As the NBA regular-season hits its stretch run, potential playoff matchups are beginning to formulate.
Western Conference seeding, both at the top and bottom, remain up for grabs. But over the course of the season, clear conference tiers have been established. And with it, a select group of teams have emerged as potential first round foes for the Thunder.
Here is a breakdown of the five teams OKC could be squaring off with come late April, from most to least likely:
Vs OKC: 1-3
Current seed: Seventh
Appeal: Avoid at all costs
Evaluation: The Thunder would be favored in this series. And OKC would likely win it. But five, six or even seven grueling games against Memphis’ bruising frontline and hounding perimeter defense would take a physical toll. And that might be a problem with three series still to go. Plus, the Grizzlies are the most battle-tested of this bunch, with fresh memories of knocking the Thunder out last season.
Vs OKC: 2-1
Current seed: Eighth
Evaluation: Don’t let the last 10 days fool you. The Thunder lost both of its most recent matchups with the Mavs, but it’s still a team OKC stacks up well against, beating them the previous 11 times. Dallas is scrappy, skilled and well-coached. The Mavs have overachieved all season. But in an amped up playoff series, the Thunder would outathlete them.
Vs OKC: 1-1
Current seed: Ninth
Evaluation: Projected as one of the worst teams in the preseason, Phoenix has been the feel-good story of the NBA year. And despite some slippage of late, the Suns are hanging in the playoff hunt. With a tough schedule to end the season, it’s tough to see them finding a way in. But if they do, the Spurs and Thunder would be waiting with open arms. Phoenix is fun and explosive, with a bright future. But it’s tough to see them taking either of the Western Conference’s powerhouses past five games.
Portland Trail Blazers
Vs OKC: 2-2
Current seed: Fifth
Appeal: Growing by the day
Evaluation: Considering the Blazers were once a potential threat to the top seed, it’s pretty amazing they’ve fallen this far. But they’ve been that bad lately, falling in nine of their last 13 games, including losses to the Lakers and Magic. LaMarcus Aldridge’s health is a concern, and their lack of bench production has become a huge issue. Now only two games ahead of Memphis and Dallas, it’s not inconceivable to imagine them falling into a matchup with OKC. And, really, I don’t think the Thunder would mind.
Golden State Warriors
Vs OKC: 1-2
Current seed: Sixth
Appeal: Scary, but fun
Evaluation: The first two games between these two were both decided by buzzer-beaters, with the combined score of 218-218. The third was a wild shootout, where Steph Curry’s 37 points were overshadowed by Kevin Durant’s career-high 54. So, yes, a playoff matchup between these two would be great for basketball fans worldwide. But for the Thunder, it’s not a team they’d like to face until at least Round 2.
*Stats and standings are through Tuesday’s games