Forgive me for writing yet another speculative piece regarding who the Thunder could/would/should meet in the playoffs depending upon if they grab the such-and-such seed after so-and-so wins or loses but honestly, at this point in the season, the Western Conference from #2 on down is quite literally a giant coin flip based off of who owns the tie-breakers, who the teams are playing (directly influenced by what that team has done against those teams previously) and, of course, what the teams record is going into the last week and a half of the 2010 season so it really does merit further column consideration.
But before we target the Thunder specifically, let’s take a snapshot at the Western Conference standings as they are right now and get a good look at just how wonderfully crazy the playoff positions have shaped up thus far, shall we?
1. Lakers – 55-22
2. Dallas – 50-27
3. Denver- 50-27
4. Utah – 50-27
5. Phoenix – 50-27 (see a trend, do you?)
6. OKLAHOMA CITY – 48-28
7. San Antonio – 47-29
8. Portland – 47-30
Crazy, huh? I’m not sure I ever remember a season where the second seed and the eighth seed where separated by only 3 games, let alone the second seed and sixth seed being separated by only 1.5 games.
Now then, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and have an honest-to-goodness look at the Thunder’s most likely playoff match-up after we look at who plays whom the rest of the way, how many games the teams have already played and (here’s the hard part) what the outcomes of the remaining games will most likely look like…did I mention all of this can change in one night since there will be seven games in the next ten days that feature two of the bottom seven seeds playing against one another?
First things first, the Los Angeles Lakers are locked in as the #1 seed in the Western Conference with their 55 wins even if they lose all of their remaining games, which is highly unlikely anyway as the Lakers play @Denver, @Minnesota, Portland, Sacramento and an “away” game against the Clippers to close out the season.
The Lakers are 1-2 against the Nuggets, 2-0 against the T-Wolves, 1-1 against the Blazers, 3-0 against the Kings and 2-1 against the Clippers. So at the absolute worst the Lakers go 3-2 the rest of the way, finish with 58 wins and 24 losses and await the team who gets left out of the Western Conference’s musical game of chairs with the song, “No matter how they’ve played of late/no one wants the Lakers for their first round date,” echoing in the background.
Secondly, the Dallas Mavericks own enough tie-breakers to currently sit as the #2 seed in the standings, also with 5 games left to play. The Mavericks will play Memphis, @Portland, @Sacramento, @Clippers and then wrap up the season with a home game against San Antonio.
Dallas is 2-1 against the Grizzlies, 0-3 against the Blazers, 3-0 against the Kings, 2-0 against the Clippers, and 2-1 against the Spurs. So if everything holds true to the season thus far, the Mavs would finish 4-1 the rest of the way and end the season with 54 wins and 28 losses.
Thirdly, the Denver Nuggets are the #3 seed right now because they still, BARELY, own the tie-breaker over the Jazz. But as we all know the Nuggets have been hurting lately without George Karl and Kenyon Martin so it’s going to be pretty hard to get a fair gauge on how they should finish the season from here on out (I may also reveal some Thunder bias regarding the outcomes of teams facing the Thunder that have been split during the regular season, but you know what, you probably should have seen it coming since you’re, you know, reading a Thunder blog…but at least I’m admitting it, right? That’s the first step!).
The Nuggets play @Oklahoma City, then host the Lakers, San Antonio, Memphis and close out the season @Phoenix. Hmmm…
The Nuggets are 1-1 against the Thunder, 2-1 against the Lakers, 2-1 against the Spurs, 2-1 against the Grizzlies and 1-2 against the Suns. And with all of the Nuggets recent troubles without Karl and Martin and with the Thunder playing at home on Wednesday night, I’m going to give them the edge in that toss-up game since the Thunder beat an underhanded Nuggets team at home this season (if it was in Denver I’d have gone the other way) and say that the Nuggets finish 3-2, good for 53 wins and 29 losses.
Fourthly, the Utah Jazz are a tie-breaker away from being higher than the #4 seed they currently occupy and are the true wild card of this bunch because with their schedule, I can easily see them winning four or even five of their next five games to sneak into the #2 seed.
The Jazz host the Thunder then play @Houston, @New Orleans, @Golden State and finish off the season against the Phoenix Suns at home.
The Jazz are 0-3 against the Thunder, 2-1 against the Rockets, 2-1 against the Hornets, 2-0 against the Warriors, and 2-1 against the Suns. See what I mean?
The reason I say I can see them winning all five of these games is because, honestly, it’s almost impossible to win four times against the same team in a single regular season. As much as the Thunder have given the Jazz fits and owned them this year…the Jazz have rarely been 100% against the Thunder and the Thunder won’t be playing at home like they did on New Year’s Eve when they did beat a full-strength Jazz team.
So I honestly think the Jazz will finish the season 5-0, ending up with 55 wins and 27 losses. Of course if the Thunder go in and beat the Jazz tomorrow night at Utah…well, then we’ll have even more tie-breaker fun, won’t we?
Fifthly, the Phoenix Suns have little hope of jumping higher than the fourth seed despite their spot as the #5 seed because they have no hope of winning their division, even with five games remaining.
The Suns face the Spurs, then play @Oklahoma City, Houston, Denver and @Utah.
The Suns are 1-1 against the Spurs, 1-1 against the Thunder, 3-0 against the Rockets, 2-1 against the Nuggets and 1-2 against the Jazz. Honestly, the Suns could do anything the rest of the way and at this point, it wouldn’t surprise me. They can win out or they could go 1-4 or 2-3 and I wouldn’t be shocked. I’ll say the Suns beat the Nuggets, the Rockets and even the Spurs but fall to the Thunder (BIAS ALERT) since the game is in OKC and lose to the Jazz, finishing with 53 wins and 29 losses.
As of right now, that would mean that the standings would look like:
That means the Thunder would need to win at least five of the next six to move ahead of the #4 seeded Suns and the #5 seeded Nuggets, and since I currently have them losing to Utah, but beating the Nuggets and the Suns at home, that would mean that they’d only have to beat Golden State and Portland on the road (the latter being a giant ouch) and Memphis at home to accomplish this feat…or, you know, make me eat my words and beat the Jazz in Salt Lake City.
To find out if they will…tune in to tomorrow’s article for Part II, The Bottom 3.
Don’t you just hate cliffhangers?