Updated 2013-14 NBA Playoff Picture: Saturday, April 12

Joe Flynn@@ChinaJoeFlynnContributor IApril 13, 2014

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The NBA playoffs might not officially begin until next week, but don't tell that to the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns.

The two Western Conference hopefuls played on Saturday night in a game with true playoff intensity. Dallas ultimately prevailed in front of a raucous home crowd, punching its ticket to the NBA's Big Dance while simultaneously pushing Phoenix to the brink of elimination.

We can only hope the first round provides us with this much excitement.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks cashed in the last golden ticket in the Eastern Conference with an impressive win over the Miami Heat in what just might have been LeBron James' final regular-season game.

The Hawks officially eliminated the New York Knicks, making this the first year Carmelo Anthony will miss the playoffs. It is also the first time in NBA history that the Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics will all miss the postseason.

Let's break down the playoff implications of what transpired on Saturday.

Eastern Conference Standings
TeamWin-LossWinning PercentageGames BackConference Record
New York34-45.43019.523-26

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

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

If Playoffs Started April 13

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

Miami vs. Charlotte (Miami won, 4-0)

Chicago vs. Washington (Washington won, 2-1)

Toronto vs. Brooklyn (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. Clippers56-24.700635-15
Golden State49-30.62012.529-20
New Orleans32-48.4003013-37
L.A. Lakers25-54.31636.513-36

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

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

Memphis Grizzlies: 70.6 percent (magic number: 2)

Phoenix Suns: 51.7 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 13

San Antonio vs. Memphis (San Antonio won, 4-0)

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

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

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

Sunday Schedule
Indiana PacersOklahoma City Thunder1 p.m. ET
Detroit PistonsToronto Raptors3:30 p.m. ET
Brooklyn NetsOrlando Magic6 p.m. ET
New York KnicksChicago Bulls7:30 p.m. ET
Portland Trail BlazersGolden State Warriors9 p.m. ET
Sacramento KingsMinnesota Timberwolves9 p.m. ET
Los Angeles LakersMemphis Grizzlies9:30 p.m. ET

Unanswered Questions

1. Do the Mavericks Have the Wright Stuff?

The Dallas Mavericks clinched a playoff berth with an amazing 101-98 win over the Phoenix Suns. Dallas trailed by 11 points going into the half but rallied in the third quarter and fended off a furious Phoenix rally in the fourth.

Dirk Nowitzki (23 points) and Monta Ellis (37 points) combined for 60, as the Mavericks relied on their two best scorers to carry the load, as usual.

But the star of the game might have been reserve center Brandan Wright, who notched a double-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.

That third block was by far the turning point of the game, as he blocked Eric Bledsoe's layup attempt with 12 seconds remaining to seal the win.

It was a rare moment in the spotlight for Wright, a player who doesn't grab headlines or make big money. Per Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney:

Dallas is a team with a legitimate star in Nowitzki and a plethora of one-dimensional players. It is one of the reasons it is ranked fourth in offensive efficiency and 22nd in defensive efficiency. But Wright can do a little bit of everything and has posted an impressive on/off rating of plus-3.6 despite coming off the bench. In contrast, sixth man Vince Carter's on/off number is minus-0.3.

The Mavericks will have a daunting challenge no matter whom they face. Perhaps it's time to give Brandan Wright some more minutes.

2. Have the Suns Set for Good?

As great as the win was for Dallas, it was even more devastating for the Phoenix Suns, who needed to win this game after falling to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday. Per ESPN's Marc Stein:

The Suns have defied expectations from Game 1 all the way up to Game 80, but time is running out. There is now only one spot left in the Western Conference, and they are at the mercy of the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis will likely win Sunday's game against the woeful Lakers, setting up a critical clash in Phoenix on Monday.

Unfortunately, the Suns can still miss out on the playoffs even if they beat Memphis. The Grizzlies' magic number is now two, which means they could, in theory, beat L.A., lose to Phoenix and beat Dallas in the season's final game to clinch a playoff berth.

Furthermore, the Mavericks have very little incentive to play their starters big minutes in that final game now that they've already clinched.

In short, the Suns no longer control their destiny. What a pity.

3. Will LeBron James Play Again (Before the Postseason)?

The Atlanta Hawks clinched a playoff berth on Saturday by running the Miami Heat out of the gym in the second half en route to a 98-85 win.

LeBron James and the Heat looked like a team that had played four games in five nights...which, of course, they have. James in particular has been ridden unmercifully over the past week, playing 148 total minutes since Tuesday.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Heat are talking about resting LeBron for the final two games of the season, per the Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman:

Unfortunately, the Heat also ceded the No. 1 overall seed with Saturday's loss. Though they remain tied at the top of the standings, the Indiana Pacers hold the conference-record tiebreaker, meaning they are essentially one game ahead in the race for home-court advantage.

The Pacers have one tough game remaining—Sunday, versus the Oklahoma City Thunder—before wrapping up their season with an eminently winnable matchup with the Orlando Magic. If Indiana goes 1-1 in its last two games, the Heat must sweep both of their final contests—at Washington, versus Philadelphia—in order to claim home-court advantage.

Will LeBron play in either game, and is that rest worth the potential cost of the No. 1 overall seed?

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.


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