The Lakers are in town Tuesday night. Maybe not for the last time. A Thunder-Laker first-round playoff series is becoming more possible, as the Lakers inch closer to the playoff threshold. Eighth-place Utah is winning at a .533 clip; to surpass that, the Lakers need to finish 14-8 the rest of the way. LA brings a 30-30 record to Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.
Now seems as good a time as any to re-evaluate the Thunder’s likely playoff opponents. Here are the most likely foes, in order:
1. Houston: The Rockets are 33-28 and seemingly headed for sixth, seventh or eighth place. Houston is No. 7 right now. With the Thunder back in the running for the No. 1 seed, courtesy of Tony Parker’s sprained ankle, the Thunder could meet the Rockets in a 1-8 or a 2-7 matchup. Even a longshot at a 3-6 matchup.
2. Lakers: Los Angeles is likely to catch Utah, which has a tough schedule down the stretch. The Lakers could get into No. 7 territory, too, perhaps catching Golden State, which has been reeling.
3. Golden State: The Warriors are 34-27. If Golden State rallies and keeps the sixth seed, it probably won’t meet the Thunder. But the Warriors very well could be at seven or eight.
4. Utah: The Jazz is headed south in a hurry. But if the Jazz could stabilize and scratch its way to eighth, the Thunder could be waiting. Seventh seems a tough chore for Utah.
No other opponent seems possible. Memphis is 39-19; Denver is 39-22. Neither appears capable of falling all the way to sixth. Denver, currently No. 5, has a five-game lead on No. 6 Golden State. Likewise, 28-31 Portland and 26-33 Dallas don’t seem capable of catching the Lakers or Jazz, much less both.
So there you have it. The Thunder is almost sure to open the playoffs against the Rockets, Lakers, Warriors or Jazz, with Houston or LA far and away the most likely.