Monday, April 14, 2014

How Will the Suns/Grizz Situation Pan Out? (Power Rankings, Week 24)

The NBA Playoffs begin next weekend, and the field is almost set. There's just one more spot to be determined (more on that later), with several teams jockeying for higher (or lower?) seeds. Be sure to check back later in the week for a preview of each playoff series.

In the last edition of these rankings, the Spurs held onto the top spot, and the Thunder rose to the second position. Unsurprisingly, the Bucks and 76ers finished in the bottom two slots.

Below are the complete power rankings, followed by deeper looks at the two Western Conference teams fighting for that last open playoff spot. Consider these rankings a final appreciation of the Suns and Grizzlies, one of which will unfortunately miss the postseason.

Here are my Week 24 Power Rankings, with all records current through Sunday:
30. Milwaukee Bucks (15-65)
29. Philadelphia 76ers (17-63)
28. Utah Jazz (24-56)
27. Los Angeles Lakers (25-55)
26. Orlando Magic (23-57)
25. Boston Celtics (25-55)
24. Sacramento Kings (28-53)
23. Detroit Pistons (29-52) 
22. New Orleans Pelicans (32-48)
21. Cleveland Cavaliers (32-49)
20. New York Knicks (35-45)
19. Denver Nuggets (36-44)
18. Atlanta Hawks (37-43)
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (40-40)
16. Charlotte Bobcats (41-39)
15. Washington Wizards (42-38)
14. Brooklyn Nets (44-36)
13. Phoenix Suns (47-33)
12. Memphis Grizzlies (48-32)
11. Toronto Raptors (47-33)
10. Dallas Mavericks (49-32)
9. Chicago Bulls (47-33)
8. Golden State Warriors (49-31)
7. Indiana Pacers (55-26)
6. Houston Rockets (53-27)
5. Portland Trail Blazers (53-28)
4. Miami Heat (54-26)
3. Los Angeles Clippers (56-24)
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (58-22)
1. San Antonio Spurs (62-18)

Phoenix Suns
(Photo via bballbreakdown.com)
Before we examine the various playoff scenarios for the Suns and Grizzlies, let's take a moment to acknowledge how great the ride has been for each team. After being given no chance at the start of the season, the Suns rode some of the most fun players in the league (Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green) to a huge improvement over last season. Even if they miss the playoffs, they have a bright future thanks to that solid core and a glut of draft picks over the next few years. Memphis, meanwhile, overcame some serious bad luck in the first half of the season to charge back into the playoff race. More on the Grizzlies in a minute.

Now, about that playoff race. Phoenix lost an absolute heartbreaker to Monta Ellis (37 points) and the Mavs on Saturday night, pushing Dallas into the playoffs and dropping the Suns to the dreaded ninth spot in the West. Phoenix now must win out against Memphis on Monday night and at Sacramento on Wednesday. That game against the Grizzlies will have the feel of a seven-game series packed into one night. Still, even if the Suns win both of their remaining games, they'll need some help...

Memphis Grizzlies
(Photo via commercialappeal.com)
...and Phoenix might not get that help. After Memphis took care of the pitiful Lakers on Sunday, the Suns need to beat the Grizzlies on Monday AND hope that Dallas takes out Memphis on Wednesday.

The problem for the Suns, of course, is that Dallas has already locked up its playoff spot. The aging Mavs will likely rest a bunch of their best players to prepare for their first-round playoff series. Maybe (BIG maybe) Dallas would prefer to face the Clippers instead of the Thunder in Round 1. Still, I think the prospect of an injury in the final game will prevent the Mavs from truly trying to catch Golden State for the sixth seed. If that's true, Memphis will simply have to avoid a complete implosion over the final pair of games.

If the Grizzlies do indeed take care of business against either the Suns or the Mavs, it's not far-fetched to see them taking down San Antonio or Oklahoma City in Round 1. The Spurs and Thunder have looked great over the past month, but so have the Grizz.

Marc Gasol appears to be peaking as the playoffs approach, as well as staking his claim to the best sidearm delivery since Dan Quisenberry. In addition, Zach Randolph has proven capable of taking over multiple games during the playoffs, when the pace slows down and half-court play becomes more important. With a few breaks, look for Memphis to at least bloody one of the top two seeds in a six- or seven-game series.


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