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So many questions remain as season winds down

POSTED: Apr 7, 2014 11:43 AM ET

By John Schuhmann,


The Grizzlies and Suns are in the thick of a last-minute scrap for the West's final playoff spots.

There are 75 games left in the 2013-14 NBA season. That includes what should be an awesome round-robin between the Mavs, Suns and Grizzlies (starting Saturday in Dallas) with the last two playoff spots in the West on the line.

But excuse me if I want to get to the playoffs already, because there will be so many questions to be answered in the first round alone.

We know that no team is safe in the West, but the East may be nearly as fascinating. Are the Pacers really this bad? Are the Bulls, Nets and Raptors really this good? Which one of those three teams won't get out of the first round? Are we sleeping on the Bobcats, who are 10-4 over the last four weeks?

Maybe it's all just prologue to a Finals rematch. But until we see a healthy and active Dwyane Wade again or see the Spurs beat the Thunder, it's hard to predict another Miami-San Antonio matchup. We haven't had a Finals rematch (same two teams two years in a row) since 1998.

* * *

• Last week: Spurs still rolling, but they face major tests this week

• This time last year: As East playoff picture clears, West still up in air -- East playoff matchups weren't set in stone, but they didn't change before the end of the season. With four games to play, the Jazz had an edge on the Lakers for eighth place in the West. The Knicks had won 12 straight games, Mike Miller got a put-back dunk, and Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL.

• Plus-minus Stud: Jimmy Butler (CHI) was a plus-62 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus Dud: Khris Middleton (MIL) was a minus-58 in four games last week.

• Hero Team of the Week: Chicago (4-0) -- The Bulls' perfect week included two road wins over playoff teams (Atlanta and Washington).
• Zero Team of the Week: New Orleans (0-4) -- Three of the Pelicans' four losses were to fellow West teams under .500.

• High jumps of the week: Atlanta (+5), Chicago (+3), Detroit (+3), Minnesota (+3)
• Free falls of the week: Indiana (-9), Milwaukee (-3), New Orleans (-3)

• East vs. West: The West is 281-164 (.631) against the East in inter-conference games, but the East was 4-2 last week (2-0 against Houston). There are five East-West games remaining.

• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. L.A. Lakers, 2. Utah, 3. Sacramento
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Indiana, 2. Chicago, 3. Miami
Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.

* * *

Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank) - Click here
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank) - Click here
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank) - Click here
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank) - Click here

The league is averaging 96.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.9 points scored per 100 possessions.

* * *'s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man's opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via twitter.


Last week: 1

San Antonio (60-17)
Pace: 97.0 (13), OffRtg: 108.5 (4), DefRtg: 99.6 (3), NetRtg: +8.9 (1)
Is it more concerning that the Spurs still can't beat the Thunder (and allowed them to score over 110 points per 100 possessions in four games this season) or that another back issue knocked Tony Parker out of Sunday's win? Kawhi Leonard's much improved offense since he returned from his broken hand is huge and the Spurs are still a strong No. 1, but the health and OKC questions will persist.
This week: @ MIN, @ DAL, vs. PHX


Last week: 2

L.A. Clippers (55-23)
Pace: 98.3 (6), OffRtg: 109.5 (2), DefRtg: 101.8 (7), NetRtg: +7.7 (2)
The Clippers might not be whole until the playoffs, but they did finally get J.J, Redick back last week. And it's like they've added two 3-point shooters, because after struggling with his jumper for a good month and a half, Chris Paul has shot 20-for-40 from beyond the arc over the last six games. The Clips hit 13 threes in their last meeting with the Thunder, who they'll host on Wednesday.
This week: vs. OKC, vs. SAC


Last week: 3

Oklahoma City (55-21)
Pace: 98.1 (9), OffRtg: 107.9 (7), DefRtg: 100.8 (5), NetRtg: +7.1 (4)
The Thunder are now won 10 of their last 12 games against the Spurs, but have lost their last four road games (thanks to some dreadful defense) against the West's top nine. A healthy Thabo Sefolosha might fix the defense to some extent, but OKC might still hope to avoid playing the Suns, who have shot 40-for-87 from 3-point range in three regular season meetings, in the first round.
This week: @ SAC, @ LAC, vs. NOP, @ IND


Last week: 5

Miami (53-23)
Pace: 93.5 (27), OffRtg: 109.6 (1), DefRtg: 102.5 (10), NetRtg: +7.1 (3)
Toney Douglas was seemingly a throw-in to the three-team trade that sent Jordan Crawford to Golden State, but has started the last 12 games that Dwyane Wade has missed. Erik Spoelstra likes to keep his bench rotation intact, but you have to wonder if Douglas can also earn himself a postseason role. Norris Cole has suffered the largest post-break, effective-field-goal percentage drop in the league.
This week: vs. BKN, @ MEM, vs. IND, @ ATL


Last week: 4

Houston (51-25)
Pace: 98.6 (5), OffRtg: 108.3 (5), DefRtg: 102.6 (11), NetRtg: +5.6 (5)
The Rockets' defense has suffered in eight games without Dwight Howard, but their offense has been fine, because they've gone to the line at the same rate without so many misses. James Harden hasn't shot well from the field over the last five games, but has averaged 31.0 points because he's 65-for-73 from the line. With where his team is in the standings, Howard need not rush back.
This week: @ LAL, @ DEN, @ MIN, vs. NOP


Last week: 6

Golden State (48-29)
Pace: 98.2 (8), OffRtg: 105.1 (12), DefRtg: 99.7 (4), NetRtg: +5.4 (6)
Through all their assistant-coach turmoil, the Warriors are set to win 50 games for the first time since 1994, when their leading scorer was Latrell Sprewell. And though their two best defenders - Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut - have missed a combined 29 games, they're set to rank in the top-10 defensively for the first time since 1989, when their centers were Ralph Sampson and Manute Bol.
This week: vs. DEN, @ LAL, @ POR


Last week: 7

Phoenix (46-31)
Pace: 98.3 (7), OffRtg: 107.3 (8), DefRtg: 103.9 (14), NetRtg: +3.4 (10)
A week after an brutal loss to the Lakers (shooting 38 percent against a bottom-five defense), the Suns redeemed themselves with a huge win over Oklahoma City (shooting 58 percent against a top-five defense). They're alive and kicking and it would be great to have them in the playoffs, but their season will likely come down to Saturday's game in Dallas and next Monday's against the Grizzlies.
This week: @ NOP, @ SAS, @ DAL


Last week: 11

Chicago (45-32)
Pace: 92.8 (28), OffRtg: 99.4 (27), DefRtg: 97.6 (2), NetRtg: +1.8 (13)
The Bulls have won five straight, but need help to get out of the Heat's (likely) side of the East bracket. They still don't shoot very well, but have cut down on turnovers, from a rate of 16.7 per 100 possessions through their first 62 games (second highest in the league) to 13.3 over their last 15 (second lowest). They've scored more than a point per possession in five straight for the first time this season.
This week: @ MIN, vs. DET, @ NYK


Last week: 10

Portland (50-28)
Pace: 97.5 (10), OffRtg: 108.2 (6), DefRtg: 104.7 (18), NetRtg: +3.4 (9)
Another loss to a good team (Phoenix) at home and more poor perimeter shooting nights are cause for concern, but the Blazers are in the playoffs and could be playing the Warriors for the 5 seed on Sunday. The Rockets and Clippers are two of the three teams that have been most efficient against the Portland defense, so they might not have a preference. Houston does have bigger health concerns.
This week: vs. SAC, @ UTA, vs. GSW


Last week: 8

Memphis (45-32)
Pace: 92.2 (30), OffRtg: 102.8 (20), DefRtg: 102.1 (9), NetRtg: +0.7 (14)
The Grizzlies are 3-0 against the Suns, but if the season comes down to next Monday's game in Phoenix, it's not a good sign that they're 2-5 - playing some bad defense - in their last seven road games, with only narrow wins in Utah and Denver. Wednesday's loss in Minnesota, in which Mike Conley and Zach Randolph combined to shoot 4-for-23, was particularly disappointing.
This week: vs. MIA, vs. PHI, @ LAL


Last week: 12

Brooklyn (42-34)
Pace: 93.7 (25), OffRtg: 104.7 (14), DefRtg: 104.5 (17), NetRtg: +0.2 (16)
The returns of Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko should stabilize the Nets' defense that has ranked 21st (worst among playoff teams) over the last four weeks. They're pretty locked into the 5 seed, giving Jason Kidd freedom to keep his vets fresh. He's already been doing that, leaving Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce on the bench for the entire fourth quarter of a close game in Philly on Saturday.
This week: @ MIA, @ ORL, vs. ATL, vs. ORL


Last week: 14

Toronto (45-32)
Pace: 94.4 (23), OffRtg: 105.3 (10), DefRtg: 101.9 (8), NetRtg: +3.5 (8)
The Raptors have won six of their last seven games to almost ensure themselves home-court advantage in the first round. They got Patrick Patterson back, but beat the Rockets, Pacers and Bucks without both Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson. Greivis Vasquez and Jonas Valanciunas played big roles in those games and have been two of the league's most improved shooters since the All-Star break.
This week: vs. PHI, vs. NYK, @ DET


Last week: 13

Dallas (47-31)
Pace: 96.1 (15), OffRtg: 108.9 (3), DefRtg: 105.8 (22), NetRtg: +3.1 (11)
The Mavs suffered another brutal overtime loss on Tuesday, but recovered with a huge road win over the Clippers two nights later and survived a couple of tougher-than-they-should've-been games against two of the three worst teams in the West. They visit the third one on Tuesday and then play three big games for their season. It wouldn't be unprecedented for a top-three offensive team to miss the playoffs.
This week: @ UTA, vs. SAS, vs. PHX


Last week: 16

Charlotte (39-38)
Pace: 94.8 (21), OffRtg: 101.2 (23), DefRtg: 101.4 (6), NetRtg: -0.2 (17)
The Bobcats are in the playoffs and you can't really think of them as a bottom-10 offensive team anymore. They're the only team that has improved in offensive efficiency every month from November to March (with Kemba Walker's assists jumping from 3.9 in November to 7.5 in that time), and they rank 12th on that end since March 1. Wednesday's game in Washington is for sixth place in the East.
This week: @ WAS, @ BOS, vs. PHI


Last week: 18

Minnesota (38-38)
Pace: 99.7 (4), OffRtg: 105.6 (9), DefRtg: 103.7 (13), NetRtg: +1.9 (12)
The Wolves lost to the Magic and Blake Griffin-less Clippers, but were still the Spoiler Team of the Week, knocking off the Grizzles and Heat. Chase Budinger had a huge game in Miami on Friday, but sprained his ankle in the first minute in Orlando on Saturday, leaving the Wolves ridiculously shorthanded. Injuries may prevent them from finishing at .500 or better for the first time since 2004-05.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. CHI, vs. HOU, @ SAC


Last week: 15

Washington (40-37)
Pace: 95.5 (18), OffRtg: 103.0 (17), DefRtg: 102.7 (12), NetRtg: +0.3 (15)
It'll be weird to have a Lottery without the Wizards contingent, but it will be fun to have a postseason that includes John Wall (who could win and lose playoff games with his outside shooting), Bradley Beal (who smoothly beat the Knicks on Friday), and Nene (who could return from his knee injury this week). The Wiz are 27-22 (and a top-10 defense) with Nene and 13-15 without him.
This week: vs. CHA, @ ORL, vs. MIL


Last week: 22

Atlanta (34-42)
Pace: 97.0 (12), OffRtg: 103.3 (16), DefRtg: 104.4 (15), NetRtg: -1.2 (18)
Sunday in Indiana was a good time for the Hawks to get their first road win of the season over a team with a winning record (at the time). Paul Millsap has four straight double-doubles and the Hawks have gone 3-1 to take back control of the No. 8 seed. Success is typically fleeting with this team, but they look pretty good for their seventh straight playoff appearance, the longest current streak in the East.
This week: vs. DET, vs. BOS, @ BKN, vs. MIA


Last week: 9

Indiana (53-25)
Pace: 95.1 (20), OffRtg: 101.2 (22), DefRtg: 96.3 (1), NetRtg: +4.9 (7)
As bad as the Pacers have been offensively (they rank 29th since the All-Star break), this collapse wouldn't be so bad if they maintained the level of defense they were playing. No team has regressed more defensively than the Pacers, who have allowed 8.3 more points per 100 possessions since the break than they did before it. The D is still good, but not good enough to make up for the awful O.
This week: @ MIL, @ MIA, vs. OKC


Last week: 19

New York (33-45)
Pace: 92.5 (29), OffRtg: 105.1 (11), DefRtg: 106.9 (24), NetRtg: -1.7 (19)
Any combination of three Atlanta wins and New York losses would finally put the Knicks out of their misery. The Hawks still get to play the Pistons, Celtics and Hawks, while the Knicks play four games against the three best teams in the East since the All-Star break. And oh yeah, Carmelo Anthony has an injured shoulder that caused him to shoot 9-for-31 against the Wiz and Heat over the weekend.
This week: @ TOR, vs. CHI


Last week: 17

New Orleans (32-45)
Pace: 94.5 (22), OffRtg: 104.8 (13), DefRtg: 107.2 (26), NetRtg: -2.4 (21)
The Pelicans remain the non-playoff team most likely to knock off the Mavs, Grizzlies or Suns (who they host on Wednesday) as they fight for those final two playoff spots. But they've lost five straight games and, given their opponents in their remaining five, look bound to be the only bottom-five defensive team from last season to repeat the feat this year. That's not a good look for Monty Williams.
This week: vs. PHX, @ OKC, @ HOU


Last week: 20

Cleveland (31-47)
Pace: 95.5 (19), OffRtg: 100.7 (24), DefRtg: 104.9 (19), NetRtg: -4.2 (24)
No matter how disappointing this season has been, the Cavs actually had a shot at the playoffs with six games to go. And then they fittingly laid an egg in Atlanta on Friday, with veteran leaders Luol Deng and Jarrett Jack each shooting 4-for-13. While the Cavs have to be worried if Kyrie Irving wants to stay, they also have to wonder if a max extension for the point guard is a wise investment.
This week: vs. DET, @ MIL, vs. BOS


Last week: 21

Denver (33-44)
Pace: 100.4 (3), OffRtg: 103.3 (15), DefRtg: 105.5 (21), NetRtg: -2.2 (20)
If the Grizzlies make the playoffs, Brian Shaw should draw some ire from fans of the team (Dallas or Phoenix) they send home. Down three to the Grizz on Monday, the Nuggets' coach actually called a play for Timofey Mozgov to shoot a 3-pointer. At the time, Mozgov was 1-for-14 from 3-point range in his career. He missed the shot, but maybe it liberated him. He's hit a three in each of the three games since.
This week: vs. HOU, @ GSW, vs. UTA


Last week: 24

Sacramento (27-50)
Pace: 96.7 (14), OffRtg: 103.0 (18), DefRtg: 106.1 (23), NetRtg: -3.1 (22)
Less than 48 hours after getting absolutely trounced at Golden State on Friday, the Kings almost played spoiler against the Mavs. Instead, they hit the 50-loss mark for the fifth straight non-lockout season. If Lottery odds were based on records over the last five years, Vivek Ranadive would have the first seat on the stage. It's been 25 years since this team took Pervis Ellison with its last No. 1 pick.
This week: vs. OKC, @ POR, @ LAC, vs. MIN


Last week: 25

Orlando (22-55)
Pace: 96.0 (16), OffRtg: 99.3 (29), DefRtg: 104.5 (16), NetRtg: -5.2 (25)
Kemba Walker owes Victor Oladipo dinner, because the rookie's blown layup gave Walker a triple-double on Friday. That play aside, Oladipo is finishing the season strong. He has averaged 17.0 points and 4.6 assists over his last eight games and had 10 points (2-for-2 on threes) as the Magic outscored the Wolves 28-15 in the fourth quarter to pick up another (quality?) win on Saturday.
This week: vs. BKN, vs. WAS, @ BKN


Last week: 23

L.A. Lakers (25-52)
Pace: 100.9 (2), OffRtg: 101.7 (21), DefRtg: 107.8 (28), NetRtg: -6.1 (27)
If there's anybody who can match J.R. Smith's new record of 22 3-point attempts in a game, it has to be Nick Young, who scored 40 points (with 13 shots from beyond the arc) against the Blazers on Tuesday. Twenty-four players average more attempts per game, but with his teammates continuing to go down with injuries (Young himself injured his left knee on Sunday), he may have no choice.
This week: vs. HOU, vs. GSW, vs. MEM


Last week: 29

Detroit (28-49)
Pace: 97.3 (11), OffRtg: 102.8 (19), DefRtg: 106.9 (25), NetRtg: -4.1 (23)
Prior to last Monday, the Pistons were 1-36 when trailing after three quarters. Last week, they were 2-1. They're still the worst fourth-quarter team in the league, awful on both ends of the floor. Defensively, they're the only team that has gotten worse every month of the season, having allowed 104.5 points per 100 possessions in November and 109.0 in March. They're even worse to start April.
This week: @ ATL, @ CLE, @ CHI, vs. TOR


Last week: 26

Boston (23-54)
Pace: 95.7 (17), OffRtg: 99.3 (28), DefRtg: 105.0 (20), NetRtg: -5.6 (26)
The only game the Celtics have won in their last 14 was against the Heat. They've played some other good teams close in that stretch, but maintained the fourth worst record in the league by allowing the Sixers and Pistons to each score 60-plus points in the second half over the weekend. Defense isn't the only problem, of course. They have some pretty horrid shooting numbers over this 1-13 stretch.
This week: @ ATL, vs. CHA, @ CLE


Last week: 30

Utah (24-53)
Pace: 93.5 (26), OffRtg: 100.3 (25), DefRtg: 108.9 (30), NetRtg: -8.6 (28)
The Jazz are obviously short on both talent and experience, but they didn't have to be as bad a defensive team as they've been this season. And just how awful they've been with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter on the floor together has to make them think about either changing course with their roster (Kanter is up for an extension this summer) or, of course, changing their coach.
This week: vs. DAL, vs. POR, @ DEN


Last week: 28

Philadelphia (17-60)
Pace: 101.8 (1), OffRtg: 96.2 (30), DefRtg: 107.2 (27), NetRtg: -11.0 (30)
As good as Oladipo and Mason Plumlee have been of late, there's really no arguing against Michael Carter-Williams as Rookie of the Year. His per-game numbers are obviously unmatched among rookies, and he's had a positive impact on his team's numbers as well. He'll be the first player that wasn't picked in the top 10 of the Draft to win the award since Mark Jackson in 1988.
This week: @ TOR, @ MEM, @ CHA


Last week: 27

Milwaukee (14-63)
Pace: 94.2 (24), OffRtg: 99.7 (26), DefRtg: 108.6 (29), NetRtg: -8.9 (29)
It seemed like Larry Sanders' 2013-14 couldn't get any worse - he was out for the season, after all - and then he got hit with a five-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug program. Five games, by the way, is how many the Bucks have left to try and win two in a row for the first time. They could do that and still finish with the league's worst record and highest Lottery odds.
This week: vs. IND, vs. CLE, @ WAS