by a strong 8.8 points per 100 possessions in Indy.
Nor should the Pacers' road futility catch anyone off guard. They finished with a losing away record (19-21), upending their foes by a measly 1.0 points per 100 possessions.
Indy's Jekyll-and-Hyde play against Atlanta reached another level of ridiculous, though. The Pacers scored a saddening 69 points in Game 3 and trailed by as many as 19 points in Game 4 before dropping that one by 11.
Those to defeats had extended Indy's losing streak at Philips Arena to 13 games—a streak that no longer stands thanks to the Pacers' 81-73 win in Game 6. The Pacers held the Hawks to an anemic 33.3 percent shooting from the field and did their best to bring out the boo birds during Atlanta's awful nine-point second quarter.
Getting the home crowd at Madison Square Garden to turn on the New York Knicks in the next round won't be quite so easy, though the Pacers have the requisite size, firepower, and defensive toughness to give it a go.
If not for J.R. Smith's flagrant elbow to Jason Terry's face in Game 3—and the subsequent suspension Smith earned for Game 4—the New York Knicks might not have needed a Game 5 to put the Boston Celtics out of their misery.
And if the Knicks hadn't granted the C's additional motivation by showing up to Game 5 dressed for their opponents' funeral, there might not have been a need for a Game 6 back in Beantown.
But that's precisely the point, isn't it? The Knicks had all the veteran weapons needed to stomp the Celtics, between Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, a healing Tyson Chandler and a resurgent Kenyon Martin, among others.
Yet New York couldn't help but shoot itself in the foot time and again before stumbling into an 88-80 win in Game 6, whether by ditching smooth ball movement for clunky isolation play on the court or succumbing to its own cheap vanity off it.
Knicks fans can't afford to be greedy, not when this series win was the first they'd witnessed in more than a decade. The Indiana Pacers are a talented bunch and just so happen to be as healthy as any team left in this year's postseason field. If the regular season—in which these teams split four games by home court—is any indication, this series could very well go the distance.
Just like old times, right Spike Lee?
The Memphis Grizzlies seized the run of play in Game 3 and rode it all the way to a first-round dispatching of the Los Angeles Clippers. As a result, they're now looking ahead to a second-round tilt with the Thunder after dispatching the Los Angeles Clippers with a 118-105 win in Game 6.
It's no surprise that Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph were at the center of this turnaround, even less shocking that Randolph found time for some in-game sparring with Blake Griffin in the series-clincher. Memphis has been an inside-out squad on both ends of the floor since Day 1, and it honed in on that approach even further after trading Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors in January.
The real revelation in this series, though, was the play of Mike Conley. The sixth-year guard stepped up his game considerably opposite Chris Paul on both ends of the floor. He applied plenty of pressure offensively (17.3 points, 8.3 assists in the series) and pestered Paul constantly on the defensive end. His 12-of-17 performance at the foul line and 3-of-4 showing from deep in Game 6 helped the Grizzlies fight through a quiet night for Gasol (10 points) and Randolph's ejection.
Blake Griffin's bad wheel cost him all but 14 minutes on Friday night, leaving CP3 to shoulder a massive burden offensively (28 points, eight assists) and still keep Conley in check. Paul's frustration eventually boiled over when a second technical foul sent him to the showers in the closing minutes of the contest.
Conley's improved play makes life that much easier on the interior for Gasol and Z-Bo. Opposing defenses can't simply stuff the middle of the floor now that Memphis has found itself a legitimate perimeter threat sans Rudy Gay.
That could make all the difference in Round 2, as the Grizzlies look to exact some 2011 revenge against the short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder.
Every bit of rest the San Antonio Spurs get is bad news for the rest of the Western Conference, especially in light of how their chief competitors' key players are dropping like flies.
Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are about as healthy together as they've been all season. Those three vets, along with their 'mates, have had a golden opportunity to rest up even more since sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers, whose own injury woes sealed the end of a catastrophic season.
It appears as though the Spurs are back to living the charmed life of a postseason powerhouse.
Then again, that's what so many of us said last year while San Antonio streaked its way to 20 straight wins between the regular season and playoffs. You remember how that ended, don't you? The Spurs got dropped by the Oklahoma City Thunder in four straight games after taking a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
The Thunder aren't nearly the threat they once were, now that James Harden is in Houston and Russell Westbrook is in the training room with a knee injury. But the Memphis Grizzlies are relatively healthy and have enjoyed plenty of success at San Antonio's expense over the last two years. A "warm-up" against the upstart (and mistake-prone) Golden State Warriors should give the Spurs ample opportunity to work themselves back into playing shape.
Rough life this guy has right now. I mean, what's a soon-to-be-four-time MVP to do with himself during a full week of down time after sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks? Relax on his own private stretch of Biscayne Bay? Chill out with his wife and kids? Stop into Escobar Barber Shop for another needless trim?
Still, it's difficult to imagine any measure of ennui hindering this team's inevitable march back to the NBA Finals. When they do return to American Airlines Arena on Monday, they'll be matched up against either the beat-up Brooklyn Nets or the even-more-beat-up Chicago Bulls.
Perhaps Miami should sit Dwyane Wade for a game or two in the next round, just to make things interesting. Otherwise, LeBron might find himself overcome with boredom after another four-game sweep.