We are a work week away from the Holy Grail, the NBA Playoffs. This has been a grueling season with seemingly a dozen games every night, wild swings in the standings and some truly awful basketball at times. But it's all worth it to look at on the horizon toward the East and see playoff basketball coming quickly.
In honor of our coming postseason, this week's Power Rankings includes only teams slated for the playoffs or still in the hunt.
1. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The Spurs have made their case, and do not seek your approval. So long as Manu Ginobili doesn't break his arm this week, the Spurs will enter the postseason the stunning favorite in the West. Bet against them at your own risk.
2. CHICAGO BULLS
We worry about Derrick Rose's health, and rightfully so: He's the talisman on what has become the league's No. 6 offense. But Chicago has been pretty darned good without Rose this season, and there's a sneaking suspicion that the ailments that have kept the point guard out during the regular season wouldn't do the same in the playoffs.
3. MIAMI HEAT
The Heat quietly have some nagging injuries, too, and a group of back-up singers that isn't exactly living up to expectations. But with the best player in the world in hand, they remain a daunting foe for any team. We're all waiting for the Eastern Conference Finals.
4. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
As the great John Schuhmann noted on Sunday, the Thunder are 0-6 against playoff teams since beating the Bulls on April 1. Did OKC peak too early? So long as they get James Harden back in short order, I'm of the mind that the Thunder will be game to fight through to the conference finals for the second straight year, though a second-round firefight with the Lakers could prove problematic.
5. INDIANA PACERS
Give Larry Bird a trophy: He built the Pacers from the ground up without the luxury of a high draft pick or a major free agent signing. With a core of Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, Paul George and George Hill, this club is built to win very quietly and very effectively. Huge credit goes to Frank Vogel, as well.
6. L.A. CLIPPERS
We might not get Clippers-Lakers in the playoffs, which is too bad, because those games have been excellent, and we need to see Chris Paul wrecking opponents he clearly has contempt for more often. (The Clippers are also almost certainly going seven games in the first round. Because ...)
7. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
There's a reason no one wants to face the Memphis Grizzlies: Not only are they damned good, they are unlike any other team in the league. As it turns out, current NBA teams have trouble playing against '70s throwbacks.
8. L.A. LAKERS
Pau Gasol is having his worst pro season, Andrew Bynum is still getting benched now and then, Kobe Bryant just missed multiple games with an injury for the first time in years and with the coming Metta World Peace suspension, the Lakers will depend more on loose cannon Matt Barnes and untested Devin Ebanks. What's not to love? (Oh, did I mention Mike Brown-John Kuester Playoff Offense? The 2008 Cavs are back.)
9. NEW YORK KNICKS
The New York Knicks are actually good. I'm not sure what to do with this information, and it shouldn't mean squat against the all-powerful Heat. But the New York Knicks are good. Pass it on.
10. ATLANTA HAWKS
This team becomes a legit threat to make the conference finals if Al Horford returns by the second round and Derrick Rose is actually banged up enough to be limited in the postseason. Of course, to get to that second round, Atlanta needs to beat the ...
11. BOSTON CELTICS
While you have to appreciate Boston's confidence entering the playoffs against the Hawks, you wonder if conceding home court advantage isn't a little insane. To wit: Since the creation of The Big Three, Boston is 13-22 on the road in the playoffs, and 30-8 at home.
12. DENVER NUGGETS
I'm willing to concede that teams have had weirder single seasons than what the Denver Nuggets just experienced (long injuries to just about everyone, signing Nene to a massive contract only to trade him for JaVale McGee, getting Wilson Chandler under contract at the last possible moment). But combine that with the season prior -- the Carmelo Anthony soap opera -- and that's quite a weird two-year stretch. Maybe the weirdest since the '80s.
13. UTAH JAZZ
Peeling off any wins in the postseason is 100 percent gravy for a team that totally was not supposed to be here. What a bounceback season for the Jazz.
14. PHOENIX SUNS
Ditto: The Suns were rightfully left for dead going into the season, a middle of the road team saying goodbye to Steve Nash. And Nash (and Marcin Gortat, and Alvin Gentry) has the Suns a win away from the playoffs. It's like magic.
15. DALLAS MAVERICKS
This is truly the first time an NBA champion can play the disrespect card. Everyone wants to face the Mavericks in the West bracket, not because teams don't fear Dallas, but because teams fear everyone else even more.
16. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
(No one fears the Philadelphia 76ers right now. Watch them take Chicago to seven.)
17. ORLANDO MAGIC
Can we hold an emergency Board of Governors vote to give the Magic's spot to Tuesday's Jazz-Suns loser? Please?
18. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
The Bucks are somehow still alive. No, I'm not sure how either.