#1 Miami Heat 58-16: After the Bulls tackled their winning streak at 27 games, the Heat finally decided to rest some of their core players in preparation for the postseason. No LeBron, no Wade, No Chalmers…no problem, as Chris Bosh led the Heat into San Antonio and pulled off shorthanded victory in a game most of us had circled as a defining (for both teams) situation.
#2 San Antonio Spurs 55-19: Suddenly, the Spurs are 2-3 over their last five games, including that home loss to Miami. With Ginobili out 3-4 weeks due to a sore hamstring, the Spurs have not only lost one of their more battle-tested playmakers for (at least) the start of the postseason, but they’ve also lost that 3-game lead for the top seed out West. Thursday’s visit to OKC could either close that door or leave that race for the top seed wide open over the final 6 games.
#3 Denver Nuggets 50-24: Even though their 15-game streak was broken last week, the Nuggets are still playing some of the best basketball in the league. Having leapfrogged and placed distance between themselves and the Clippers, the Nuggets have a great shot at locking down the 3-seed. With five of their last eight games coming in Denver, the Nuggets simply need to take care of business.
#4 OKC Thunder 54-20: After a slight mid-season lull, the Thunder are on a 15-5 run as they close out the season. They’ve pulled to within a game of the Spurs for the top seed, which makes Thursday’s meeting with San Antonio that much more significant. San Antonio is 2-1 vs OKC this year, so a Thunder victory could not only place them into a virtual tie, but it would also permit OKC to avoid losing the head-to-head tie-breaker.
#5 Memphis Grizzlies 50-24: Following a 3-5 record over their previous eight, the Grizzlies have rallied to win their last three games. Even though they’re the lower seed, they would actually own the home court advantage over the Clippers if the playoffs were to start today, due to their superior W/L record. That race won’t be easy, as unlike the case with Denver, Memphis has five of their remaining eight games on the road.
#6 Indiana Pacers 48-27: The Pacers have returned to playing the hard-nosed and consistent style of basketball that had many people calling them Miami’s biggest threat following the All-Star break. Trouble is, they’re now entrenched in a battle for the 2-seed with the suddenly resurgent Knicks. If the can take care of their business this week, that April 14th trip to Madison Square Garden could end up being for that position.
#7 New York Knicks 47-26: Amazing what simply getting healthy can do for you. Chandler’s return, coupled with the added interior toughness Kenyon Martin has added permit Carmelo to simply focus on what he does best. That 50 he placed on the Heat, shorthanded or not, was impressive. While it may ultimately turn out to be fool’s gold, part of me still feels like this team could also give Miami a run for their money in a series. Melo, J.R. Smith, and the rest of the shooters would have to stay hot for an entire series…but stranger things have happened.
#8 Los Angeles Clippers 49-26: Sooner or later, the Clippers will win that 50th game to set a new franchise record. You’d think it would come Wednesday night in a home game vs the Suns, but wouldn’t it be poetic justice if they somehow needed to beat the cross-hallway rival Los Angeles Lakers (Sunday) in order to accomplish the feat? With seven games remaining, they’ll eventually reach that total, but more importantly than anything else, the Clippers need to win in order to keep pace and catch the Grizzlies.
#9 Golden State Warriors 42-22: 9-5 over their past 14 games, the Warriors are trying to hold off the surging Rockets, and hold on to that 6th seed out West. Five of their remaining eight games are at home, and four of them are against teams currently in the playoff picture. While Steph Curry is not (and should not be) in the MVP race, I’d actually place him right alongside Indiana’s Paul George in the discussion for Most Improved Player.
#10 Houston Rockets 41-33: With the Lakers and Jazz battling it out for the final playoff spot, the Rockets have gone about their business and probably solidified at least the 7th seed in the Western Conference playoff race. Even though they finish the year with three home games and five on the road, outside of a few (@DEN, vs. MEM, @LAL) all of them are favorable match-ups.