There are only three games left for the Thunder to play this season, and the immediate future of the team is not settled yet.
After the fifth loss in the past seven games, the Oklahoma City Thunder are still battling for a playoff spot and everything can still happen in the Wild Wild West.
Before what can be the biggest week of the season for the Thunder, I’ll try to answer these three questions:
Will the Thunder make the playoffs?
Imagine asking yourself this question on the first day of training camp back in September. Who would have answered “no”? Probably not even the biggest Thunder hater. Everyone had the Thunder as a top team in the West, a contender, and a real threat to the Golden State Warriors. However, here we are. Oklahoma City controls its destiny. If they win all the remaining games (while two or even one could be enough), they will be in the postseason. The next three opponents are the Houston Rockets, the Miami Heat (both these games on the road), and the Memphis Grizzlies at home. The Rockets have already secured the 1st seed and D’Antoni might rest some of his best players to avoid last minute injuries, while the Heat clinched a playoff spot, but they are still fighting for a better seeding in the Eastern Conference. Oklahoma City should not have many problems against Memphis who’s seriously tanking towards the next draft. So will the Thunder make the playoffs? YES! I think the Thunder will make the playoff because they are too good to miss out.
Who’s the best and who’s the worst first-round matchup for Oklahoma City?
This season, every team that makes the playoffs in the Western Conference will be very, very tough to beat. With this being said, I think the Thunder might have some favorable matchups in the first round. Despite having lost the season series against Pelicans and Timberwolves, these might be the two best opponents for the Thunder in the first round. The Pelicans will be still without Cousins, while the Timberwolves seem to be without oxygen due to Thibodeau’s hard rotations. Oklahoma City might match well also against the Spurs (never underestimate Popovich though) and the really hot and dangerous Jazz which Oklahoma City defeated 3-1 during the regular season.
Worst case scenario? Well, Rockets and Warriors are the obvious answers here. The Rockets are the best team in the league right now, and even without Curry, you don’t want to play the Warriors in the first round. A lot of people want to play the Warriors due to injuries but for me, this is still a NO. This leaves us with the Portland Trailblazers. The Thunder lost all four games against Portland this season, they haven’t won in Portland since February 2014, and for whatever reason, they struggle each and every time. So, let’s hope Oklahoma City will also avoid the Blazers.
Would it be that bad if Oklahoma City misses the playoffs?
I guess it would be the most disappointing-depressing regular season in the Thunder’s ten years of history. The talent and the firepower on the team are way too much to not consider the season a complete failure without playing the playoffs. Although missing the playoffs would be a complete laughable disaster, there might be some silver lining. First of all, the Thunder will keep their draft pick because it’s protected until the 14th position, this means that if the Thunder make the playoffs the pick will go to the Timberwolves (via Jazz – Kanter trade); if they miss the playoffs Oklahoma City will have a selection at the upcoming draft. Missing the playoffs would probably lead also to part away with Paul George (this might happen regardless). The positive aspect is the cap space the Thunder will create without PG’s contract. What about Carmelo Anthony? Will he take his player option worth 28 million for the next season without being on a true contender? Maybe yes, maybe not as he could leave to hunt the ring somewhere else. This would mean more cap space for the Thunder to invest and “rebuild” quickly around the core of Westbrook-Adams-Roberson. So, would it be that bad if Oklahoma City misses the playoffs? 97.5% a complete disaster, 2.5% I could live with it.