Updated 2013-14 NBA Playoff Picture: Friday, April 11

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2014

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The Miami Heat reclaimed the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a timely win over the Indiana Pacers, but that was hardly the only newsworthy NBA action on Friday night.

At the top of the other conference, the San Antonio Spurs clinched the top spot in the West—and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs along with it.

In all, 13 games went down, leaving a little something of interest for just about everyone.

The Memphis Grizzlies' playoff hopes improved with a 117-95 romp over the Philadelphia 76ers, while the Phoenix Suns' hopes took a hit with its loss to the Spurs. The New York Knicks kept their postseason ambitions alive in a win over the Toronto Raptors, but the Atlanta Hawks didn't give any ground thanks to an improbable five-point win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Got all that?

Let's break down the implications.

Eastern Conference Standings
TeamWin-LossWinning PercentageGames BackConference Record
New York34-45.4302023-26

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

Still Fighting for Postseason Berth, per Hollinger's 2013-14 Playoff Odds:

Atlanta Hawks: 97 percent (magic number: 1)

New York Knicks: 3 percent (does not control own destiny)

Eliminated from Contention: Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks

If Playoffs Started April 12

Miami vs. Atlanta (Miami leads season series, 2-1)

Indiana vs. Charlotte (Indiana leads season series, 2-1)

Chicago vs. Washington (Washington leads season series, 2-1)

Toronto vs. Brooklyn (season series tied, 2-2)

Western Conference Standings
TeamWin-LossWinning PercentageGames BackConference Record
San Antonio62-18.775-38-12
Oklahoma City58-21.7343.536-15
L.A. Clippers55-24.6966.534-15
Golden State49-30.62012.529-20
New Orleans32-47.40529.513-36
L.A. Lakers25-54.31636.513-36

Clinched: San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, L.A. Clippers, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors

Still Fighting for Postseason Berth, per Hollinger's 2013-14 Playoff Odds:

Dallas Mavericks: 78.7 percent (magic number: 2)

Memphis Grizzlies: 64.4 percent (magic number: 3)

Phoenix Suns: 57.1 percent (magic number 3)

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

If Playoffs Started April 12

San Antonio vs. Memphis (San Antonio leads season series, 4-0)

Oklahoma City vs. Dallas (Dallas leads season series, 2-1)

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

Houston vs. Portland (Houston leads season series, 3-1)

Unanswered Questions

1. Who's got the edge in West's race for the playoffs?

The Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns are all battling for the final two spots in the Western Conference. Doing the not-so-difficult math, that leaves one team that won't make it. Who will it be?

The Mavericks have the best chances with just two games remaining. The only problem is those two games come against the Suns (in Dallas) and Grizzlies (in Memphis). 

Complicating matters even more is the fact Memphis plays in Phoenix on Monday. 

It's hard to imagine a better way for things to sort themselves out, in this case with head-to-head matchups between all three interested parties. 

In addition to Phoenix and Dallas, the Grizzlies will face the Lakers in Los Angeles. That should be an easy win in theory, but Memphis won't take anything for granted. The Lakers can still score a lot of points on any given night.

Phoenix's third game comes against the Kings in Sacramento, an even tougher test than the Lakers will be for Memphis. That would seemingly give the Grizzlies a slight edge.

But much will depend on the head-to-head matchups. Can Memphis' stout defense get the better of Phoenix's up-tempo attack? Goran Dragic sat out Friday night against the San Antonio Spurs with a sprained ankle, but he hopes to be back Saturday against Dallas, according to Paul Coro of AZcentral.com: "It feels way better than (Thursday), that's for sure," Dragic told Coro. "The swelling went down but it's stiff. It has a lot of discoloration. Every day is better." 

The Suns will need him to be as close to 100 percent as possible to have a chance.

Otherwise the Mavericks could deal a serious blow to the Suns' hopes, especially on the second half of a back-to-back. Dallas didn't play Friday night, so the Mavs will be better-rested.

Of course, for all the talk about who will claim the final two spots, ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon notes that the pressure is really to win the seventh seed. No one wants to face the San Antonio Spurs right now:

Is there a better exhibit of teamwork in sports these days than watching the Spurs? They're the best ball-movement team in basketball, as Mavs forward Shawn Marion said, and arguably even better tied together on the defensive end.

As if just worrying about making the playoffs weren't enough.

2. Who's the biggest threat to the Miami Heat?

The Heat look to have put their problems behind them in a dominant display against the Pacers. LeBron James had 36 points and Miami successfully turned defense into offense throughout a second half that broke the game wide open.

ESPN's Tom Haberstroh details King James' big game:

Without Dwyane Wade for the ninth consecutive game, James took the steering wheel from the opening tip, scoring 10 points in the first six minutes on a series of circus shots. James' jump shot was blistering hot in this one. He had more energy than the Pacers combined, even after the Indy starting five rested last game.

If he keeps playing like that, the Heat seem unbeatable—especially when Wade returns. But we shouldn't forget about that Nets game, or about the fact that Brooklyn swept their season series against the Heat.

Granted, three of those games were decided by one point a piece, and the fourth decided in overtime. 

But blowouts aren't a prerequisite to winning a seven-game series. The Nets have only gotten better as the season's gone on, and its success with a small-ball lineup could give Miami problems—a taste of their own medicine if there ever was one.

Some will maintain that the Pacers are still the biggest threat to Miami returning to the NBA Finals. Others will cite the scrappy Chicago Bulls or upstart Toronto Raptors. My money is on the Nets, though. They have experienced guys in Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Deron Williams—all of whom are willing and capable of taking the big crunch-time shots.

No one is walking into a series against the Heat as favorites, but you have to like the Nets' odds. 

3. What happens if the Knicks don't make the playoffs?

Well, the world won't explode—probably. 

But there just seemed to be so much momentum behind this team not all that long ago. They'd won eight games in a row, they got Phil Jackson watching their backs, J.R. Smith started making lots and lots of buckets. Things seemed to be turning around.

And for all that, the Knicks still don't control their fate. Even after a big win against the Raptors on Friday, the Hawks got an even bigger win against the Nets.

We've heard a whole lot about Mike Woodson's status as head coach, and he may be the first casualty if the Knicks come up short (or even if they don't). According to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, general manager Steve Mills was looking into replacing Woodson before something got in the way earlier this season:

Mills, according to a source, was prepared to make a coaching change on several occasions but didn’t either because the Knicks went on a winning streak or because he was overruled by Garden chairman James Dolan. Now, Jackson is in charge of picking the coach as well as deciding Mills’ role with the franchise.

If true, that seemingly wouldn't bode well for Woodson's future. Hard as it is to coach these Knicks in the first place, imagine trying to do your job with these kinds of rumors flying around. Woodson deserves some kind of award for his fortitude.

The other question is what becomes of Carmelo Anthony. He'll explore free agency (through an opt-out option in his contract), but there's certainly a narrative holding that Phil Jackson's presence will be enough to keep him around. On the other hand, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported in March that there will be some competition:

Anthony has free-agent options, and two have risen above everything else: Chicago and Houston, sources with direct knowledge of his plans told Yahoo Sports. The Bulls have an easier path to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign Anthony, but the Rockets believe they can shed the contracts necessary to offer a third near-max deals alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources said.

If the Knicks were to pull off some kind of Disney-like run through the playoffs, you'd have to like Melo's chances of sticking around and seeing how things go. If he's left on the outside looking in, however, those other options may begin looking all the more attractive.

In short, there could be a lot riding on New York making these playoffs. A lot more than playing out another first-round series.


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