Oklahoma City Thunder: Best possible playoff opponents
Watching the Memphis-Utah game on Sunday night, I was trying to figure out who the Thunder wanted to win. Both teams entered one game above .500, just outside the top eight in the Western Conference. Both could easily make the playoffs. Both could be on the outside looking in.
So who would the Thunder rather face? For that matter, how do all the Western Conference contenders rank in terms of undesirability for the Thunder. Here’s my guess.
1. Clippers: For reasons I don’t understand, the Clippers always have been tough on the Thunder, even when the Clippers stink. The Thunder went 2-1 vs. the Clippers two seasons ago, when the Clips had neither Chris Paul or Blake Griffin. The Thunder went 2-2 vs. the Clippers last season, when LA had Griffin. This year, the Clippers routed the Thunder in their lone meeting so far. Russell Westbrook generally presses (and plays poorly) against CP3. The Thunder would like to avoid the Clippers.
2. Dallas: The Thunder is 2-1 vs. the Mavericks this season, including a win in Dallas. But one of the victories was on Kevin Durant’s buzzer-beater. And the Mavs believe they can beat OKC. Jason Terry is a Thunder-killer. Shawn Marion is a tough defender on Kevin Durant. The Thunder would be best served avoiding the Mavericks.
3. Portland: The Blazers aren’t setting the West on fire. They are 15-13 and ranked eighth currently in the West. But the Blazers also match up well with OKC. Gerald Wallace is a tough defender on Durant. LaMarcus Aldridge is fabulous. The Blazers are the only visiting team to win in Oklahoma City this season.
4. Memphis: The Thunder and Grizzlies played that gut-check seven-game series in the Western semifinals last season, and this year seems no different. The Thunder is 3-0 vs. Memphis, but the victories were by three in Memphis, five in Memnphis and seven in OKC. And that’s all without Zach Randolph, who has been sidelined most of the season but could return for the playoffs. Kevin Durant would put the Grizzlies No. 1 on this list. Seven straight games of Tony Allen is KD’s worst nightmare.
5. San Antonio: The Thunder generally plays poorly against the Spurs. They’ve split two blowouts this season, the Spurs were 3-0 in 2010-11 and 3-1 in 2009-10 vs. the Thunder. But the Spurs shouldn’t scare the Thunder. The Spurs are getting old. They had the No. 1 seed in the 2011 playoffs but were stunned by Memphis in the first round. San Antonio is playing well this season, but their window is closing fast.
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