Updated 2013-14 NBA Playoff Picture: Thursday, April 10

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2014

USA Today

Thursday night served as a reminder that you don't need a full slate of games to get your fill of NBA action. Two Western Conference matchups came jam-packed with plenty of postseason implications.

The San Antonio Spurs bested the Dallas Mavericks 109-100 and regained some of the momentum previously lost in Tuesday night's 110-91 blowout at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The outcome leaves the Mavericks all the more desperate but still in control of their own fate. If they win their final two games of the season, they go to the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets stunned the Golden State Warriors, preventing them from officially clinching a playoff berth with a 100-99 victory that went down to the wire. Stephen Curry's beautiful go-ahead finger roll (with 4.5 seconds remaining) was rendered moot by a turnaround push shot by Kenneth Faried.

So what does it all mean for the playoff hunt? Here's a look at who's in, who's out and who's still trying to get there.

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 (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 11

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 Antonio61-18.772-37-12
Oklahoma City57-21.7313.535-15
L.A. Clippers55-24.696634-15
Golden State48-30.61512.528-20
New Orleans32-46.41028.513-35
L.A. Lakers25-53.32135.513-35

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: 1)

Dallas Mavericks: 84.9 percent (magic number: 2)

Memphis Grizzlies: 61.8 percent (magic number: 4)

Phoenix Suns: 53.5 percent (magic number: 4)

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

If Playoffs Started April 11

San Antonio vs. Dallas (San Antonio won season series, 4-0)

Oklahoma City vs. Phoenix (Phoenix 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)

Unanswered Questions

1. Are the Heat in as Much Trouble as the Pacers?

In a word, no. 

The Pacers' problems are beyond explanation, having as much to do with disrupted chemistry and lackluster effort as any tangible factor. Indiana is in serious danger of suffering a first-round upset.

Meanwhile, Miami has been without Dwyane Wade for seemingly forever. He could probably play if he absolutely has to, but there's no reason to rush him back until his hamstring feels perfectly fine. The Heat are playing this one safe.

All the same, there are real reasons to worry about the Heat. Good as they are, their mojo doesn't seem entirely intact. And then there's always the concern that's plagued this team even at its best. Does it really have all the pieces it needs to defend the interior. 

Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman sounds skeptical:

With Haslem back in Miami on Wednesday and Chris Andersen and Greg Oden also unavailable in Memphis, the Heat’s defense was gutted by the Grizzlies’ powerful and skilled big men, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The absences of Haslem, Andersen and Oden left Chris Bosh to carry most of the load inside. That wasn’t ideal, especially with the Pacers resting all five of their starters on Wednesday against the Bucks and still winning.

Hopefully the Heat will be healthier come playoff time, but this club still doesn't boast a dominant paint protector. It relies heavily on perimeter defense, which is problematic in its own right. Will Dwyane Wade be mobile enough to work hard on the defensive end? Will the expenditure of energy ultimately hurt LeBron James' offense? Should we even ask questions about Ray Allen's defense?

The Heat have historically been able to make up for what they lack in personnel. They take a team approach, helping one another, relying on their length and intelligence. That could very well work again, but none of us should be surprised if Miami's road to the NBA Finals is a little bit harder this time around. And it could be a lot harder if the injury bug doesn't resolve itself. Even LeBron knows that (per Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick): "We want to get healthy. That's all that we care about, man. Going into the postseason healthy. We've got more problems as far as health issues than the No. 1 seed.” But in terms of other issues? The Pacers still take the cake there.


2. Are the Spurs Back in the Saddle?

In its first of two games without point guard Tony Parker, San Antonio lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves by a wide 110-91 margin. But the momentum has swung back in the Spurs' favor thanks to their win over the Mavericks. Which Spurs should we expect to see come the first round of the playoffs?

By all accounts, Tony Parker will be playing again. According to the San Antonio Express-News' Jeff McDonald, Parker, "should be healthy enough to return at some point before the end of the regular season.”

That resolves the first order of business. 

Despite a bruised calf, Manu Ginobili looked fine against the Mavericks, so that puts another potential worry to rest.

But there are always nagging doubts when it comes to this team's postseason fortunes. They made it to the NBA Finals without having to face the Oklahoma City Thunder last season. They don't seem to have the star power that often proves pivotal in the postseason. What if the three-pointers just stop falling, if the role players start looking more like role players?

Yes, this team won 19 games in a row. But we've seen them look dominant against merely mortal teams before. The more important question is how they'll fair against the likes of the Thunder or L.A. Clippers, teams with superstars in their primes.  

And then there's the matter of athleticism, something Kawhi Leonard can only compensate for so much. Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley explains:

As rare as missteps are in the Alamo City, they're also somewhat predictable. If a team as long and athletic as the Thunder (granted, there aren't many in existence) pops up on the schedule, Pop's assembly line tends to grind to a halt.

Are the Spurs in store for disappointment? Conventional logic suggests they might be. But we'd be wise to remember that San Antonio has made a living defying conventional logic. Until we see them in action against the Thunder (or Clippers) when it's do-or-die time, we really haven't seen anything.


3. Who's This Season's Dark-Horse Contender?

With all the talk surrounding the Spurs, Thunder, Heat and Pacers, you have to wonder if anyone else really has a chance to upset their way to the NBA Finals.

The Clippers have earned enough credibility that they wouldn't really qualify as a dark horse. They're the league's highest-scoring team. Would anyone really be that surprised if they snuck into the NBA Finals? They shouldn't be. Remember, Doc Rivers is coaching them nowadays.

The Golden State Warriors pulled a first-round upset in 2013, and they could certainly do so again if everyone's healthy. But can anyone really see the Warriors beating either the Spurs or Thunder after likely facing the Clippers or Rockets in the first round? That's hard to imagine.

What about the Houston Rockets? They have a dangerous inside-outside game with Dwight Howard and James Harden. They have a legitimate third scoring option in Chandler Parsons. They have depth, and they have shooters. Houston also plays at an incredible pace, scoring nearly as many points per game as the league-leading Clippers.

Collectively, though, this team doesn't have a wealth of postseason experience. The Rockets stand out as a very real threat to get to the conference finals, but it's a little hard to see them getting any further than that.

Back in March, ESPN's Tom Haberstroh argued that the Toronto Raptors are the team to watch, and he has a point (subscription required):

But we need to take the Raptors very seriously. And here's why: Since trading Rudy Gay, they've played as well as Miami and Indiana. Believe it. The Raptors have gone 31-16 (.660) since Gay left the team on Dec. 8 and have outscored opponents by 5.7 points per 100 possessions over that time. That's right in between the Heat and the Pacers in terms of point differential.

The Raptors obviously have the added advantage of playing in the Eastern Conference, which seemingly looks weaker by the day. Should they get through the first round, they could very well find themselves facing a team like the underwhelming Indiana Pacers.

A trip to the NBA Finals would probably require going through the Heat, but with an untimely injury or cold spell, these Raptors could shock the world. Remember this is, after all, the league where amazing happens.


    Report: Kawhi, Pop Meet in San Diego

    NBA logo

    Report: Kawhi, Pop Meet in San Diego

    Alec Nathan
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Kawhi Didn't Feel Supported by Pop, Parker

    NBA logo

    Report: Kawhi Didn't Feel Supported by Pop, Parker

    Alec Nathan
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Hawks Focusing in on Doncic

    NBA logo

    Report: Hawks Focusing in on Doncic

    Scott Polacek
    via Bleacher Report

    Bucks' Brown Claims MIL Cop Joked About Beating JR Smith

    NBA logo

    Bucks' Brown Claims MIL Cop Joked About Beating JR Smith

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report