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Playoff Assist: The return of key veterans helping secure seeding?

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

As we get closer to the 2014 NBA Playoffs, the push to secure a playoff berth and playoff positioning is the daily topic of conversation around the league. Let's take a look at five teams who are fighting for their playoff lives and the positioning to move on past the first round.

Should the Houston Rockets be playing Donatas Motiejunas more?

The Rockets have a lot of weapons at their disposal, and as they wait for Patrick Beverley to return to action, they may have one way of keeping their defense near the top of third of the league. Donatas Motiejunas has been a great defensive influence when he's on the floor this season. Since the All-Star break, he's had the biggest impact of any player on the Rockets who plays significant minutes. The Rockets only give up 99.7 points per 100 possessions since the break with him on the floor and his net rating is plus-8.4 points per 100 possessions.

Should the Rockets being using him more liberally in the rotation to keep their versatility and dominance going? Could Kevin McHale leave him in longer from the second unit to the starting unit as a bridge of length and options on the floor? He's a great complement to Dwight Howard, both inside and outside, and he potentially gives James Harden and Jeremy Lin a great option in the pick-and-pop.

How big is the return of Nene to the Washington Wizards?

The Washington Wizards dropped a big game Wednesday night when they lost to the Charlotte Bobcats and relinquished control of the 6-seed in the East. With just four games left, they'll have to find a way to regain momentum and finish the season strong, possibly winning all four games, to put the pressure back on the Bobcats. The Wizards play the Magic, Bucks, Heat, and Celtics the rest of the way, and the return of Nene Wednesday night could be the exact boost they need.

This Wizards team isn't very deep upfront any way, so the addition of Nene is huge. He's only played five games since the All-Star break, but in those five games, the Wizards have destroyed their opponents with him on the floor. They're a plus-15.1 points per 100 possessions with him in those five games, and considering they've already beaten the Heat once this season, doing it again and basically full strength doesn't seem impossible.

Will the return of C.J. Watson put the Indiana Pacers in the 1-seed?

Watson hasn't played for the Indiana Pacers since early March and in that time they've been pretty atrocious. His return to the rotation could be exactly what the Pacers need to knock down the Miami Heat Friday night and regain complete control of the 1-seed they've been so desperate to secure since losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in Miami in last year's playoffs.

Having their backup point guard in against the Heat Friday night will be big for Indiana. In two meetings against the Heat this season that Watson has played in, they've been great with him on the floor. His leadership of the second unit and ability to play with some of the starters has helepd the Pacers outscore the Heat by 8.6 points per 100 possessions, giving Indiana a big advantage against an underperforming second unit for the Heat.

The San Antonio Spurs probably don't want to deal with Goran Dragic more than they have to:

It seems like just yesterday Goran Dragic was having a breakthrough moment against the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. Since then, he's left the Phoenix Suns and come back but his ownership of the Spurs when they play is still quite existent. The Spurs would likely defeat the Suns in the first round but it's doubtful they want to deal with the headache of Dragic torching them again.

In two games and 70 minutes of action against the Spurs this season, the Suns have been a plus-15.9 points per 100 possessions with Dragic on the floor. They are annihilating the Spurs when he's playing, and they really don't have anybody who can consistently guard him on the perimeter, even if they try to put Kawhi Leonard on him.

Now will the Golden State Wariors finally clinch without having to face Timofey Mozgov?

Will the Warriors finally clinch their playoff berth tonight or do they feel like giving up a 23-29 to Robert Sacre when they face the Los Angeles Lakers? Timofey Mozgov prevented them from clinching Thursday night with his incredible performance, and the Warriors still need to start preparing to rest up during the last week once it looks like they've secured their position in the West. A win over the Lakers makes that a reality, although they should have done this against a battered Nuggets team on Thursday.

Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green will have to give the Warriors more this time.

 
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