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Thunder playoff prospects: who to root for tonight and tomorrow

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The Thunder Can Still Finish Anywhere Between 4th and 8th. What Needs to Happen for OKC to get Home Court?

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA season wraps tomorrow night. Most seasons that would mean the playoff seeds were set, and your favorite writers here at WTLC could already be hard at work on previewing the first round series. But in this wild season, despite having played 81 games, the playoff picture is still completely up in the air for the Western Conference.

A few things are set:

How seeds 3-8 shake out is still entirely in the air, with 5 games (1 tonight, 4 tomorrow) that will determine who falls where. Those 5 games are:

Based on those games, the Thunder could finish as high as the 4th seed or as low as the 8th seed. Here’s how each game affects the Thunder’s potential playoff seeding:

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis at OKC

Obviously this is the most important game. If the Thunder win they can finish as high as 4th (they can’t reach 3rd because Portland owns the tiebreaker over them and is currently 1 game ahead. Boy, it would be nice if Melo could’ve nailed one of those wide open 3’s), and no lower than 6th. Lose, and they can finish no higher than 6th, and likely fall all the way to 8th, forcing them into a first round series against the league-best Houston Rockets.

I said in previewing the final stretch of the season that OKC doesn’t deserve to be a playoff team if they can’t even beat a mediocre Grizzlies team with nothing to play for. That’s still true, even though OKC has locked up a spot. Beyond improving their seed, OKC needs to win this game just to go into the playoffs with momentum, following nice wins over Houston and Miami. A deep playoff run starts with taking care of this putrid Memphis team.

Going forward, let’s assume OKC beats Memphis for all the scenarios we discuss.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State at Utah (April 10)

Utah at Portland (April 11)

The red-hot Jazz are the only playoff team with 2 games left to play, and so these 2 games are intertwined. What OKC fans are rooting for is for the Jazz to go win one of these games and lose one; which one they win and which they lose doesn’t matter as long as they go 1-1, as I’ll explain. Here are the four scenarios from these two games:

If Utah loses to Golden State but beats Portland:

If Golden State wins tonight, OKC fans become Jazz fans for one night only. Utah losing to Golden State, then beating Portland, locks OKC into the #4 seed and gets home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs, provided OKC takes care of Memphis. OKC fans will then immediately drop their jazz boosting, as this scenario automatically results in the Jazz finish as the #5 seed, setting the stage for an OKC-Utah first round matchup. This is the best outcome OKC can get at this point. Rudy Gobert is incredible defensively and Donovan Mitchell is already something special, but I’ll take facing a rookie over facing Anthony Davis 10 times out of 10. And if it comes down to 7 games, this is the only matchup where OKC gets home court advantage (before any Utah fans get mad- this would still be a tough series for OKC, or anyone else! The Jazz are damn good. So is every other team in the playoffs this year, at least in the west).

If Utah beats Golden State but loses to Portland:

If Utah beats Golden State, then it’s the opposite of the previous scenario: a Portland win over Utah locks OKC into the 4 seed, again triggering a first round series against the Jazz, regardless of what happens in New Orleans vs San Antonio (the winner of that game also finishes in a tie with OKC and Utah. OKC has the head to head edge over Utah, who has the head-to-head edge on San Antonio and New Orleans; OKC is tied with both the Spurs and Pelicans head to head [2-2 against both]. Therefore, no matter whether it’s San Antonio or New Orleans, OKC finishes 4th, Utah finishes 5th and the final team finishes 6th. Woo tiebreakers!)

If Utah wins both games:

Assuming OKC beats Memphis, OKC finishes 6th, and again, faces the Jazz. Again, the Jazz are a winnable matchup, so this isn’t the worst outcome for OKC, but obviously the Thunder would rather have home court than not.

If Utah loses both games:

Utah losing both games means OKC finishes 5th, but who they play is dependent on the outcome of San Antonio at New Orleans, so let’s go to that matchup:

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio at New Orleans:

If and only if OKC beats Memphis and Utah loses both their games, the winner of this game clinches the 4 seed and faces OKC in the first round. Your rooting interest in this game is whoever you think is the better matchup for OKC; I’m inclined to say it’s the Spurs but there’s always the chance Kawhi Leonard makes a dramatic playoff return, and betting against Gregg Popovich is foolish. On the other hand, the Pelicans have Anthony Davis, who’s looked nigh unstoppable at points this season. This playoff field is incredibly deep, and the Thunder are going to have a tough matchup no matter where they fall, so pick your poison. On the plus side: none of these teams want to draw the Thunder either.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Denver at Minnesota:

This game only affects OKC if the Thunder lose to Memphis. We’re not going to entertain that possibility, because it’s all about good energy, positive energy at this point (and even if OKC does lose, this game doesn’t by itself determine where OKC finishes). You’re free to root for whichever team you’d more enjoy watching in the playoffs.

To recap:

Golden State Warriors at Utah Jazz- whoever, as long as Utah finishes 1-1

Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves: Largely irrelevant to OKC

San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets: whoever you think is the better matchup for OKC

Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder: OKC

Utah Jazz at Portland Trailblazers: if Utah beats Golden State, root for Portland; if Utah loses to Golden State, root for Utah.

2 nights and 5 games to go, and the Thunder could still finish anywhere between 4th and 8th. What a wild season it’s been. Cross your fingers folks- and get ready for the playoffs.

Source for all tiebreakers:


Where do you think the Thunder will end up?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    4th seed
    (342 votes)
  • 13%
    5th seed
    (98 votes)
  • 21%
    6th seed
    (152 votes)
  • 12%
    7th seed
    (92 votes)
  • 3%
    8th seed
    (28 votes)
712 votes total Vote Now