Updated 2013-14 NBA Playoff Picture: Thursday, March 27

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2014

Feb 20, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) handles the ball while being guarded by Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA playoffs are just weeks away, and the intensity of recent regular-season action is all the reminder we need. The San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers lead their respective conferences with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat in hot pursuit—meaning in a year's time, not all that much has changed.

Except for the fact that the Charlotte Bobcats and Phoenix Suns could be playoff-bound, the Portland Trail Blazers will be looking to run-and-gun their way to a first-round upset, and the Toronto Raptors are currently the third-best team in the Eastern Conference.

The more things change, not much has actually stayed the same. Check out the latest update on how the playoff race is shaping up.

Eastern Conference Standings
TeamWin-LossWinning PercentageGames BackConference Record
New York30-42.4172221-24

Clinched: Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards

Still Fighting for Postseason Berth: (according to Hollinger's 2013-14 Playoff Odds)

Charlotte Bobcats: 99.9 percent

Atlanta Hawks: 87.7 percent  

New York Knicks: 7.8 percent

Cleveland Cavaliers: 3.9 percent

Detroit Pistons: 0.8 percent

Eliminated from Contention: Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks

If Playoffs Started Today

Indiana vs. Atlanta (Indiana leads 2-1)

Miami vs. Charlotte (Miami lead 4-0)

Toronto vs. Washington (Toronto leads 3-1)

Chicago vs. Brooklyn (Chicago leads 2-1) 

Western Conference Standings
TeamWin-LossWinning PercentageGames BackConference Record
San Antonio55-16.775-32-10
Oklahoma City52-19.732330-13
LA Clippers51-22.699530-13
Golden State44-27.6201124-18
New Orleans31-40.4372412-29
LA Lakers24-47.3383112-29
Clinched: San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, L.A. Clippers, Houston Rockets
Still Fighting for Postseason Berth: (according to Hollinger's 2013-14 Playoff Odds)

Golden State Warriors: 98 percent

Portland Trail Blazers: 96.6 percent

Memphis Grizzlies: 81.3 percent

Dallas Mavericks: 74.1 percent

Phoenix Suns: 49.9 percent


Eliminated from Contention: Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, LA Lakers, Utah Jazz


If Playoffs Started Today

San Antonio vs. Phoenix (San Antonio leads 2-1)

Oklahoma City vs. Memphis (OKC leads 3-1)

LA Clippers vs. Golden State (series tied 2-2)

Houston vs. Portland (Houston leads 3-1)


Unanswered Questions

1. Can the Mavericks sneak into the playoffs?

At the moment, the Mavs are on the outside looking in. That said, they've won six of their last 10 games and posted impressive wins, including two against the Thunder.

You know Dirk Nowitzki wants a shot at another title, but he'll have to get into the postseason first. Much as the race for the eighth spot may occupy our attention, Dallas is trying to take things one game at a time, according to head coach Rick Carlisle (per ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon):

I’m thinking about how we’re playing right now, what went wrong tonight and what we’ve got to do to get ready for tomorrow. As far as the seeding, that’s a distraction from the task at hand, which is making sure we’re as right as we can be.

Distracting, maybe. But some distractions are inevitable. After losing a close one to the Clippers Thursday night, you have to wonder if Dallas can stay focused on the task at hand. The good news is that Dallas has a lot more experience with this kind of thing than the Phoenix Suns—who are just ahead of them in the standings.


2. Will Indiana and Miami get out of their funks in time?

The Pacers have lost four of their last 10 games, and the Heat have lost five of their last 10—including one to the Pacers. This is a bad time for mediocrity, especially for teams who are used to anything but. Ideally, head coaches Frank Vogel and Erik Spoelstra would be able to rest their veterans in anticipation of the playoffs, but striking a rhythm may be more important at this point.

The Heat have put themselves in a position where these late-season games actually matter, including that loss to Indiana. Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick paints the picture aptly:

The Heat did this largely to themselves, with a recent stretch of squandered chances to make up ground on Indiana and make Wednesday's game a bit less meaningful. 

Instead, every decision was magnified, and every possession was pressurized. Hibbert had controlled the game early, scoring more points in the first seven minutes than in most of his full games in March, but Udonis Haslem had largely handled him thereafter.

Of course, if Miami got itself into this mess, we know all too well it can get itself out of it. The Pacers will need to do the same, and Wednesday's win was an important start.


3. Have the Spurs peaked too soon?

The Spurs are winners of 15 straight and looking every bit the part of an NBA Finals contender. The question is whether they're hitting their stride a little too soon, whether they'll come back down to earth at the most inopportune time—namely the first or second round of the playoffs.

The good news for San Antonio is that its place in the standings should afford head coach Gregg Popovich the opportunity to rest his veterans during the season's waning moments. That rest could prove pivotal while the rest of the Western Conference scrambles to secure seeding and—in some cases—make the playoffs in the first place.

On the other hand, the Spurs are a team built around a rhythmic system that doesn't always respond well to kinks. The temptation to give guys rest this far ahead in the standings could disrupt the good thing San Antonio unquestionably has going for them.

Ah, the problems 29 other teams would love to have.


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