Start time: 9 p.m. (CT)
Broadcasters: Bally Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
When this season began, the Oklahoma City Thunder were a consensus pick among experts to be one of the worst teams in the entire league.
You could see why; the team had traded most of their star players for picks in the offseason, indicating they were heading for a rebuild, and they were short on top-level talent.
Their on-court performance alone might be enough to give them a bottom 5 record in the league, and if it weren’t, the front office would surely make some in-season trades and convince some veterans to rest, further lowering the team's chances.
The front office acted as expected; they traded away George Hill, gave Al Horford as many rest nights as possible before shutting him down for the season with two months left to go despite Horford being healthy.
Their most recent starting lineup contained two rookies and a guy who spent most of the G-league season.
And yet, the Thunder keep winning! They are ahead of teams who had real playoff aspirations this year, including the Wizards, the Raptors, and the Bulls.
Oklahoma City currently has only the 9th worst record in the league, and incredibly, they are only 2.5 games out of making the Western Conference's play-in tournament.
It’s not even really a case of the team being too talented to tank- OKC gets blown out all the time, and they have the fourth-worst net rating in the league, per Cleaning the Glass, at -6.2 per 100 possessions.
You would expect a team with that record to have 14 wins, which would have OKC fighting with Houston, Detroit, and Minnesota for a bottom 3 record - instead, the Thunder have won a tidy 20 games already.
The Thunder are an excellent 14-8 in clutch situations per NBA.com, and that success in winning tight games is what has the Thunder’s record high above their point differential.
At this point, there’s no reason to stress about it. No matter what players are available, the Thunder continue to grab games they have no business winning on paper.
If you believe in the Lottery Gods or any other supernatural karmic forces, OKC will be rewarded when the lottery comes for continuing to play and win competitive basketball games with a roster that no one would expect to be any good.
If you don’t believe in karmic forces, the Thunder have 17 future first-round draft picks, including Houston’s this year if the Rocket’s pick lands outside the top 4. Should the Thunder, as an organization, want to have a worse record of increasing their odds of drafting cade Cunnigham?
Such things are clearly beyond their control when the Thunder are winning games with a starting lineup of Theo Maledon, Svi Mykhailiuk, Kenrich Williams, Isaiah Roby, and Moses Brown.
So anyway, the Thunder plays the Suns Friday, who have the third-best record in the league under the tutelage of OKC legend Chris Paul.
On paper, the Suns should blow out OKC without SGA, Lu Dort, Darius Bazley, and Horford. If it is a blowout, cool, OKC improves their draft pick. If the Thunder somehow hang around and win?
Who doesn’t love watching a team that’s younger than some college squads take down the best in the league? It’s a real win-win.
Prediction: The Thunder keeps it close through 3 quarters before falling 121-106. The Lottery Gods, watching all from atop Mt. Olympus, smile at the Thunder’s effort. Help is on the way, promise the Lottery Gods.