Thanks a lot Chicago ... sigh.

No surprise, the playoff race in the NBA Western Conference is just as tight as ever with no letting up in sight. Currently, the only difference between the fourth seed in the playoffs with home court advantage, and the 12th seed with nothing to play for but ping pong balls is a mere five games. This means that every single game is critical from this point on, especially for the Phoenix Suns who now occupy the 10th seed.

The Suns still have 17 games left to play, and not only will they have to earn a playoff spot by beating some very tough competition through the end of the regular season, they will also have to rely on some losses by the other teams currently ahead of them in the standings ... and last night, no such help was given.

Although the Suns didn't play last night, they still dropped from the 9th seed just yesterday due to no fault of their own. Inactivity alone was enough to lower the Suns in the Western Conference standings today after the other teams in the playoff hunt ran the table last night.

Here are the most recent games that mattered and an update on the current standings after the jump ...

Here are the most up-to-date standings courtesy of NBA.com:

Wc_standings_03-27-12_medium

Key Games Monday, March 26:

- Utah Jazz (7) BEAT New Jersey Nets 105-84

Jazz Vs/ Nets Post Game Thread -- Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap Power Jazz to 105-84 Win - SLC Dunk

Head Coach Tyrone Corbin rolls dice by going very starter heavy again, Jazz win -- earn some rest hopefully. Big Al Jefferson went for 19 and 8, with 3 helpers, 2 steals and 1 block in 30 more minutes of action. Paul Millsap went 10/14 from the field, knocked down his only three point attempt on the way to a 24 points / 13 rebound night.

- Denver Nuggets (9) BEAT Chicago Bulls 108-91

Nuggets at Bulls Recap: So...THAT just happened - Denver Stiffs

I'm not going to BEGIN to explain this. After two infuriating losses to teams that the normally should beat, the Nuggets turn in their best performance since the San Antonio game (March 4th) and beat the Chicago Bulls 108-91 at the United Center.

- Houston Rockets (8) BEAT Sacramento Kings 113-106 In OT

Rockets Vs. Kings Final Score: Houston Comes From Behind To Defeat Sacramento 113-106 In Overtime - SB Nation Houston

The Houston Rockets overcame a big first quarter deficit to come from behind to defeat the Sacramento Kings 113-106 in overtime. The Rockets got off to a putrid start trailing 24-8 at one point in the first quarter. However, Houston outscored the Kings 29-21 in the third and 14-7 in overtime to claim the victory.

- Los Angeles Clippers (4) BEAT New Orleans Hornets 97-85

Los Angeles Clippers 97 New Orleans Hornets 85-Clippers Regaining Their Mojo? - Clips Nation

No one is going to bestow praise upon the Clippers for dismantling a New Orleans team playing without Chris Kaman and Jason Smith (not to mention Eric Gordon and Emeka Okafor). But the Clippers did what they were supposed to do tonight, getting a win on their home floor against a non playoff team.

While yesterday was out of the Suns' hands, tonight will be a different story. The Suns will face the San Antonio Spurs at home in what will be a game with huge playoff implications. The San Antonio Spurs are currently in the 2nd seed, and while the Suns have virtually no chance of catching them, they have to win at home against their Western Conference rivals ... especially with only eight games left to play at home and nine games on the road ... ALL of them against Western Conference teams!

In addition to the Suns and the Spurs, tonight will also feature games from many other Western Conference teams in the playoff hunt, such as the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, OKC Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Lakers. The standings will remain constantly in flux and are sure to change by tomorrow. Stay tuned ...

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Ae the Suns and Spurs True Rivals?(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Mr. J.R. Wilco over at Pounding The Rock and I got together
for a little e-Q&A. J.R. got first shot-his questions in bold
my answers are below. Enjoy.

JR: Understanding that it's been years since he's played in Phoenix, and the Spurs system today is so far removed from the 7SoL offense he played in for you guys -- what do you think Spurs fans will get (good and bad) out of Boris Diaw?

WC: Alvin Gentry called Boris Diaw one of the smartest top two or three players he's ever coached, and that says a lot. As fans we never doubted that he was gifted, we just wondered where his head was at at times. We watched him pass up wide open 2 footers to pass out to the wing. We saw the guy not show up, play with zero energy, forget what boxing out was, and then smile about it, thus earning him the nickname "Doris." However, when the guy was focused, he could be a great play maker, match up 1-5, and hit shots from all over the floor. If anyone can keep this guy focused, Pops would be the man.

JR: In a lot of ways even though the franchises have gone in different directions after their last meeting in the playoffs (the sweep) I think there are still some similarities. We both have stars that are generally treated by the media as though they shouldn't be able to continue to do what they obviously can still do. Dealing with this generally causes Spurs fans to bristle, how do Phoenix fans handle the Suns' treatment by the media? (Especially since, it always appeared to Spurs fans, that you guys were the media darlings.)

WC: Media darlings? Hahaha, thats good. I think the Suns got a ton of press during the D'Antoni years for scoring a lot of points and playing fast, which was fun for everyone. But ever since D'Antoni left, the Suns were never given a chance. In 2010, not many of the so-called experts chose the Suns to even make the playoffs, yet they made it to the WCF. And once Stoudemire left, it got even worse. Now it's at the stage where no one really cares about the Suns unless they are talking about Steve Nash retiring or being traded. Personally, I think most of us know Nash well enough that if he says he doesn't want to go, he means it. The same goes with Grant Hill. Nevertheless, the media knows better, right? I think you get where I'm going here. Our guys wrote tons of stories proclaiming Nash trade rumors were pointless, he's not going anywhere. We're all pretty sick of it.

JR: I saw a stat the other day said Nash's offenses for the last 10 years were either # 1 or 2 in offensive efficiency. You may be tired of this question but, how does he DO that? And with those guys?

WC: First off, Nash is in fantastic shape. For him to be playing at his age is one thing. But to be playing as effective as he is, well that's a testament to how well he takes care of himself coupled with being a very smart player. In simple terms, he knows his teammates, he knows where they will be on the floor, he knows where he needs to get them the ball in order for them to have a chance at success. Lastly, he knows his opponents. He knows what they are going to do before they do it. It's amazing, but he IS the Suns. There may be one or two other guys in the league (and I don't know who, I'm estimating) that could take Nash's place on the Suns and have the success he has had running the team. Take Nash away, the Suns are easy in the bottom five of the league. No exaggerations.

JR: Yes it's another Nash question: the popular perception of Steve is that he doesn't play defense. What is the BSotS's official point of view on this subject? Feel free to give me the boilerplate. I feel certain that one exists.

WC: Nash is an underrated defender. Again, he uses his head. He doesn't have the speed and athleticism of some of the younger point guards in the league, but he has the experience to know where these guys are going and where they will be so he can beat them to a spot and take a charge.

JR: Okay I know Marcin Gortat is awesome, but assume I know nothing else about the rest of your team. What/who can I be watching out for when they play the Spurs?

WC: The Suns are obviously playing better since the All Star break. The big thing is that the starters have held steady while the bench has finally gelled. Look for Jared Dudley to prove he can go for 20+, play quality defense, and pick up some boards. He's an underrated 2 guard with a lot of smarts and energy. Grant Hill will be matched on your best offensive player 1-4. His defense stifles nearly everyone in the league, exceptions being Kobe and LeBron. Hill runs the floor, hits anything from 5 to 18 feet out, and finishes. Channing Frye has had an awful shooting year overall, but he can get hot in a hurry and take over a game. He's also figured out how to stay on the floor when his shot isn't falling by D'ing up and hitting the boards. The Suns second unit isn't all that impressive, individually, but they have taken on the role of playing tough defense, scrapping, and finally hitting some shots. Shannon Brown has stepped up, as has Sebastian Telfair, Michael Redd has had a few nice games, and Robin Lopez has been fairly steady of late.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's Suns V. Spurs Game Preview
to Hear About the infamous Horry check on Nash,
Rebuilding Spurs style, the Secret to Spur success,
and much, much, much, more.

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If these guys continue to play well, the Suns will keep climbing the rankings and standings.

Power rankings in the NBA are merely points of debate and chatter since the ultimately meaningful decisions about which teams are better and best are made on the court. It just so happens that debate and chatter are what we do around these here parts, so let's look at a few of the power rankings of NBA experts to see where the Suns stand, after the jump.

ESPN's Marc Stein has the Suns climbing four spots from last week, from #13 to #9. The Suns have spent seven of the 13 weeks of the season so far ranked lower than #20, bottoming out at #27 after their woeful week 1. This week's ranking is their first in Stein's top 10. Writes Stein:

The Suns still haven't figured out that they have no business challenging for a playoff spot out West, moving to 11-4 since the All-Star break (second only to Chicago's 13-2 mark) and seeing Nash record his 10th 15-assist game in a win in Indy ... more than twice as many as No. 2 in line, Rajon Rondo (four).

Sort of a typical backhanded compliment of the Suns from ESPN, no? It's as if Stein hates to admit that the Suns are actually a pretty good team right now, but at least he does admit it, so there's that. He has the Suns as the No. 5 team in the West.

John Hollinger's more stat-driven rankings have the Suns at #15, up from #18, and Hollinger gives the Suns a 37.5% chance of making the playoffs. The Suns are given a 0.4% chance to win the NBA championship, and a 0.4% chance to win the lottery as well. For those who hate "no man's land", the Suns sit squarely in the middle of it according to Hollinger's math.

SB Nation's Tom Ziller is closer to Hollinger's outlook on the Suns, taking the team's entire body of work into account and ranking them at #15.

The Suns are truly hovering on the outside of the West playoff race. They are the only team who hasn't spent a cup of coffee or longer in the No. 8 spot. They are just waiting ... and waiting ...

At least he ranks the Suns ahead of the Nuggets and Rockets, with whom the Suns are fighting for the eighth playoff spot, as he has the Suns in that final playoff spot he mentions they haven't reached yet this season.

Finally, we have NBA.com's John Schuhmann, who has the Suns ranked at #10 overall and #5 in the West.

Steve Nash has now recorded 15 or more assists 10 times this season. But for the second straight year, the Suns have been downright awful, getting outscored by 9.4 points per 100 possessions, when Nash steps off the floor. Even if they keep Nash this summer, they still need to sign another point guard.

It should be noted that all four of these analysts have the Suns in the top eight of the Western Conference, a playoff team. These rankings are only a snapshot, and the Suns are certainly riding high right now.

The question is: are they hitting their stride, and will they continue to perform like the 11-4 team they've been since the All-Star break? Or will the upcoming stretch of games against quality opponents doom them to remain a game or two around .500? I hate to even mention what an injury to a starter would do to the Suns' chances, when they've had such remarkably good health so far this season.

Overall, I think the team's entire body of work puts them closer to the #15 Hollinger and Ziller have the Suns at. What say you, Suns fans?

Poll
Where should the Suns rank right now?

  368 votes | Results


Basketball players have skill sets defined as refined or lacking. They’re given these by physical attributes, but also by mentalities that, when combined, create what we loosely refer to as...

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Clips Nation does a great job interacting with other team sites ahead of games. Twice now we've done a Q&A between the writers, but with a third game between the Suns and Clippers coming up, Clipper Steve (no relation to Clipper Darrell) came up with a new idea -- crowd sourcing questions.

Here's how Steve puts it:

Clippers Vs. Suns - Submit Your Questions for The Questionable Blogger - Clips Nation
Submit your questions as comments on this thread, Seth will be reading along and he'll answer the ones that are interesting / are easy / make him laugh / make him cry / make him question the very fabric of the universe / he wants to. And of course I'll do the same with questions from the Bright Side of the Sun community.

Have at it folks. Fire away with your questions for a Lob City Expert. Steve's answer after the jump!

Here are my answers to questions submitted by the Bright Side of the Sun community. I tried to answer all of them, though I may have missed a few. In a couple of cases I grouped similar questions together and answered them together. I thought there were some really good questions.

oLLiE Boombayay: Who would be a good fit as a coach to replace Scott Baio Vinny Del Negro as coach to help the Clips make better use of all that talent? He seems a bit over his head. Surely his days are numbered.

Nuuri: If the Clippers look for another coach, will the Clippers management consult their players? If so, who amongst the players would be listened to most?

Steve Perrin: He is in over his head and his days are numbered -- but the number is in the fifties or sixties probably, not in single digits. The Clippers have an option year for him next season, but they won't exercise it. They'll have a new coach next season, but it's looking like Vinny will finish out this season. My thinking is that if they were going to make a move, last Friday after the loss in New Orleans was the time to do it -- it was already really late to be bringing in a new coach with 19 games left and it gets later every day they wait. The fact that they've happened to win two since then makes it that much more likely that VDN will survive the season. But anything less than the NBA Finals in the playoffs, which seems pretty unlikely, and he won't be back.

From my perspective, the most important thing about his replacement isn't fit so much as simply getting a good coach. Most NBA coaches are pretty interchangeable -- talent is still the biggest factor in team success, and most coaches aren't going to have a huge impact for good or for ill. But there do seem to be a few that can make a difference. I put Gregg Popovich and Rick Adelmann (and not many others among active coaches) into the difference maker category. Amazingly, there are also four coaches who I consider in that top tier who are not currently coaching. Those are Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Mike D'Antoni and Nate McMillan.

I think Jackson and Sloan are non-starters. Jackson is happy in his current retirement, and he's not coming back to work for Donald Sterling -- nor is Sterling going to pay him what it would take to get him back in the gym. Sloan is intriguing at first -- the idea of turning Paul and Griffin into a modern day version of Stockton and Malone is tantalizing. But Sloan is very old school, and given that a conflict with Deron Williams was a big part of his Utah departure, I don't see him wanting to deal with a superstar system featuring Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. It might work out great -- Griffin and Paul are kind of throwbacks, the only two Clippers without tattoos after all -- but somehow I think the NBA of 2012 may have passed Sloan by, that he won't do the obligatory ego massaging.

I'd be thrilled with either D'Antoni or McMillan. The Clippers biggest issue right now is definitely defense, so maybe D'Antoni isn't a great fit to fix that, but if the offense is good enough, who cares? Chris Paul in the role of Steve Nash? And I've always used a young Amare Stoudemire as a comparison for Griffin. As Jafar might say, the idea has merit.

But my first choice would be McMillan. He just always has gotten results in Seattle and Portland. His teams move the ball, they play good defense, and they've always given great effort, despite some huge obstacles. The injury issues he dealt with in Portland were absurd, yet somehow he always kept that team competitive. I think McMillan would be a great choice, not necessarily because of any stylistic compatibility, but because the guy can coach.

Given the importance of keeping Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in town, I feel rather certain that both of them would be consulted at some level on the coaching decision. If a new coach is coming in for the 12-13 season, presumably Griffin would be already locked up in a long term extension about the same time, so Paul becomes the crucial piece. For what it's worth, Bill Simmons (who originally decreed that VDN was on "super-thin ice") says that D'Antoni won't happen because of Paul -- that Paul's friendship with Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler somehow precludes it because of "what went down in NY". Whatev.

blank_38: What are your expectations for Nick Young?

SmokinKieff: How did you guys rob Washington blind? and did David Stern have anything to do with it?

SP: The Clippers gave up nothing to get Young, so anything they get from him is gravy. He fills a gaping hole in their roster for a two guard with even a little size -- Jared Dudley posting up Randy Foye and Mo Williams all night long is a problem. So if he can work hard on defense, help out on that end, and hit open threes, it's a big win for the team. With Williams currently hurt, Young is now in the 'second unit scorer' role, which suits him pretty well. I will say that so far I'm not that impressed with his offense. The big plus in theory is that he can get his own shot -- I guess, but it's pretty much always a terrible one.

The story of how the Clippers got a pretty good player for nothing at their very position of need is an interesting one. It's a little long, but feel free to read the unabridged version. Basically, Washington had to include Young to get Nene, and the only place he was only willing to go to was L.A.

blank_38: Did Blake Griffin take acting lessons from Tim Duncan this off-season? I find him holding his head after getting foul calls a lot more than I should.

SP: Blake honed his "attention getting skills" (we'll call it that, but you know what I mean) during his rookie season. We noticed pretty distinctly on Clips Nation -- we call it the head snap. He didn't do it early in his rookie season, and then he started doing it -- and guess what? He started getting a lot more calls.

You can be a purist and disparage him for flopping, but there are three things you need to keep in mind: (1) Griffin does take a ton of abuse out there -- it's not all one big act; (2) everybody does it to a greater or lesser extent; and (3) it works. I would love for NBA referees to stop falling for this kind of crap. I would love for the league office to review game tapes and hand out fines for the more egregious cases of pure acting (which Blake is not one of those imo). But I've watched Griffin get rewarded time and again, and frankly in a competitive game, you'd be wrong not to seek every advantage.

phxpurple: would you trade klove for blake griffin str8 up? I.E. fundamentals vs. shiny dunks

SP: This is a great question. The short answer is no, I wouldn't. But it's more complex that that.

Kevin Love is better than Blake Griffin right now. There, I said it. I've heard lots of people try to use that as a weapon, to try to hurt Blake Griffin with it. It's not an insult to Griffin. It's a compliment to Kevin Love, who is ungodly good. But Griffin's in his second season while Love is in his fourth -- Love's big jump came in his third season, bear in mind.

But I'm not even saying that I think Griffin will be better than Love in two years -- maybe he will and maybe he won't. For what it's worth, I believe that Griffin's ceiling is higher, because Griffin can learn to do what Love does, but Love can never become the athlete Griffin is.

But the reason I wouldn't make this trade is because I have become attached to Griffin. That sounds silly, but there's validity to that reasoning. GMs become attached to their own players too, and that's OK to some extent, because fans become attached to players too -- and GMs need to be cognizant of what the fans are thinking. Clippers fans adore Blake Griffin -- he's the face of the franchise, he is the guy that is transitioning them into relevance. Chris Paul is great, but he's more like the hired gun who comes in to save the day -- Griffin is a draft pick, he started as a Clipper, and there's value to that. If the trade you suggest were to happen, it might take all of 5 minutes for the fans to embrace Love -- but something would be loss nonetheless.

I grew up a Dodgers fan. When I was a kid, the Dodgers infield was Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey -- from the time I was a fifth grader until I was a freshman in college! I realize that era of pro sports is over, but there's still value to loyalty. Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant -- as long as there's a chance Griffin will be a good in the long run as Love (which there is), then why give up on the idea that Griffin will be a Clipper-for-life? I really think there's value in that.

forget: You've had some time to observe how the team will function without Chauncey Billups, do you think this team has a chance to win the west without him? If not, where do the Clippers need to improve?

SP: I suppose the Clippers have a punchers chance in the West. Chris Paul can dominate a playoff series -- we've seen him do it. If the jump shots are falling for Mo Williams and Nick Young and Caron Butler, then sure, the Clippers would have a chance. Truthfully, other than the Thunder, there's no team in the West that is super intimidating. Back in January the Clippers were playing as well as any of them. They'd have to get back to that, but it's possible.

I'm a bit in the minority here, but I don't think that Billups is a major factor. I don't think they'd have that much better of a chance with Billups. A lot would have to go right either way. It's worth noting that the Clippers are 4-0 at home since Billups re-joined the team post achilles surgery -- that's after going 2-5 in their prior 7 home games. Looking at the numbers, I don't see that Billups adds a tremendous amount on the floor -- the Clippers happen to be pretty deep at guard, especially now with Young. His locker room impact is tough to measure -- but they may be getting that anyway now that he's back with the team.

BritishSun: Chances CP3 is a Clipper in 13-14?

SP: I'd say they're pretty good. When Dwight Howard waived his ETO, it definitely sent a chill down the spines of Clippers fans. Having Howard and Paul synched up for free agency is not a happy thought in the era of the SuperFriends. But how many teams are going to clear enough cap space to sign both of them? And would they put Paul in a better situation than he has with the Clippers? When Griffin signs his extension in July 2012 (and he will -- no rookie has ever turned down a max extension, and he won't be the first), it will be with the understanding that Paul will re-up as well. There will be pressure on Paul NOT to leave a team for the second time in 18 months. Besides, watching CP3 on Leno and Kimmell in December, I got the distinct impression that he understands what an advantage it is to be in L.A. Market matters, and he's not going to do much better than his current situation where that is concerned.

OmahaSun: What is going on with CP3? I expected much more from him this season. Is he being held back by Del Negro and his system? Does he not have good chemistry with his teammates? What's going on? 19.5 and 8.6 is good, but I considered Chris Paul a top 5 player in the entire NBA, and he hasn't been that this season.

SP: Wow. Dude's got the fourth best PER in the league behind LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant, and you're disappointed? When you say he hasn't been top 5 this year but he was before, I'm not sure where you're getting that. His numbers this season are much better than his last two years in New Orleans. They're not as good as pre-surgery CP3 in 08-09, but he should have won the MVP that year, and he'll probably never be that good again. But if you want him to be top 5, well, he kinda is.

Having said that, he does not have great on court chemistry with Blake Griffin at this point. Griffin had a much more intuitive connection with Baron Davis in fact. Paul's got nice rapport with DeAndre Jordan, as he did with Tyson Chandler in New Orleans. But synergy with Griffin is still a work in progress. Hopefully it gets there.

jc79: As a Clips fan, do you find yourself waiting for some sort of inevitable misfortune to befall your team?

SP: Yes.

Scott Howard: How are you?

SP: I'm fine, thank you for asking. I do a lot of these Q&As, and almost no one ever asks me that. It's nice to know someone cares. How are you?

Ceek: Is it true that the Clippers happiness is compounded and bolstered by Laker tears? I know ours is.

SP: Of course. I think this is true for all true fans. As the old proverb says, "May the desert bloom with the tears of the Lakers." Or something like that. Of course, it may be a little more true for Clippers fans, as it goes beyond simple schadenfreude. The Lakers take up a lot of the oxygen in L.A. -- knocking them down even just a little bit gives a little breathing room to the Clippers.

NashMV3: Given the choice of either Donald Sterling or David Kahn, which is the lesser of 2 evils?

SP: I think Omaha Sun answered this correctly in the comments. "Sterling actually is evil. Kahn is just incompetent." In an evil contest, Kahn doesn't stand a chance against Sterling.

djturbolence: If you could propose any trade between LAC and PHX what would it be? Also, is Blake approaching a plateau as far as offensive production?

SP: The one trade I've thought of between the Suns and the Clippers is Ryan Gomes for Josh Childress -- trading for each other's problems. Gomes is even more useless than Childress, but his contract only last one more year, so I assume the Suns would jump at this trade. Childress' contract is of course why the Clippers wouldn't do it, but they could sure use some help at small forward, and I'm not convinced that Childress couldn't help there.

Griffin won't plateau any time soon, provided he continues to develop his game. The scary thing about him is that he's got so much head room. His jump shot is improving but can still get a lot better, and he has no go to post move. He gets almost all of his points from simply being a superior athlete. When he adds more polish and technique to his game, which I believe he will, he'll become almost unstoppable.


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