Making projections in the Wild Wild West is risky, but it’s looking likely the Thunder could play Denver in a No. 3 vs. No. 6 matchup in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.
Before we explain why that’s the most likely scenario, don’t forget the old cliché if ifs and buts were candy and nuts every day would be Christmas.
Trying to project where teams will be seeded in the West has been near impossible. But following a wild Friday night, IF games go according to Las Vegas oddsmakers lines, Denver will finish as the No. 3 seed and Oklahoma City the No. 6 seed.
Keep in mind a couple of IFs blew up big-time this past week which is why Oklahoma City, while in good position to avoid the dreaded No. 8 seed and a first-round matchup with the Lakers, could still finish No. 7 or 8.
It was shocking Memphis upset the Spurs Friday night in San Antonio. It was even more shocking that Utah lost at Houston Wednesday night. That’s why projecting a winner, based on Vegas odds, isn’t a slam dunk.
Still, here are the reasons why there’s a good chance it’s OKC-Denver in the first round:
IF San Antonio loses at Denver Saturday night, and IF Portland loses to the Lakers Sunday in the Staples Center, and IF Oklahoma City defeats Golden State Sunday night and Memphis Wednesday night, the Thunder will finish as the No. 6 seed, with a long shot chance of overtaking Phoenix for the No. 5 seed.
Dallas defeating Denver last week was huge. The Mavericks clinched the tiebreaker over the Nuggets and now need only go 2-1 their last three games to earn the No. 2 seed. Dallas plays at Sacramento Saturday night, play at the Clippers Monday night and finish at home Wednesday against San Antonio.
The Nuggets need Dallas to lose twice (highly unlikely). Denver, though, should finish as the No. 3 seed because the Nuggets own the tiebreaker over the Jazz, whose loss at Houston was costly. If the Nuggets go 2-1 their final three games — tonight hosting Spurs; Monday host Memphis and Tuesday at Phoenix — Denver is the No. 3 seed.
Phoenix and Utah, projected as a No. 4-vs.-No. 5 matchup, might be playing for homecourt advantage Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.
But as we’ve discovered this week upsets happen. The Thunder is far from out of the woods to avoid the No. 8 seed. One game can alter everything.
If the Spurs upset Denver tonight in the Pepsi Center, the Thunder could still be in danger of falling to the No. 8 seed if it doesn’t win its final three games since Dallas might not have anything to play for Wednesday night against San Antonio if the Mavs have already clinched the No. 2 seed.
Another variable is Oklahoma City is assured of being seeded above Portland if the Thunder defeats the Trail Blazers Monday night in the Rose Garden regardless of how OKC fares against the Warriors and Grizzlies.
Thunder fans need to monitor two games — Spurs at Denver tonight and Portland at the Lakers Sunday afternoon. If those two games hold true to form, OKC probably will end up playing Denver in a 3-vs.-6 matchup.