Updated 2013-14 NBA Playoff Picture: Wednesday, April 9

Jim Cavan@@JPCavanContributor IApril 10, 2014

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If Tuesday’s NBA games were an appetizer of goat cheese-stuffed figs, Wednesday’s slate—all 12 games of it—was a 90-pound pig on a spit.

You know you want it.

In besting the Miami Heat 107-102, the Memphis Grizzlies not only kept their own playoff hopes alive, they also bumped Miami down to No. 2 in the Eastern Conference.

Speaking of the East, the Indiana Pacers are back on top after edging the Milwaukee Bucks 104-102 behind 65 combined points from Evan Turner, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland, who scored the game-winning bucket. Do not try your computer for witchcraft. That's real life.

Out West, the Oklahoma City Thunder escaped a scare from the Los Angeles Clippers, 107-101, while the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns survived a pair of conference bottom-dwellers.

A few weird things happened, of course: The Denver Nuggets upset the Houston Rockets, the Brooklyn Nets fell to the Orlando Magic, the Cleveland Cavaliers destroyed the Detroit Pistons and Cher orchestrated a successful military coup to take over Bolivia.

One of those things didn’t actually happen. Can you guess which one?

Let’s check out the playoff picture. I hope you’re wearing a smock.

Eastern Conference Standings
TeamWin-LossWinning PercentageGames BackConference Record
New York33-45.42320.522-26

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: 97.6 percent (magic number: 2)

New York Knicks: 2.4 percent (DNC)

DNC = 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 10

Indiana vs. Atlanta (season series tied, 2-2)

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

Toronto vs. Charlotte (Charlotte won season series, 3-0)

Chicago vs. Brooklyn (Chicago won season series, 2-1)

Western Conference Standings
TeamWin-LossWinning PercentageGames BackConference Record
San Antonio60-18.769-36-12
Oklahoma City57-21.731335-15
L.A. Clippers55-24.6965.534-15
Golden State48-29.62311.528-19
New Orleans32-46.4102813-35
L.A. Lakers25-53.3213513-35

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

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

Golden State Warriors: 99.8 percent (magic number: 3)

Dallas Mavericks: 84.9 percent (magic number: 2)

Memphis Grizzlies: 61.8 percent (DNC)

Phoenix Suns: 53.5 percent (magic number: 4)

DNC = Does not control own destiny

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

If Playoffs Started April 10

San Antonio vs. Phoenix (San Antonio leads season series, 2-1)

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

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

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

Thursday's NBA Schedule
DallasSan Antonio8 p.m. ET
Golden StateDenver10:30 p.m. ET

Apr 8, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce (left) reacts with Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson (right) during the second half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. The Nets won 88-87. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TO

Unanswered Questions

1. Is the East really just a two-team race?

Two days ago it was the Pacers we all thought were doomed to fizzle out in a cloud of failure. And they might well still. But the Heat have looked pretty bad themselves these past two games, albeit against stingy foes.

On Tuesday it was the Brooklyn Nets who stymied the Heat down the stretch. Twenty-four hours later, it was the Grizzlies—fighting desperately for their own playoff lives—putting the fourth-quarter hurt on the defending champs.

On the one hand you have the Pacers, a once-mighty heir apparent with a punishing defense that suddenly has a bad defense and less than no offense. Rest might serve them well, but without a sustainable basketball plan, Frank Vogel’s crew looks ripe for the springtime picking.

On the other, you have the Heat: Without a healthy Dwyane Wade, they're basically LeBron James, Chris Bosh and a serviceable—and in many ways aging—support staff you cannot help but think might not have the requisite fuel for another draining march.

Of course, Miami and Indy’s much-publicized swoons seem trivial in light of the bigger issue: The Eastern Conference is comically inferior. Who else could possibly survive into June?

The Chicago Bulls? Their best player—let the record show Joakim Noah is great—is a pony-tailed center who shoots jump shots like half the cast of Hoosiers.

The Toronto Raptors? DeMar DeRozan’s name is way too confusing.

The Brooklyn Nets? Kevin Garnett is eating meatloaf at a Cracker Barrel as we speak.

The Charlotte Bobcats? They're in the NBA, man—they used to be the Hornets. They’re actually pretty good!

Anyway, you get the point. Something has to give in the East. But it’d be better if one of these teams looked like they want to take.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 9: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers goes up for a shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center on April 9, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

2. Are the Clippers ready for the big time?

Yes, Wednesday’s showdown between the Clips and the Thunder had all the verve and violence of a heavyweight title match. Yes, L.A. made a valiant comeback and very nearly stole the whole show on their home floor.

No, the Clippers didn’t look like they were truly ready for OKC.

Marshalled by the best pure point guard in the game, L.A. committed 16 turnovers, resulting in 22 Thunder points. That’s a recipe for playoff success in the same way baking soda and woodchips is a recipe for apple pie.

It’s totally conceivable these two teams could meet in the second round or—if the Clips should crater their remaining docket—in the Conference Finals. And considering the two teams have split their slate to date, it’d be silly to discount L.A. outright.

But the Thunder showed us something tonight we haven’t often seen—another gear of intensity one could argue was the chief reason they fell short against the Heat back in 2012.

Here’s Bleacher Report’s Stephen Babb speaking recently on this very subject:

Though OKC has lost two of three games to the Clippers, it has the ability to take its defense to another level. Over the course of a seven-game series, you have to believe that increased intensity would be decisive. The Thunder will have an opportunity to even the season series against Los Angeles next week, so that is a discussion that can and should be revisited. At the moment, though, it's hard to see how anyone on the Clippers' roster can even begin to contain Durant. Best of luck to Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley and Danny Granger.

Whatever comes of the 2014 Western Conference Playoffs—other than the imminent hospitalization of millions of fans whose heads explode—no one will be surprised if either of these two teams survives. We’re just wondering whether one team has the inside track on knowing how to thrive.

CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 30: Paul George #24 of the Indiana Pacers stands on the court during a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at The Quicken Loans Arena on March 30, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, b
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

3. Will rest do Indy good?

We discussed this in more detail earlier today, but the question bears repeating: Will Frank Vogel’s decision to rest his starters be a boon, or backfire?

Here’s how Vogel himself put it to the folks at Pacers.com (via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel):

It's well-documented that we're still interested competing for the one-seed, but how you play and how you prepare for the playoffs is the most important thing right now. I think getting them some rest will make them fresher going into the playoffs. It's not the answer, but I think it's part of it.

Let’s face it: The Pacers kind of lucked out in tonight’s win, because Chris Copeland is the next Elgin Baylor (I’m a Knicks fan—I’m biased). Vogel plans to play all of his starters in Friday’s much-anticipated showdown in Miami, of course.

What he does after that will likely depend on the outcome of the game itself. Win and extend the cushion to 1.5 games with the Thunder (possibly locked in seeding-wise and resting their starters) and Orlando Magic (not very good) last on the schedule? Paul George, David West and company could have a longer breather ahead of them.

But even if he loses to Miami, Vogel might consider keeping with his strategy, in hopes that a bit of additional rest can help jump-start his moping troops. By the time Indy and Miami meet in the conference finals, we could be talking about a totally different team—one for whom the respite of rest and perspective paid huge dividends.


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