The Oklahoma City Thunder once again got lit up for 130+ points by a smart offensive team, and as a result, lost to the Mavericks and all but ended their outside shot at stealing the 7th seed. The Thunder defense has been an ongoing issue for a while, and last night's loss, an important game in the grand scheme of things, showed that even in critical instances, probably isn't going to materially improve this season. As a result, the Thunder are 42-33, 4 games behind Dallas (and lose the regular season head-to-head) and only 1.5 games ahead of the Pelicans, who defeated the Lakers last night.
The Pelicans also own the head-to-head advantage against the Thunder, so a 1.5 game lead is minuscule. On top of that, the Thunder are staring at a daunting task in their immediate future, as their next 3 games are against the Grizzlies and Rockets (currently tied for the #2 seed), and then the Spurs, who are 6th and climbing, and also recently defeated the Thunder by an obscene amount of points that I won't ever repeat again. A 4 game losing streak before facing the new-look Kings would not be shocking, especially since their game against the Mavs was probably the most winnable out of all 4.
In other news, the Clippers gutted out an impressive win in Portland, which brings the two teams into a virtual tie in the standings (and an aside - good to see Chris Paul finally posting some Westbrook-level numbers ;-). If those two teams face each other in the first round, that is going to be an intense battle. The third team that is also in a cluster with the same number of losses is the Spurs. They're in an interesting boat, because Gregg Popovich is always strategizing, and after chatting with J.R. Wilco of Pounding the Rock, it is reasonable to think that the Spurs are satisfied with the 6th spot UNLESS they can make the jump all the way to #3. The reason why is that based on the playoff bracket format, the 4-5 winner plays the #1 seed in the 2nd round, but if the Spurs stay out of that bracket, they wouldn't have to deal with the #1 seed until the WCF. Given that the #2/3 seed is only a difference of 2 games in the loss column right now, the Spurs' strategy is one to watch.
NBA standings and stats via NBA.com/stats