Monday, March 24, 2014

How Does the Western Conference Playoff Picture Look? (Power Rankings, Week 21)

We're hitting the post-St. Patrick's Day lull in the NBA, with all but a handful of teams playing out the string in anticipation of either the playoffs or the draft lottery. The league is still providing quite a bit of entertainment, though.

In this week's rankings, the Spurs, Clippers and Thunder clung to the top three positions. Below are the complete power rankings, followed by deeper looks at a pair of teams that are jockeying for a playoff spot in the crowded Western Conference -- the Dallas Mavericks and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Here are my Week 21 Power Rankings, with all records current through Sunday:
30. Philadelphia 76ers (15-55)
29. Milwaukee Bucks (13-57)
28. Orlando Magic (19-52)
27. Los Angeles Lakers (23-46)
26. Utah Jazz (23-47)
25. Boston Celtics (23-47)
24. Sacramento Kings (25-45)
23. Detroit Pistons (25-44)
22. Cleveland Cavaliers (27-44)
21. New Orleans Pelicans (29-40)
20. New York Knicks (29-41)
19. Denver Nuggets (32-38)
18. Atlanta Hawks (31-37)
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (34-34)
16. Charlotte Bobcats (34-36)
15. Washington Wizards (36-34)
14. Brooklyn Nets (37-31)
13 Phoenix Suns (41-29)
12. Toronto Raptors (39-30)
11. Chicago Bulls (39-31)
10. Dallas Mavericks (42-29)
9. Memphis Grizzlies (41-28)
8. Golden State Warriors (44-27)
7. Portland Trail Blazers (45-25)
6. Miami Heat (47-21)
5. Indiana Pacers (51-19)
4. Houston Rockets (47-22)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (51-18)
2. Los Angeles Clippers (49-21) 
1. San Antonio Spurs (53-16)

Memphis Grizzlies
(Photo via sportingnews.com)
It's been a tough season for reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. Gasol missed 23 games earlier in the campaign with an MCL sprain and watched Memphis go 10-13 in his absence. In Friday night's loss to Miami, he left the game early after spraining an ankle. 

Gasol was able to return to help the Grizz hold Indiana to a season low in points on Saturday night. Memphis won that game, an important victory as the Grizzlies attempt to hold off the feisty Phoenix Suns for one of the final playoff spots out West. The defensive-minded team will need Gasol to stay healthy for the stretch run. 

Aside from Gasol's injury woes, the Grizzlies have put together a pretty strong season. Mike Conley has continued his stellar play, averaging almost five more points per game than his career average. After a bit of a sluggish start, Zach Randolph is having another strong season. Z-Bo has averaged a double-double in three of the last four months, and he's helped Memphis win seven of its last 10 games. 

Eight of the Grizzlies' final 13 opponents boast records at or above .500. It should be a fun couple of weeks, especially since Memphis' last two regular-season games will pit them against the Suns and Mavericks. And speaking of those Mavs...

Dallas Mavericks
(Photo via denverstiffs.com)
Dirk Nowitzki is still approximating his career averages, an amazing feat for guy who's almost 36 years old. Nowitzki is shooting just under 50 percent from the field, leading an attack that ranks third in the NBA in offensive efficiency. Dirk has definitely played his way onto a few MVP ballots.

Despite Nowitzki's strong overall play, though, he had a rough night on Sunday. Dallas suffered an overtime loss at home against Brooklyn after their superstar went just 1-of-10 in regulation. Dirk finished with a measly 10 points, and the defeat left the Mavs just a half-game up on Phoenix, who beat Minnesota on Sunday afternoon.

Dallas is just No. 22 in the league in defensive efficiency, a fact that could be costly in the Mavs' playoff push. This week will be crucial for them, with matchups against the front-running Thunder and Clippers before next Saturday's game against the lowly Kings. A 2-1 record in those games would probably keep the Mavs in playoff position.


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