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.
Stephen Curry's record setting shooting should help lock up the 6-seed
One of the biggest failings of the Golden State Warriors this season has been their offense. What was supposed to be a fun, creative set of offensive options and execution for the Warriors has been a stagnant bore, which hasn't helped them separate from the pack like they should have done. The biggest problem is while Stephen Curry's 28.2 percent usage rate is nice, it isn't nearly high enough for the best 3-point shooter in NBA history.
For the second year in a row, Curry has made 250 3-pointers or more in a season. No other shooter has ever done it and he's done it with remarkable accuracy. His 272 3-pointers last season came on 45.3 percent and his 254 3-pointers and counting this season have come on 42.1 percent. With a home game against the Wolves Monday night and a road contest in Denver to close out the season, his shooting should help them fend off the Dallas Mavericks and close out the 6-seed.
The Toronto Raptors have a chance to lock up the 3-seed in the Eastern Conference with wins over the Bucks and Knicks the rest of this season. A big reason for their success this season has been the Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan duo since the Rudy Gay trade. After the Raptors sent Gay to Sacramento for multiple pieces to round out the rotation, it unleashed this backcourt on the rest of the league and the NBA has had a hard time stopping them.
Together since the trade, Lowry and DeRozan on the court has meant Toronto is outscoring teams by 5.6 points per 100 possessions. The defense has been shaky at times but their offense has put up an impressive 109.7 points per 100 possessions. Considering the Clippers and Heat lead the NBA in offensive rating overall at 109.4, I'd say that's pretty good.
The Houston Rockets are in danger of losing home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs when they face off against the Portland Trail Blazers. They hold a half game lead over the Blazers and face a Spurs team that has nothing to play for Monday night and a Pelicans team that isn't close to whole after all these injuries but still gave the Rockets fits Saturday night.
The return of Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley should give this Rockets' team enough defense to clinch the 4-seed in the West. They squeeze the pick-and-roll as well as any duo in the NBA and can save a group of mostly non-defenders out there. The Rockets' defense is slightly better with them on the floor together (102.6 as opposed to 102.9 overall for the season), but they don't have much room for error the rest of the way.
The Phoenix Suns' season is officially on the line Monday night when they play the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have beaten the Suns all three times they've played this season, but a sweep would knock the Suns out of the playoff hunt and give the Grizzlies the 8-seed. Eric Bledsoe has only played in one of those three games, and while it was a blowout defeat for Phoenix, it happened in early December.
Since Bledsoe returned from his knee injury, the Suns have destroyed their opponents with him on the floor. They have a net rating of plus-10.7 when he's on the court since his return and he's averaging 18 points, five rebounds, and five assists. The Suns need a sparkplug against this staunch Memphis defense and Bledsoe is genetically designed to be that guy. No pressure or anything.
Ed Davis can end the Suns' season and lock up the postseason for the Grizzlies
A huge part of the Grizzlies' success against the Suns this season has been the play of reserve big man Ed Davis. In 90 minutes on the court in three wins over Phoenix, Ed Davis has helped the Grizzlies post a ridiculous net rating of plus-29.5 points per 100 possessions. This isn't a case of Davis posting a big impact in mop-up duty. He's been integral to the Grizzlies' domination of the Suns.
He's averaging 15 points and 13 rebounds against Phoenix while making 67.7 percent of his shots. The Grizzlies would be smart to keep him in the mix Monday night and pair him with either Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph for extended stretches. The playoffs are on the line, after all. Have to keep going with what works.