Updated 2013-14 NBA Playoff Picture: Friday, March 28

Joe Flynn@@ChinaJoeFlynnContributor IMarch 29, 2014

USA Today

The NBA's version of March Madness continued on Friday night, with a whole host of desperate teams looking to claw their way into the playoffs.

In the weak Eastern Conference, the eighth-place Atlanta Hawks succeed simply by not playing. The team above them (Charlotte Bobcats) lost to a tanking Orlando Magic squad, while the three teams below them (New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons) saw their playoff hopes fade as they were all pasted by superior teams.

Out West, the battle for the last few remaining spots was more dramatic and less pathetic. The red hot Phoenix Suns jumped a game ahead of the idle Dallas Mavericks, while the Golden State Warriors strengthened their own case with a furious late charge to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies.  


Eastern Conference Standings
TeamWin-LossWinning PercentageGames BackConference Record
New York30-43.4172221-24


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: 99.8 percent

Atlanta Hawks: 85.8 percent  

New York Knicks: 9.4 percent

Cleveland Cavaliers: 4.5 percent

Detroit Pistons: 0.6 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 Antonio56-16.778-33-10
Oklahoma City52-19.732330-13
LA Clippers51-22.6995.530-13
Golden State45-27.6251125-18
New Orleans32-40.4442417-26
LA Lakers24-48.3333212-30


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)

Portland Trail Blazers: 98.8 percent

Golden State Warriors: 98.5 percent

Memphis Grizzlies: 82.7 percent

Dallas Mavericks: 65.2 percent

Phoenix Suns: 54.6 percent


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


If Playoffs Started Today

San Antonio vs. Memphis (San Antonio leads 3-0)

Oklahoma City vs. Phoenix (series tied 1-1)

L.A. Clippers vs. Golden State (series tied 2-2)

Houston vs. Portland (Houston leads 3-1)


Unanswered Questions

1. Did the Pacers think the No. 1 seed was already decided?

The Indiana Pacers brought championship-level intensity to their Wednesday night matchup with their arch nemesis Miami. The Pacers would eventually prevail, 84-83, in a tense, hard-fought contest that featured some minor scuffles and brutal fouls.

That's all well and good, but Indiana seemed to forget they still had another game to play this week.

Two nights after their stirring victory, the Pacers struggled en route to a dispiriting 91-78 loss to the Washington Wizards.

Washington prevailed despite poor shooting nights from John Wall (9-of-21), Bradley Beal (2-of-13) and Trevor Ariza (2-of-12). The Pacers were done in by their old bugaboo, the turnover, coughing up the ball 17 times.

Power forward David West decried his club's lack of focus after the game, per the Associated Press (via ESPN): 

We're at the point where we can't just get up for the Miamis or the Chicago Bulls and then come out and get doughnuts against the Wizards or these other teams. I just don't know if we are handling success and being out front the right way.

With the Pacers' loss, and Miami's win over the Detroit Pistons, the Heat's deficit for home-court advantage shrank to just two games. If the Pacers continue to play down to their opponents, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference could be decided on April 11, when they face the Heat in Miami.


2. Have the Trail Blazers turned around their season?

For much of this season, the Portland Trail Blazers were one of the elite teams in basketball, with a record that would guarantee home-court advantage in at least the first round. But at the start of this week, they looked truly lost, losing both games of a Monday-Tuesday back-to-back to the sub-.500 Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic.

Fortunately for the fans in Rip City, the Blazers got a boost when injured power forward LaMarcus Aldridge returned for Thursday's game against the Atlanta Hawks.

Portland triumphed on Thursday, but that was against a lackluster Hawks team missing several key players. Friday night's contest against the Chicago Bulls was a much sterner test.

And the Blazers passed with flying colors, trouncing the Bulls, 91-74. Aldridge was poor from the field, shooting just 2-of-10, but he did grab 13 rebounds in the win.

Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes analyzed Aldridge's effect on the offense prior to his return on Thursday:

On the year, Portland posts an offensive rating of 110.3 and a defensive rating of 103.9 when he's on the floor, per NBA.com. When Aldridge sits, however, the Blazers' offense bogs down. They score just 104.6 points per 100 possessions without their All-Star big man. And defensively, they surrender 107.2 points per 100 possessions. 

Portland is not out of the woods yet; they lost four consecutive games before Aldridge's injury. But they have their MVP back, and have built up enough wins that they will be nearly impossible to keep out of the postseason.


3. Can the upstart Suns be kept out of the playoffs?

On Friday night, the Phoenix Suns learned a lesson the rest of the league has long since taken to heart: It's good to play the New York Knicks. Point guard Goran Dragic scored 32 points in 32 minutes as the Suns picked apart the wretched Knicks defense en route to an easy 112-88 win.

Phoenix is the hottest team outside of San Antonio at the moment, having won six games in a row. The team on the outside of the Western Conference playoff race climbed into the seventh seed with the Memphis Grizzlies Friday night loss to the Golden State Warriors.

Sadly, the Suns will not be playing the Knicks the rest of the way. After what should be an easy game against the Lakers on Sunday, Phoenix will need to run a tortuous seven-game gauntlet: Clippers, at Blazers, Thunder, at Pelicans, at Spurs, at Mavericks, Grizzlies.

If the Suns are still in the playoffs after that stretch, they sure will have earned it.



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