When I looked at the Oklahoma City Thunder’s final twelve regular season games I knew making the playoffs would come right down to the wire — and it has. Only 3 regular season games stand between 7 1⁄2 months of whatever you choose to call this season, and the toilet.
To say this Thunder team failed to reach expectations during the regular season may be the sporting world’s understatement of this short millennium. First, OKC needed to build chemistry (never finished), then they needed to define their individual roles (about 65% complete), and finally, the Thunder needed to replace Andre Roberson (30 games ago!) but never came close.
The players “talked” all season long about this team’s offensive potential, but that is what it has remained — potential. It’s easy to understand why the Thunder have not progressed as expected simply by looking at the Thunder’s free throw shooting percentage for the season: 71.2%, twenty-ninth in the league. A number that directly has cost the Thunder at least 5 games this year, put them in the precarious position they find themselves in today and is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with this team. And I do mean everything and everyone from Thunder GM, Sam Presti, down.
How in the H-E-double hockey sticks can a team improve at something that is complicated when they are unwilling to work hard enough at something that is simple?!?
I replaced the words hard and easy with complicated and simple because: 1) free throws aren’t “easy” but are simple — they take thousands of reps, concentration, and the humility to ask for help in order to correct; and 2) the word “easy” has been a problem for this team from day one.
Hearing Russell Westbrook, Paul George, or Carmelo Anthony say playing with the others makes their job “easy” has made me decidedly “uneasy” since they began saying it before training camp. An “easy” job is one that can be done well with little effort or difficulty, and the NBA is anything but easy (simply look at the Warriors’ struggles this season). When you couple talent like the Thunder’s top 3 players have with little to no effort, you get a 45-34 record with an entire season riding on the next 144 minutes of playing time.
Let’s do this.
Current Western Conference Standings:
Friday, 6:56 p.m., CDT
(the standing change so quickly, I decided to add a timestamp)
(no need looking backward now)
#4 Utah Jazz - The Jazz are a full game up on the rest of the pack and only have the Lakers on the road, Golden State at home, and Portland on the road. If the Jazz win their next two and the Trail Blazers lose their next two (which is entirely possible playing on the road at San Antonio and Denver), the teams will meet in Portland to decide the Northwest Division champion AND who wins the #3 seed in the Western Conference.
The only way the Jazz risk missing the playoffs is going 0 and 3 the rest of the way and then almost every team below them in the standings would have to win out, so we can pretty much pencil Utah in the playoff race.
I predict the Jazz finish 2 and 1 and end up with a 48 and 34 record.
I predict 1 and 2 and the Pels finish the season at 46 and 36.
#6 San Antonio Spurs - The Spurs have put themselves in a tight spot, just like the Thunder, and need to win at least two of their remaining games to stay in the hunt. Fortunately for the Spurs, who have not lost at the AT&T Center since March 5th or won on the road since February 25th, their next two games are at home. Their last game is on the road against the Pelicans, a team scratching and clawing for the last place at the table.
I predict the Spurs get their two wins and finish the season with a 47 and 35 record.
#7 Oklahoma City Thunder - Ugly losses throughout the season put the Thunder’s playoff hopes in jeopardy, and losing 5 of their last 7 has put their margin of error at precisely one game. The Thunder finish on the road at Houston then Miami before returning to the Peake for their last game of the regular season against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Through this previous seven exercise in futility, Paul George has shot 34.4% overall and only 30% from distance. Carmelo Anthony shot even worse at 31% overall. As a TEAM, they have missed a collective 43 free throws in those five losses, or on average nearly 9 misses per game in a stretch where they have lost those five games by a collective 13 points. Steven Adams is playing hurt. The Thunder must win at least 2 of their last 3 and even then, it is mathematically possible to miss the playoffs. It’s the price you pay when you’ve mailed it in for most of a season.
I predict PG fixes his shooting mechanics (aka brain cramps) issue just enough, and Steven Adams (hip contusion) hangs in there just long enough, to get the Thunder the two wins they need and a 47 and 35 record.
#8 Minnesota Timberwolves - The T-Wolves beat the Lakers tonight, then go back home to play the Grizzlies and Nuggets. A healthy Minnesota team could run the table here, but minus Jimmy Butler, the Wolves have been as shaky as the Thunder.
I predict a 1 and 1 finish and a 46 and 36 record.
#9 Denver Nuggets - Ten days ago we were kicking dirt in the Nuggets’ grave, but after 4 straight wins and some help from above (in the standings that is), the Nuggets are back in the thick of things and on the verge of breaking into the top 8, but they still have work to do. Denver finishes the season with a road test against a Clipper team that is literally standing at the edge of the abyss, followed by a home game against some Trail Blazers looking to even the season series, and end the year against a T-Wolves team fighting for its playoff life as well.
The Nuggets, unlike the Thunder, have been making winning plays at the end of games and I predict at least 2 more wins coming their way and a 46 and 36 final grade.
I think the three-way tie that Chris wrote about for the number 4 spot turns out to be a three-way tie for the 8th and final spot in the playoffs. (a fitting end to a life and death struggle like a Gauntlet, wouldn’t you agree?)
At 46 and 36, the Pels, Nuggets and T-Wolves seasons come down to the subparagraph b tiebreaker below the standings at nba.com.
None of the teams are division winners, so we look to the round-robin criteria of step (2).
The Nuggets are 2-1 over the Pelicans and currently 1-2 behind the Wolves with that final game of the season at Minnesota looming.
The Pelicans are behind the Nuggets 1-2 and behind the Wolves 0-4.
The Timberwolves are 4 up on the Pels and hold a 2-1 edge on the Nuggets awaiting the result of the final game.
No matter the outcome of the Nugget/T-Wolves game, the Pels are out.
The only other tie is between the Spurs and Thunder, the teams each won 2 games, but if my predictions are right, the Spurs edge the Thunder out with a better record against conference opponents.
SO!!! (drum roll please)
My Projected Final Western Conference Standings
- Houston Rockets
- Golden State Warriors
- Portland Trail Blazers (I think the big game I predicted happens, but Portland is too much at the Moda Center)
- Utah Jazz
- San Antonio Spurs
- Oklahoma City Thunder (2 more wins and the Thunder are tied with the Jazz with the tie-breaker in their favor. HOW BIG DO THOSE CLANKED FREE THROWS LOOK NOW?!?)
- Minnesota Timberwolves (gotta go with the home team in that last game)
- Denver Nuggets
Where do you predict the Thunder finish the season?
This poll is closed
On a late season ski trip in Aspen, Colorado.