9. Golden State Warriors 46-28
Although they ARE just 2 games back from the Trailblazers in the West standings for that #5 seed, and they do have just 2 games left against teams with a winning-record, the feeling is that the Warriors are going to stay put in the standings and head into the West as a #6 seed. They do, however, play the Blazers on April 13 in Portland.
Last Ranking: 910. Phoenix Suns 44-30
The Suns, on a scorching hot 8-2 stretch and who have won 6 of their last 7 games, still look to have hope for the playoffs thanks to Dirk Nowitzki & co. losing to Golden State in Dallas. And All-Star snub Goran "The Dragon" Dragic is further cementing himself as the #3 Point Guard in the NBA [behind only Chris Paul of the Clippers and Stephen Curry of the Warriors.] Semi-star Eric Bledsoe's long-awaited return [from injury] doesn't hurt either.
Last Ranking: 11
11. Toronto Raptors 42-32
It's become a real possibility that the Raptors don't get the #3 seed in the East, with them leading over the Bulls only because of a superior average point-differential. Toronto, 5-5 in its last 10 games, also has upcoming matches against the Rockets and Pacers. But their schedule after that? @ Milwaukee [14-60,] Philadelphia [16-58,] New York [32-43,] @ Detroit [27-47,] Milwaukee, and @ New York. Which means they could close the season on a 6-game winning-streak.
12. Chicago Bulls 42-32
Winners of four of their last five, the Bulls continue to campaign role-player Taj Gibson for 6th Man of the Year. With all 8 of their remaining games against teams with losing-records, an 8-0 run to end the season, and surprisingly become the #3 seed, would not only boost team-morale in the wake of star Derrick Rose's latest knee-injury, it would also vault Coach Tom Thibodeau up to the top candidate for the NBA's prestigious Coach of the Year award.
Last Ranking: 13
13. Brooklyn Nets 40-33
The streaking Nets have won three-in-a-row and seven of their last nine. With only one of their final nine games coming against a team with a winning-record, it's more than a pipe dream to envision them not-so-quietly sneaking up the standings and taking the #3 seed in the East from the Raptors or Bulls. In Year 1 of Jason Kidd's coaching tenure, I'd say it's worked out so far. Unfortunately, they have two of the worst contracts in the NBA on their hands in washed-up veterans Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. Just think, what would have happened if semi-star Center Brook Lopez had not broken his often-injured foot and been ruled out for the season. Well, let's just say that Pacers-Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals would not be such a sure thing.
Last Ranking: 14
14. Dallas Mavericks 44-31
The defensively-challenged Mavs, have lost the #8 spot in the West standings. They better find a way to defend, because they have a grueling last 7 games that includes playing against playoff teams such as: @ Los Angeles [Clippers,] San Antonio, and two all-important games against the other two teams contending for the West's final two playoff spots: vs. Phoenix and @ Memphis. And something tells me that if they give up 102 points per game over this homestretch, they're not exactly playoff-bound.
Last Ranking: 10
15. Washington Wizards 38-36
The Wizards have, predictably, struggled since starting Center Nene was ruled out for the season. But John Wall [#4 on my list of top Point Guards in the NBA currently,] is going to carry them into the playoffs in the putridly awful Eastern Conference. But can he carry them through a playoff series and win one? I don't think he can. At least, not at this point in his career. And if shooters Bradley Beal and/or Trevor Ariza aren't hitting shots, then they'll be lucky to win a game, let alone a whole series in its entirety.
Last Ranking: 16
16. Charlotte Bobcats 36-38
Mathematically Charlotte still has a "chance" at getting the #6 seed in the East over the Wizards and thus avoiding the mammoth that
is was Indiana, but it seems like they'll be more content to rest up for the playoffs and worry about winning a game or two against the [sigh] Pacers. Of course, at this point it doesn't seem entirely unlikely that they wind up beating Indy in round 1! Anyway, this is a bright young team and with a couple more pieces, they could be contending for a title sooner than you think.
Last Ranking: 15
17. Minnesota Timberwolves 36-37
The T-Wolves, 8th in the league in rebounding and 4th in points per game, are one of the best teams in recent memory to not be within 5 games of a playoff spot at the seasons end. They sit at the #10 spot in the West, separated from #8 Phoenix by a whopping 7.5 games, they're stats say they should be among the West's elite. Sure, they are defensively-challenged, but that's not unlike the #5 in the West Trailblazers. Yet here they are, 36-37 in the win-loss column, on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
Last Ranking: 17