The evening of Friday, Feb. 21, featured several teams on the periphery of the playoffs in both conferences.
The Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks are all vying for the last two spots in the Eastern Conference. Detroit sent the scuffling Hawks to their eighth loss in a row, while the Bobcats held off the New Orleans Pelicans thanks to their big man, Al Jefferson.
In the West, the ninth-place Memphis Grizzlies tangled with their old postseason nemesis, the Los Angeles Clippers. The eighth-place Dallas Mavericks did their best to keep pace against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers.
The Phoenix Suns added to their already impressive resume on Friday night with a 106-85 win over the San Antonio Spurs. Phoenix dropped the hammer on the defending Western Conference champs with a 28-12 second quarter, and didn't look back.
Five players (Channing Frye, Gerald Green, Ish Smith, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris) scored at least 13 points in the Suns' incredibly balanced offense.
After the game, it was Smith who perfectly summed up Phoenix's philosophy, courtesy of a quote from the film Talladega Nights.
Per the Suns' official Twitter account, Smith said, "I'm like Ricky Bobby. I just wanna go fast."
Indeed, the Suns are usually going fast. Per Basketball-Reference, they rank sixth in the league in pace. And they certainly ran the Spurs off the court on Friday.
Give the New York Knicks this much: At least they are consistent.
The Knicks lost in double-overtime to the 16-40 Orlando Magic, the third-worst team in the league by record. They've also lost to the Milwaukee Bucks (worst record), Philadelphia 76ers (second-worst) and Sacramento Kings (fourth-worst, tied with the Los Angeles Lakers).
The 129-121 loss featured some terrible defense, botched two-for-one possessions at the end of quarters (which coach Mike Woodson wasn't even aware of, per The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring), and Tyson Chandler knocking his own dunk out of the hoop with his head. In other words, it was a pretty typical Friday night in Knicks land.
The loss dropped New York 4.5 games behind the Charlotte Bobcats for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They're not going to the postseason this year, and they don't deserve to.
For much of the 2013-14 season, the Atlanta Hawks were one of only three teams in the Eastern Conference with a winning record. Now, they might not even make the playoffs.
The Hawks' slide into oblivion continued on Friday night with a 115-107 loss to the Detroit Pistons. Atlanta held an 11-point lead at halftime, but crumbled in the third quarter.
Not only was the loss Atlanta's eighth in a row, it dropped them percentage points behind the Charlotte Bobcats and into the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Detroit is now 2.5 games behind. That is the margin between the Hawks and elimination.
The Hawks weren't likely to make much noise in the postseason after center Al Horford was lost for the season, but this team is still too talented to wash out of the playoffs completely. This is a team in need of a wake-up call.
The Charlotte Bobcats needed a victory to keep the Pistons at bay in the Easter Conference playoff race, so they did what they usually do: They gave the ball to center Al Jefferson.
And the big man delivered once again. Jefferson scored 33 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Bobcats held off the New Orleans Pelicans, 90-87.
Charlotte is a bad offensive team—ranked 25th in offensive efficiency, per Basketball-Reference—which forces them to rely heavily on Jefferson's post scoring.
But the center has shouldered the load, and his inspired play of late has helped the Bobcats to a 7-3 record in their last 10 games.
Jefferson just might just do what might have seemed impossible a few months ago and push Charlotte right into the playoffs.
The Denver Nuggets are an absolute train wreck at the moment. They snapped a five-game losing streak with a win over the lowly Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, and apparently decided to take a holiday. Unfortunately, they had another game to play: against the red-hot Chicago Bulls.
Denver didn't even show up on Friday night as Chicago cruised to a 117-89 win.
After the game, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw unloaded on his players, per the Denver Post's Benjamin Hochman:
We act like the big bad wolf against Milwaukee. Then we come in against the Bulls and we tuck our tails, and we hide.
I told our team, I wish paychecks were predicated on night to night performance. If you play like an uninspired player, then either you don’t get paid, or you get paid like an uninspired player.
I felt like we had some guys that just decided they weren’t going to play tonight. It’s unfortunate. We’re professionals, and as a staff we have to beg guys to give effort when they play.
These comments probably won't endear the first-year coach to his players. Either Shaw is the most honest coach on Earth, or he feels his job could be on the line if the Nuggets close out the season with this kind of ragged play.
No two teams have grown quite as familiar with each other over the past few years as the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies. They have now met 23 times over the last three seasons, including the playoffs—more than any other two teams in the NBA—per NBA.com's Marlon B. Morgan.
It was these same Grizzlies who knocked the favored Clippers out of the playoffs last season. If the Clippers are improving as a team, then Memphis is as good a measuring stick as ever.
But once again Los Angeles came up short. Memphis got a boost when defensive whiz Tony Allen returned after missing the last 23 games with a sprained wrist. The home crowd was buzzing, and the Grizzlies took advantage to squeak out a 102-96 win.
As it stands on Friday, these two teams have very little chance of meeting again in the playoffs. The Clippers are fourth in the Western Conference, and Memphis is still a game out of the eighth and final spot. As far as the Clippers are concerned, it's probably better that Memphis stays out of the postseason.
No team was quite as active at the trading deadline as the Philadelphia 76ers. They made four trades on Thursday, dealing old stalwarts like Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner, and acquiring what seemed like half the second-round picks left in the NBA for the remainder of the decade.
But the Sixers still have to play out the remainder of the year. While they took the court on Friday against the Dallas Mavericks, they didn't do a whole lot of playing en route to a 124-112 loss.
Big, new addition Danny Granger was not yet with the team, so Thaddeus Young (30 points), Michael Carter-Williams (25 points) and Tony Wroten (21 points) carried the scoring load for Philly.
The loss was the Sixers' 10th in a row. Perhaps Granger should take his time moving down to the City of Brotherly Love. There's not much he's going to do to help this club.