The Oklahoma City Thunder played an inspired game Thursday night against a determined Chicago Bulls team, with both teams fighting through key injuries. Playing on the 2nd night of a back-to-back sequence which involved overtime less than 24 hours prior, the Thunder seemingly had things in control. Unfortunately, the offense regressed into a lot of ISO plays while the defense failed to stop the Bulls from coming from behind, and Chicago stole a win.
The loss is potentially a critical one for the Thunder, who were making great strides in the West until a recent stretch that has seen them lose 3 of their last 5 games (2 OT losses), with their two wins coming in less than impressive fashion over 2 lottery teams in the Lakers and 76ers. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans have done a better job staying apace in the race while recovering from the loss of Anthony Davis. If New Orleans win tonight (vs Celtics), they'll be tied in the standings but by virtue of wins over OKC, would technically be in the 8th seed.
Above the Thunder, the Spurs now have a 4 game cushion and the Mavericks are up by 5.5 games. Dallas appears to be slipping so there is still potential for the Thunder to move up in the standings to get out of a dreaded 1-8 playoff matchup, but they are heading in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers suffered a critical loss during their win over the Mavericks, losing key role player Wesley Matthews for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. In a way, this could actually hurt the Thunder's playoff chances. Catching Portland in the division is now a pipe dream, so they would be better aided by Portland beating up on some of the teams that OKC has a realistic shot to catch (Spurs, Mavericks, Clippers). The road doesn't get any easier, and now OKC has to face a top 3 Eastern team in the Raptors, followed by a feisty Clippers team that likely sees opportunity now that Portland's long term success has been compromised.
Standings data courtesy nba.com/stats