For those hoping the Thunder faces the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, um … careful what you wish for.
Immersed in a battle with Utah (41-38) for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Lakers (42-37) have nothing but home games remaining — against Golden State, San Antonio and Houston. Three higher-seeded, high-quality opponents. The Jazz owns the tiebreaker over the Lakers, who must finish with a better record to make the postseason. If the Lakers win their final three games, they will enter the playoffs on a five-game winning streak, having won eight of their last nine. Do you really want to face the Lakers under those circumstances?
Yes, the Lakers are nicked up, but they’re as healthy as they’ve been all season. Point guard Steve Nash (hip/ankle/back) is day-to-day at best and reserve center Jordan Hill (hip) is likely out for the postseason. But Pau Gasol is back, Dwight Howard has played at least 30 minutes in every game since Feb. 7, Metta World World Peace (knee) returned from surgery three weeks early, and it’s never fun facing Kobe Bryant — especially in the postseason.
In addition, there will be intense scrutiny for whichever top seed (OKC, San Antonio or Denver) faces the No. 8-seeded Lakers. Far more is made of a No. 8 seed beating a No. 1 than a No. 7 beating a No. 2. Would you rather face a team with four future Hall of Famers like the Lakers, or a hodge-podge group like Houston, which by far has more new players this season than any NBA team? Do I think the Lakers would beat the Thunder in the first round? No, but there’s a far greater chance of that happening than OKC losing to the Jazz, Rockets or Warriors. Careful what you wish for, Thunder fans.
- John Rohde