Updated 2013-14 NBA Playoff Picture: Sunday, April 6

Jim Cavan@@JPCavanContributor IApril 7, 2014

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With no games on the slate for Monday—you read that right: stock up on canned goods and edible rocks immediately—NBA fans were forced to get their fix on Sunday, where statement games and playoff fatalities were both dealt in equal measures.

The Indiana Pacers continued their mesmerizing slide in getting manhandled at home by the Atlanta Hawks, 107-88.

That, coupled with a 102-91 loss to the Miami Heat, all but cooked the New York Knicks' playoff goose for good.

Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs got back on track, dispatching the Memphis Grizzlies 112-92 to re-solidify their grip on the West's No. 1 seed.

It helped that the Oklahoma City Thunder succumbed to the Phoenix Suns, who extended their lead to a full game over the aforementioned Grizz for the conference's eighth and final playoff spot.

Six days left to go before the postseason, folks! Remember to dress appropriately.

Eastern Conference Standings
TeamWin-LossWinning PercentageGames BackConference Record
New York33-45.4232122-26

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: 86.3 percent  

New York Knicks: 13.1 percent

Cleveland Cavaliers: 0.6 percent

*Have yet to clinch; would take a disaster to fall out of the top eight seeds

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

If Playoffs Started April 6

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

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

Toronto vs. Washington (Toronto won season series, 3-1)

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

Western Conference Standings
TeamWin-LossWinning PercentageGames BackConference Record
San Antonio59-17.776-35-11
Oklahoma City55-21.7244.533-15
L.A. Clippers55-23.7055.534-14
Golden State48-29.6231228-19
New Orleans32-44.4212813-33
L.A. Lakers25-52.3253513-34

Clinched: San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and L.A. Clippers

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

Houston Rockets: 100 percent*

Portland Trail Blazers: 100 percent*

Golden State Warriors: 100 percent*

Dallas Mavericks: 80.2 percent

Memphis Grizzlies: 76.2 percent

Phoenix Suns: 43.7 percent

*Have yet to clinch; would take a disaster to fall out of the top eight seeds

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

If Playoffs Started April 6

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)

Monday's NBA Schedule

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 27:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets is seen in warmups before the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Toyota Center on March 27, 2014 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
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Unanswered Questions

1. Can the Rockets defense find another gear?

The Houston Rockets have surrendered 100 or more points in 11 of their last 14 games. Since March 9, the day that streak started, the Rockets are registering the 16th-most efficient defense in the league (105.0). For a team that was regularly in the top 10 in that department, that's quite the drop-off.

Losing Dwight Howard hasn't helped, obviously. Everyone knew Houston would have to pair its high-octane offense with a serviceable—if unspectacular—showing at the other end if it had any hope of coming out of the Western Conference.

For a while, the Rockets were able to do just that. But as Bleacher Report's Dan Favale outlined in terrific detail, to get anywhere near the NBA mountaintop, they'll need D12 in the fray:

If nothing else, the Rockets' recent and brief struggles are a reminder of why Howard was brought to Houston in the first place. They weren't good enough without him. Asik can be the starting center on a contending team, just not the Rockets.

Coach Kevin McHale's crew needs a star jumping center. Someone who can offset perimeter defensive struggles by provocatively patrolling the paint and do more than score off putbacks on the offensive end. They have that in Howard.

NBA contention is so often a matter of timing. That is, can your team get hot in the right areas at the right time? Houston's offense can run with the best of them. But to pull off a playoff upset, they'll need to be firing on all cylinders over where, as the old cliche goes, championships are truly won.

CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 30: Frank Vogel head coach of the Indiana Pacers stands on the sideline 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 agre
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

2. How fragile is the situation in Indiana?

Frank Vogel was so disgusted by his Pacers' lackluster start in Sunday's loss to the Hawks, he pulled all five starters halfway through the first quarter.

In fact, Roy Hibbert looked so disinterested, Vogel didn't even bother putting him back in the game. Afterward, Indy's coach keyed a group of assembled reporters into his reasoning:

He looks worn down. He's a 7-foot-2 player who has played every game this year, which is very rare. He looks to me to be worn down. He's given good effort but he looks to me to be worn down.

Some, including this reporter, have been on Vogel's case for a while regarding his seeming disregard for the concept of minutes management. At this point, chasing down Miami to regain the No. 1 seed just doesn't seem worth the added mileage—and potential increased rancor. Rest, on the other hand, could do wonders for a weary team desperately in need of some grounding.

Jason Getz

3. Should the West Brass be scared of Phoenix?

In six games against the Thunder and Spurs, the Phoenix Suns are 3-3. That might not be enough to instill any serious fear in the West's top two teams, but the way the Suns have refused to go quietly into that good postseason night, perhaps it should.

Since March 14, the day Phoenix commenced its most recent surge (10 wins in 13 games), the Suns have registered the league's sixth-best offensive efficiency (109.3), its seventh-best defensive efficiency (102.4) and its fourth-best net rating (7.3), per NBA.com (stats subscription required).

If that's not the hallmark of a great team, what is?

The rest of the season counts for something, of course. Still, there's little doubt that Phoenix—picked by so many to hit the skids and stay there—has the DNA to make any first-round opponent, no matter how steely and seasoned, severely uncomfortable.


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