It’s a true battle of titans Friday night as the Thunder (fifth-worst record in the NBA) face the Pistons (third-worst record in the NBA).
Say what you will about the Thunder’s rather obvious plan to tank down the stretch of the season, but you can’t deny it’s working as intended.
Heading into the all-star break, the Thunder were 15-21, tied with the Pelicans for 11th in the West and, incredibly, only a game out of the 10th place and making the play-in tournament.
Since then, the Thunder have lost Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for an extended time due to injury, announced they would stop playing Al Horford, pulled Mike Muscala from the lineup, waived Justin Jackson (that part might not have actually changed their odds of winning much), rested players with all manner of minor injuries, and brought in multiple G League or overseas players to round out the roster.
As a result, the Thunder are 5-14 since the All-Star break and have given themselves the fifth-best lottery odds in the league. You may not like it, but this is what peak performance looks like.
Can the Thunder climb (fall?) higher (lower?) still? The top two teams, the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Houston Rockets, have been so impressively bad for so long (never forget Houston’s 20-game losing streak) that they may be uncatchable.
But the third-place Pistons are four games ahead of OKC at 16-39.
They are still playing actual NBA veterans, like legendary Thunder alumnus Jerami Grant and Hamidou Diallo, alongside their youngsters.
If the Thunder were able to get to the third-worst record in the league, their odds of getting a top 4 pick jump from 39% to 52% and their odds of getting the coveted No. 1 pick and keeping Cade Cunnigham in Oklahoma jump from 9.8% to 14.0% (the bottom three teams all have the same odds of getting the top pick).
Of course, the Pistons didn’t get here by accident. They are impressively bad and experienced losers.
As Oklahoma City was getting blown out by Golden State on Wednesday night, the Pistons pulled off a miracle, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against the Clippers (without Kawhi Leonard or Paul George), blowing a 9-point lead in the final minutes of the game to secure a hard-earned loss.
The Thunder can’t afford to take these guys lightly.
The Thunder are 1-9 over their last 10 games, while the Pistons are 4-6, their hottest stretch of the season.
Still, Wednesday night showed they can still lose plenty of games.
Tonight, we answer the age-old question: what happens when an extremely stoppable force meets an easily movable object?