Posted: Fri April 5, 2013 1:18PM; Updated: Fri April 5, 2013 1:18PM
Matt Dollinger

Drama out West with playoff picture still unsettled

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Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan
The Spurs and Lakers are just a few of the teams jockeying for playoff position down the stretch.
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

There are teams still jockeying for playoff position in both conferences, but two races in the West have emerged as the most compelling.

The Spurs ceded ground to the Thunder in the battle for the No. 1 seed Thursday, with their lead in the standings reduced to just a half game. The loss was San Antonio's third in four games without Manu Ginobili and it played the final seven minutes against Oklahoma City without Tony Parker after the star guard sustained a shin injury.

While San Antonio has one less road game remaining, Oklahoma City now appears to have the inside track on the top spot. Not only are the Spurs dealing with injuries to two of their best players, but they would lose the tiebreaker should the teams hold the same record at the end of the season. The Thunder also own a 12-2 record against their seven remaining opponents, helping swing the pendulum even further in their favor.

The race for who the West's top seed will play in the first round is just as close as the beleaguered Lakers hold just a half-game lead on the Jazz. Much like the other race on the other side of the standings spectrum, it's the team that trails that appears to have the upper hand. Like the Spurs, the Lakers are also dealing with injuries. They also must face West playoff teams in five of their last six games, while the Jazz will only face three.

This will be the last regular-season addition of the Power Rankings, which are led by the Heat for the eighth consecutive week. The rankings will return on April 19 for a playoff-preview edition.

(Note: All statistics and records through April 4.)

NBA Power Rankings
1 Miami Heat
Last Week: 1
Since: 2-1
Miami Heat (58-16)
The Bulls might have done the Heat a favor. With the winning streak over, Erik Spoelstra has been able to rationalize resting LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, an internal victory that will prove much more valuable than a few more regular-season wins. The Heat's run at the 1971-72 Lakers and their 33-game winning streak was miraculous, but also taxing. Now the team has the chance to get some much-earned rest and focus on their ultimate goal rather than their regular-season one. 
2 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 2
Since: 2-1
The Thunder split their season series with the Spurs by beating them in Oklahoma City Thursday and hold the tiebreaker over San Antonio thanks to a better record against the West. The Thunder got an early clutch playoff performance from Derek Fisher, who hit a season-high five three-pointers and helped lead Oklahoma City past its rival. The veteran point guard had been 9-of-31 from behind the arc for Oklahoma City heading into the game, but this effort reminds us he still has something left to contribute, particularly in big moments. Reggie Jackson has been a solid contributor for the Thunder, but the second-year sparkplug will likely lose minutes to the 16-year veteran in the playoffs.
3 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 4
Since: 3-0
The Nuggets have gone 5-1 with Ty Lawson out of the lineup as he deals with a plantar fascia tear in his right heel, but it won't be as easy to replace Danilo Gallinari, who reportedly suffered a torn ACL in Thursday night's win. Veteran Andre Miller has predictably stepped in more than adequately for Lawson in the starting lineup and rookie Evan Fournier has been a surprise scorer off the bench, but the Nuggets' depth will be tested by Gallinari's injury. The team has solid options in Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer, but neither is a true offensive weapon like Gallinari, who boasts a superior Player Efficiency Rating and True Shooting Percentage.
4 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 6
Since: 2-0
An impressive 4-0 road trip couldn't dethrone the red-hot Knicks from the No. 2 seed, but it did prove Indiana is playing its best basketball of the year at the right time. We all know about Indy's league-leading defense, but the team's much-maligned offense is more than holding its own these days. The key has been Roy Hibbert, who is averaging 21.4 points and 10.8 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the field over his last five games and playing like the All-Star center Indiana hoped it was getting when it signed him to a max contract last summer. With Hibbert thriving, the Pacers have been a different team offensively. Since the season's midpoint, Indiana has had the 10th most efficient offense in the league. On New Year's Day, it ranked 28th
5 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 3
Since: 2-3
The Spurs are no longer a lock for the West's top seed, suffering four losses in their last seven games. San Antonio has to be worried about replacing Manu Ginobili, who is out indefinitely with a strained hamstring. The Spurs are a deep, versatile bunch, but there's no one on the bench who can be the catalyst like Ginobili. The player who Greg Popovich will turn to most is Gary Neal, a fearless combo guard, but not much of a distributor (3.1 assists per 36 minutes) as compared to Ginobili (7.1 assists). Dealing with a banged-up Tony Parker won't make things any easier.
6 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 7
Since: 4-0
The Grizzlies will have to keep pace in the West to clinch home-court advantage, but, as Lionel Hollins pointed out this week, it might not matter much to the team. Memphis lost in the first round of the playoffs last season despite owning the home-court upper hand and took down the top-seeded Spurs in the first round the year before despite playing a majority of its games on the road. This season's been no different as the Grizz are the third-best in the West away from their home arena.
7 New York Knicks
Last Week: 8
Since: 4-0
The hottest player in the league is fueling the hottest team, helping the Knicks win 10 straight while scorching opponents that stand in his path. Carmelo Anthony has the same look in his eyes he did when Team USA dismantled Nigeria by 83 points in the London Olympics last summer and he scored 37 points (10-of-12 from three-point range) in less than 15 minutes. Carmelo hasn't been quite that prolific the last two weeks, but he did tie his career-best with 50 points against the Heat and followed it up with 40 points against the Hawks. Thanks to his late surge, Melo is now just 0.2 points behind Kevin Durant on the scoring list and has a legitimate shot at ending the Thunder star's three-year reign as scoring champ.
8 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 5
Since: 1-3
It's pretty incredible that the Clippers just clinched their first 50-win season considering this is their 43rd season in the league. To compare, the crosstown Lakers have had 27 50-win seasons over that span. But the Clips aren't worried about regular-season accolades. Their focus is on making the franchise's first trip to the Western Conference finals. L.A. is currently projected to land the No. 4 seed, but if they can pass the banged-up Nuggets for No. 3, their chances of making the conference finals increase significantly.
9 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 9
Since: 3-1
An injury to James Harden forced the Rockets to shake up their starting lineup last Saturday for the first time in a month, but Houston's offense didn't miss a beat. Five Rockets scored in double-digits against the Clippers and six reached the mark in the next game against the Magic on Monday. The Rockets' balance (they rank fifth in the league in assists) has been a big key to their league-leading offense this season.
10 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 11
Since: 2-0
This has been a feel-good season for the Warriors, but the team can't feel great about its chances in the first round. Golden State is currently projected to face Denver, a team it's 1-3 against this season. The odds get more daunting when you consider that Denver, the best home team in the league, would boast home-court advantage throughout the series. More concerning: The Warriors are giving up ground to the surging Rockets, who now trail by just one game for the No. 6 seed.
11 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 10
Since: 1-3
Brooklyn finished its longest road trip of the season at 5-3, but the three losses came to the three best teams (Clippers, Nuggets and Jazz) on the trip. Beating elite teams has been a problem for the Nets all season as they try to prove that they also belong in that category. The team is just 14-26 against teams currently projected to make the playoffs, a sign that the Nets can take care of business against the NBA's underlings, but aren't quite up to the task of facing better competition.
12 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 12
Since: 2-2
Chicago's injury list has been a problem all season and now Taj Gibson is back on it after re-injuring his knee. An MRI revealed no tear, but it's unclear how long Gibson will be out. With Joakim Noah also missing time, the Bulls' frontline is razor thin, leading them to start Nazr Mohammed and bring Vlad Radmanovic off the bench in their most recent game. Big minutes for those two is bad news for the Bulls, meaning Gibson's absence could prove costly if it isn't short-lived.
13 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 13
Since: 2-2
The Hawks unveiled their 27th different starting lineup last week after only using 11 different ones all of last season. Larry Drew's been forced to deal with a painful amount of injuries plus a revolving door at the wing positions. Earlier this year, the Hawks became the first team since 2010-11 to use a different starting lineup in 10 straight games. Its most effective starting five by far this season has been the combination of Al Horford, Josh Smith, Kyle Korver, Devin Harris and Jeff Teague. The Hawks are 9-5 with those five starting the game and should have them, barring any late developments, healthy heading into the postseason.
14 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 14
Since: 2-2
Jeff Green was inserted into the starting lineup as result of Kevin Garnett's injury, but he may stay there even after Garnett returns. Green's averaging 22.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 11 starts this year while shooting 56.3 percent from the field and an incredible 54.1 percent from behind the arc. Boston's two best five-man lineups this season also feature Green, but only one boasts Garnett. Green could be the key to the Celtics' playoff success if Boston gives him the chance.
15 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 17
Since: 2-0
Shaquille O'Neal's retirement ceremony was as awkward as could be, but lost in the weirdness was a huge win for the Lakers, who essentially eliminated the Mavericks from the playoff race with a 101-81 victory. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the path remaining is daunting. If Kobe and Co. make the postseason, their reward will be a first-round match-up with the Thunder or Spurs. It's too bad a younger version of No. 34 isn't around to help the Lakers into the playoffs.
16 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 19
Since: 3-1
Utah Jazz (39-37)
The Jazz have to like their chances of stealing the No. 8 seed. While the Lakers hold a half-game advantage as of Friday, their ongoing health issues and rough schedule make them susceptible to a bumpy finish. Meanwhile, Utah had won a season-best five straight before falling to the Nuggets on Wednesday and had scored over 100 points in six straight. Look for the Jazz to try and ride the big shoulders of Al Jefferson (21.4 points and 8.6 rebounds in his last five games) down the stretch and into the playoffs.
17 Milwaukee Bucks
Last week: 16
Since: 1-2
The Bucks are now 2.5 games behind the Celtics and appear headed for the eighth seed and a first-round matchup with the Heat. That's not the worst thing in the world for Milwaukee. The Bucks have played Miami tough three times this year, with an OT loss, a 19-point win and a seven-point defeat resulting. The Bucks have one more matchup with the Heat next week, but LeBron James and Co. could easily sit out if Erik Spoelstra continues to give his stars rest before the playoffs. If the Bucks do somehow steal the No. 7 seed, they'd prefer to face the Pacers (2-1 against them this season) over the Knicks (0-2).
18 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 15
Since: 1-2
The Mavericks own the second-longest playoff streak in the NBA at 12 consecutive years, but that reign looks like it's going to come to an end. After losing to the Nuggets on Thursday, Dallas now trails the eighth-seeded Lakers by three games. Maybe the addition of Brittney Griner will be enough to get the Mavs to the playoffs next year.
19 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 18
Since: 2-2
Bradley Beal's rookie season came to an early end, but Washington has to feel good about its chances heading into next season with a young backcourt oozing with talent. The next step for the Wizards will be finding a young big man to pair with the duo of John Wall and Beal. Nene and Emeka Okafor are paid like stars, but neither is suited for being much more than a complementary contributor. Will Washington have luck again in the draft?
20 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 21
Since: 2-1
The Sixers are 7-5 since moving Damien Wilkins into the starting lineup, a move that's surprisingly turned the tide a little bit in Philadelphia. Doug Collins likely learned long ago that relying on Nick Young wasn't a recipe for success (Philly is 5-12 when he starts), but injuries didn't leave Collins with many other options. Wilkins, the 33-year-old journeyman and nephew of Dominique, isn't a game changer, but he's been effective on offense since the increase in minutes, averaging 13.5 points on 53.1 percent shooting as a starter.
21 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 20
Since: 0-4
The Blazers are ending the season with a bit of a thud, losing their last six by an average of 17.2 points. The loss of LaMarcus Aldridge, who has missed Portland's last four games, is partially to blame, but the team's problems run deep. Portland was outrebounded in all six of those losses and committed an average of 22.5 turnovers while forcing just 9.5. The Blazers' lack of rebounding (21st in league) and defense (25th in efficiency) has been their crux all season, but they've been particularly vulnerable of late, leading to them limping to the finish line.
22 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 24
Since: 3-1
The Wolves have the chance to play the role of spoiler the last two weeks of the season. Minnesota proved that even a shorthanded version of its team is capable of beating some of the NBA's best last week, taking down the Thunder and Celtics. The Wolves have two games remaining against the Jazz, who are still fighting for their playoff lives, and face three other teams still jockeying for position. Minnesota might not be able to save its season, but it can ruin some others.
23 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 23
Since: 1-2
The Hornets had the unfortunate fortune of being the team LeBron James faced after his 27-game winning streak was snapped. Resistance was futile, as LeBron hit six straight three-pointers in less than six minutes in the first half and played New Orleans like the fate of the world hinged on the game's outcome. The Hornets could see some other spirited performances down the stretch, with four of their remaining seven games coming against the three Western teams competing for the eighth and final playoff spot.
24 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 25
Since: 2-2
The future is bright for Jonas Valanciunas, who had a career night with 24 points and 10 rebounds against the Wizards on Wednesday. The rookie center has been playing at a high level lately, averaging 15.9 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting a mind-bogglingly efficient 67.8 percent from the field in his last 10 games. The Raptors are known for their international scouting and it appears Valanciunas might be their best work yet. He could be the second best big man in this rookie class behind Anthony Davis.
25 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 22
Since: 0-2
The future of the Kings is still very much undecided after Sacramento and Seattle made their presentations to a committee of league owners in New York City this week. Both cities are doing their best to win the franchise, with Seattle claiming it already has 44,000 people in line to buy season tickets and Sacramento doing its best to persuade the franchise to stay and mounting several fan-fueled campaigns. It's clear an NBA franchise means so much to both of these cities and it's unfair one of them will be deprived of a team. It's even more unfair that whoever prevails will be rewarded with a team that hasn't finished above .500 in seven years.
26 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 26
Since: 1-3
Andre Drummond is back, but not quite all the way after missing 22 games with a stress fracture in his back. He scored 17 points in just 19 minutes in his return and followed it up with a 14-rebound effort two nights later. Conditioning predictably became a factor in his third game in four nights, when he tallied just four points and four rebounds in 20 minutes. The Pistons are being smart by not asking Drummond to do to much, playing him about 20 minutes per night, while giving him the valuable game reps he needs to continue to evolve.
27 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 27
Since: 0-2
Phoenix Suns (23-52)
Oh, to be a fly on the wall during one of Lon Babby's meetings with Robert Sarver. The Suns gave their current president, Babby, a two-year extension this week despite having the worst record in the West and one of the least desirable rosters in the league. The Suns are set to have a good amount of cap room in the summer after 2013-14, but will the team be able to land of the top-notch free agents that offseason?
28 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 28
Since: 0-4
Byron Scott sounded like a defeated man after the Cavaliers lost their 10th straight game Wednesday. After three seasons in Cleveland, Scott has compiled just a .279 winning percentage and could be on the chopping board this offseason if the Cavaliers decide they want a fresh start. It would be a shame if Kyrie Irving -- who returned from a shoulder injury to play in his team's last two losses -- came back in an ill-fated attempt to try and save his coach's job. Irving admitted he's still playing with a sprained AC joint, but said he was out on the floor because he just "wants to play."
29 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 29
Since: 1-3
How many of the current Bobcats have a future with the team? We know Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo aren't going anywhere, but the rest of the roster is one collective question mark. That leaves the remaining regular-season games as extended auditions. The player making the most of theirs? Josh McRoberts. After being dealt from the Magic, McRoberts quickly found a place in the 'Cats starting lineup, averaging 9.5 points and 8.5 rebounds over his last 11 games.
30 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 30
Since: 1-3
The Magic are neck-and-neck with the Bobcats for the worst record in the league and they won't need any help finding potential losses in their remaining six games. Orlando plays a non-playoff team only once and has two tough tests remaining against the Bulls, who are battling to secure homecourt advantage in the first round. The Magic also have lost 11 of their last 12, which isn't exactly helping their cause either.
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