1 - How big of an impact will Manu Ginobili's injury have on the standings?
Michael Erler: Well, since most of the games he'll miss will come on the road and the Spurs need all the help they can get on the road, it will probably matter some. I dare suggest they could've beaten the Knicks had Ginobili been healthy. I've always been a homer and an optimist, so that's probably wrong.
Bruno Passos: Maybe a game or so? There's a case to be made that Manu's competitiveness and sense of urgency may have goaded the team into being a bit more focused against New York. Beyond that, the dynamic he brings to the offense will be missed, along with his heady decision making.
Chris Itz: If it's just 7-10 days that would be up to the Atlanta game or the OKC game on Wednesday the 25th, which is either three more games or five more. Knowing Pop's reluctance to get players back after injury, let's assume it's five. Not including the loss to the Knicks, I can see his absence costing the Spurs one game. I'd guess the Spurs are in fifth when he returns.
Jesus Gomez: Before the game against the Bucks, I would have said it would have a significant impact, simply because the bench has been so bad that another player getting Manu's minutes could definitely cost the Spurs a game or two. On Wednesday Boris Diaw played great and if he can continue to do that, they Spurs should be fine.
J.R. Wilco: I'm with Gomez 100%. As long as Boris steps up and plays the way he did against Milwaukee, it won't have any impact at all.
2 - After a relatively easy couple of games, the Spurs will play the Hawks, Mavericks (twice), Thunder and Grizzlies. Will that stretch tell us how good they are or will we have to wait until the playoffs to find out?
Erler: Most of those teams are not as strong as their reputations suggest. The Hawks have been back-sliding some and they still have enough of a cushion in the East where they can afford to rest people or play them fewer minutes. Kyle Korver may not even be healthy for that game. The Mavericks don't have any defenders besides Aminu and Tyson Chandler. The Thunder will be without Serge Ibaka (unless they pull another fast one) and maybe Kevin Durant. The Grizzlies have been slumping ever since they got Jeff Green. We probably have to wait until the playoffs to know for sure. If the Spurs lose in the first round, then they probably weren't very good. If they get to the conference finals, then the whole regular season can be written off as a Miami Heat/Los Angeles Lakers "on/off switch" impersonation
Passos: We're close enough to April that these games could serve as a teaser for playoff performance. We've seen steady strong play against weaker opponents -- a dress rehearsal against better teams should be taken seriously. That said I of course won't panic as a fan until (if?) they're walking off the court with their heads hanging.
3 - Serge Ibaka will be out 4-6 weeks with a knee injury. Do the Thunder make the playoffs without him?
Erler: Their schedule is easier than the Pelicans, so yes, still. I've given up on New Orleans after that loss to Denver. You can't be serious about making the playoffs and blow games like that. You just can't. Heck, they play worse against bad teams than good ones, so maybe the schedule is actually in their favor.
Passos: Their trade for Enes Kanter seems even bigger now. The big Turk shores up a lot of what will be missed from Serge (well, at least on one end of the floor), and his energy, paired with the chippy Steven Adams keeps the frontcourt respectable. I still think they'll get it done but, man, what bad luck.
Itz: We'll see if Ibaka can walk through the door and help the team earlier than reported. Even if he doesn't, KD will be back soon enough and Westbrook is ridiculous. I love AD and hope the Pelicans can figure out a way to sneak in but it'll be the Thunder in the tournament.
Gomez: I think it's very possible they miss the cut. Their remaining bigs are all decent but at some point their spacing issues are going to flare up. Unless Durant returns very soon, I can definitely see them missing the playoffs.
Wilco: All season long, I've been saying that no one should expect the Thunder to miss the playoffs. Playing without Ibaka might have done them in. I'm finally thinking the Pelican's just beat them out.
4 - March Madness is upon us. Will you be watching and/or rooting for anyone?
Erler: Not rooting for anyone. I'll be rooting against several teams because that's how I watch college basketball.
Passos: I'm a UNC grad, although my fandom has waned over the years. I'll watch them for as long as they hang in there (which means until another painful display of Roy Williams refusing to make even the most obvious in-game adjustments). Aside from that, I'll watch the later rounds to see if Kentucky can actually pull off the perfect season.
Itz: I've seen one college game this year and that was just because I wanted to see what crazy things Bill Walton would say. Have you ever been to a volcano?
Gomez: I will be watching for the first time and because in Argentina we can't just watch sports without rooting for someone, I sort of randomly picked Gonzaga. Go Bulldogs!
Wilco: I'll be rooting for individual players.
5 - Which team would win an NBA title if the top 16 played a single-game elimination tournament?
Erler: Depends how spaced out the games were and if there was home court advantage and if in this fictional tournament everyone was healthy. Lots of variables there. No cop-out, I just need more information. If it was a game every other day, everyone is healthy and all the games were played in Iowa, I'll take the Bulls.
Passos: I think it's the team that's hardest to scout for and can roll out a few different lineups, depending on the opponent. I know shooting can always fail a team on any given night, but if it was to happen today (or in a month or so), I'd still have to go with Golden State.
Itz: I have no idea how to even think about this question. The Dubs, while I think are going to have trouble in seven-gamers, would be my initial guess.
Gomez: The Grizzlies. While most other contenders typically rely on at least one star catching fire, Memphis gets it done with defense and balanced scoring. That carries over from game to game better than Golden State's and Atlanta's shooting.
Wilco: Assuming that the tourney is set up like the NCAA's, with the games taking place on Thursday/Friday and Saturday/Sunday, and every game being played at a neutral location, then I'd say the Final Four would be Golden State, San Antonio, Atlanta and Cleveland. But that's as far as I'll prognosticate.