A loss Sunday at Indiana was perhaps the Thunder’s worst performance of the season. It makes tonight’s game against the Spurs, the first game of a pivotal four-game homestand one of the most important all season.
A win tonight in the Ford Center puts the Thunder two games in front of the San Antonio Spurs. Oklahoma City would be in good position to finish as the sixth seed or higher.
A loss tonight in the Ford Center puts the Thunder in a precarious position of possibly falling to the seventh or eighth seed. San Antonio would be tied with OKC and the Spurs would own the tiebreaker having clinched the season series.
One game won’t make or break the season. But it’s a huge game. The Thunder has exhibited a bounce-back mentality all season. They’re also catching the Spurs at a good time.
Point guard Tony Parker is sidelined by a broken hand. San Antonio is an older team, challenged by back-to-back games. The Spurs have to be fatigued, having lost a grueling overtime decision Sunday night in Atlanta. They probably didn’t check into their hotel around 2 a.m.
The Spurs, though, have been playing some of their best basketball in recent weeks in large part because Manu Ginobili has been playing well the past six weeks.
In San Antonio’s two wins over OKC, Ginobili made a diving-out-of-bounds, game-saving play in an overtime win in the Ford Center in January, then blocked Kevin Durant’s shot, the key play in a win in San Antonio last month.
The loss Sunday at Indiana didn’t knock the Thunder out of contention for the No. 4 seed, i.e. homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. But it was costly. It also continued a recent alarming trend in which the defense has slipped noticeably.
OKC took advantage of a soft schedule the past month to solidify making the playoffs. But now comes a demanding 14-game stretch run. Of all the West contenders, the Thunder has the second most difficult schedule the final three weeks, trailing only the Spurs, who play OKC, the Lakers, Cleveland and Boston this week.
It might take 53 wins to finish as the No. 4 seed. That means the Thunder would have to go 11-3 the rest of the way, a daunting challenge considering the schedule.
Fifty wins, though, might be good enough to finish as the sixth seed. To get to half a hundred, the Thunder must go 8-6 the rest of the season. It won’t be easy but it’s a realistic goal, especially if OKC can post a pivotal win tonight over the Spurs.