In a season that started off with championship aspirations, the Oklahoma City Thunder still find themselves in a position to achieve that goal, albeit a lot lower in the standings than previously envisioned. If healthy, the Thunder would clearly be atop the Western Conference standings. But as is the case when the words, “if healthy,” are used, the Thunder this season have been anything but healthy. Of the players currently on the roster, the Thunder have lost about 164 games due to injury. That figure would likely rival the last 5 seasons combined. Regardless of all of this, though, the Thunder are still firmly entrenched in the 8th spot of the Western Conference with 10 games to play. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 8.
Anytime you are in the middle of a playoff race, you always have to look at the teams you are trying to gain ground on and the teams that are looking to gain ground on you. You watch out for, not only your team’s scores, but also the scores of those teams you are looking out for. Here’s a look at some of the teams who fortunes directly affect the future of the Thunder’s playoff hopes and beyond.
- Current Record – 38-34
- Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 9th in the conference, 3 games behind OKC
- Remaining Schedule – vs. Portland, vs. OKC, @Portland, @Golden State, vs. Utah, @Atlanta, @Dallas, @New Orleans, @San Antonio, vs. Los Angeles Clippers
- Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .630
After the trade deadline, Phoenix had to adjust after trading two of their top three guards (Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas). While they gained Brandon Knight, the adjustment period did cause the Suns to lose 7 of their first 11 games after the All-Star break. That spurt allowed the Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans to push ahead of the Suns in the battle for the 8th spot. The Sun have probably the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams looking for the 8th spot. Not only is the winning percentage of the teams remaining on their schedule .630, six of those ten games are on the road. The only solace the Suns can take is that some of those teams may be resting players in preparation for the playoffs.
New Orleans Pelicans
- Current Record – 37-34
- Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 10th in the conference, 3.5 games behind OKC
- Remaining Schedule – vs. Sacramento, vs. Minnesota, @Los Angeles Lakers, @Sacramento, @Portland, vs. Golden State, @Memphis, vs. Phoenix, @Houston, @Minnesota, vs. San Antonio
- Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .495
While the Pelicans have a much easier upcoming schedule, they are still dealing with injuries to two key players. Point guard Jrue Holiday remains without a timetable and Ryan Anderson is still about a week or so away from returning. The lack of depth in their guard rotation has started to rear its ugly head in the last few close games. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon have had to log major minutes in the last two months, and seem to be tiring at the end of games. Anthony Davis is doing everything he can to help the Pelicans, but teams are starting to double him in the post. If the Pelicans are going to make any moves, it’ll be in the next four game, as their next four opponents have a winning percentage of .307.
San Antonio Spurs
- Current Record – 45-26
- Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 6th in the conference, 4.5 games ahead of OKC
- Remaining Schedule – vs. Dallas, vs. Memphis, @Miami, @Orlando, vs. Denver, vs. Golden State, @OKC, vs. Houston, @Houston, vs. Phoenix, @New Orleans
- Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .568
The Thunder had a golden opportunity to make up ground on the Spurs last night, but watched that wilt away before halftime, as they fell behind by as much as 30 points in the 3rd quarter. The Spurs’ remaining schedule is not easy, but, luckily, they play the more difficult opponents at home. In year’s past, the Spurs would usually rest their players during this stretch of the year, but with the Mavs and the Thunder on their tails, the Spurs will likely not be doing that so much this season.
- Current Record – 45-27
- Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 7th in the conference, 4 games ahead of OKC
- Remaining Schedule – @San Antonio, @Indiana, @OKC, vs. Houston, vs. Golden State, vs. Phoenix, @Denver, @Los Angeles Lakers, @Utah, vs. Portland
- Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .538
The Mavs have been prone to inconsistencies of late (6-7 in their last 13 games) and may still be suffering from chemistry issues. Monta Ellis’ effectiveness hasn’t been the same since the Rajon Rondo trade and the Mavericks’ big man depth is questionable. They struggle a bit on the road and have two 3-game road trips coming up. The Thunder have one more game against the Mavericks and it comes at the back end of a tough 3 game road trip. If there is a team that may relinquish their positioning, it may be Dallas.
The Future Commodities Stakeholder
- Current Record – 40-32
- Position in relation to the Thunder – 1 game worse than OKC
- Remaining Schedule – vs. Charlotte, vs. Houston, vs. Philadelphia, vs. New York, @Memphis, @Philadelphia, @Brooklyn, vs. Atlanta, @Indiana, @Cleveland
- Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .476
While the Wizards’ fortunes hold no bearing for the Thunder’s playoff implications, they do hold significance for the Thunder’s first round draft pick. The Thunder currently have a better record than the Wizards which would give them the 19th pick in the upcoming draft. The trade that garnered Dion Waiters for the Thunder came at a cost of the Thunder’s first round pick. That pick had a restriction of Top 18, meaning that if the pick was in positions 1-18, the Thunder would keep the pick. If the Thunder were to pick in the 19-30 spot, that pick would be conveyed to the Philadelphia 76ers (via Denver from Cleveland). If the Thunder and Wizards finish with the same record, the position of the pick will be decided by a coin flip, with the winner of the flip getting the 18th pick.
The Thunder are firmly in the 8th spot in the West. Their playoff destiny could be decided in the next 6 games. They have a tough 2 game road trip remaining (@Phoenix and @Utah) and then play the Texas triangle and Memphis after that. Come out of that gauntlet with a winning record, and you control your playoff destiny. Finish less then .500 in these next 6 games, and things could get very harry. This is my favorite time of year to not only watch the games involving the Thunder, but also watch the games of the teams that can affect the Thunder’s future. Here’s to the last 3 weeks of the season.