At the season’s midway point, general manager Sam Presti was asked about the Thunder’s chances of making the playoffs. Presti’s response was predictable but dead on. "There’s a healthy respect and humility from our group just how hard that is (to make the playoffs in the West),” Presti said. "There’s also an understanding we can’t control how other teams play.” Other teams below the Thunder in the standings haven’t been playing well which is why it will be shocking if Oklahoma City doesn’t make the playoffs. But Thunder fans euphoric with Oklahoma City’s spot in the standings need to be forewarned it will be a tremendous challenge to finish as the No. 4, 5 or 6 seed. The 11 West contenders remaining schedules reveal why the Thunder should reach the playoffs but finishing 4, 5 or 6 means Oklahoma City will have to win some tough road games and continue playing well at home (OKC is 10-3 at the Ford Center since Dec. 18). →New Orleans, hampered by Chris Paul’s injury, has the most difficult schedule (see chart). The Hornets are a long shot. →Memphis’ schedule is comparable to Oklahoma City’s but the Grizzlies’ recent struggles will make it tough to stay in the race to the end. →Houston’s schedule isn’t overwhelming. But it appears 46 wins might be needed to crash the post-season party. Despite trading for Kevin Martin, losing Sixth Man award candidate Carl Landry will make it difficult for the Rockets to finish 10 games over .500. Since Oklahoma City needs to only play .500 ball the rest of the season to reach 46 wins, the real drama the final two months could be the race for the No. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 seeds. Every team wants to avoid the No. 8 seed, i.e. a quick playoff exit for whoever plays the Lakers the first round. An in-depth analysis reveals the No. 2 through No. 9 spots could go several different directions. Denver has one of the more difficult schedules. Coach George Karl’s battle with cancer complicates forecasting the Nuggets. Denver is the favorite for the No. 2 spot but could slip. Dallas should get on a roll following its blockbuster trade. OKC might be close to the Mavericks in the standings right now. But once the Thunder hits the home stretch, the Mavs have a huge scheduling edge. Utah, 16-2 the past six weeks, has one of the easier schedules and should finish in the top four. But the Jazz isn’t a lock for home-court advantage. San Antonio has a brutal schedule. The Spurs might challenge for a top four seed. But they also could slip to No. 7 or 8. Portland All-Star Brandon Roy is still hampered by a hamstring injury. But having traded for Marcus Camby, the Trail Blazers have the easiest schedule, by far. Don’t dismiss Portland making a run, especially if Roy gets healthy. Phoenix didn’t trade Amare Stoudemire. And the Suns’ schedule is soft. Phoenix has been a .500 team the past three months but with Stoudemire staying the Suns can be a factor. The most likely scenario is the Thunder battles San Antonio, Portland and Phoenix for the 5, 6, 7 and 8 spots. Worst case scenario is the Thunder watches Houston make a charge in their rear view mirror which would make April topsy turvy The franchise’s longest winning streak in nearly six years has given the Thunder a cushion. Oklahoma City could finish 5 or 6 and should finish no lower than No. 7 or 8.