New Orleans Hornets are the Thunder's best possible first-round matchup
OKC fans should want an All-Oklahoma City first-round matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Hornets, but not for nostalgia. The Hornets present OKC with its best chance to advance.
The Thunder would clinch a playoff spot with a victory at home Sunday night against Portland, or a Houston loss at Miami two hours earlier.
What OKC fans should want most is an “All-Oklahoma City” first-round matchup.
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NEW ORLEANS HORNETS (42-31)
Home games: 3/30 Portland; 4/1 Memphis; 4/3 Indiana; 4/6 Houston; 4/8 Phoenix; 4/11 Utah
Road games: 3/27 LA Lakers; 4/10 Memphis; 4/13 Dallas
Home record: 24-11
Road record: 18-12
Comment: The wise acquisition of power forward Carl Landry from Sacramento becomes even smarter with David West lost for the season because of a knee injury. Though Landry (10.1 ppg; 3.1 rpg) is solid, he is not West (18.9 ppg; 7.6 rpg). Others will have to pick up the slack, starting with point guard extraordinaire Chris Paul.
Chance OKC survives this first-round series: 75 percent.
DENVER NUGGETS (44-29)
Home games: 3/30 Sacramento; 4/5 Thunder; 4/9 Minnesota; 4/11 Golden State
Road games: 4/1 Sacramento; 4/3 LA Lakers; 4/6 Dallas; 4/8 Thunder; 4/13 Utah
Home record: 30-7
Road record: 14-22
Comment: Denver has been smiling ever since Carmelo Anthony was traded to the New York Knicks, despite the loss of point guard Chauncey Billups. The Nuggets also have been playing well, going 12-4 so far without Melo. Denver is deep. Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Raymond Felton have played well since arriving.
Chance OKC survives: 60 percent.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (42-30)
Home games: 4/1 Thunder; 4/3 Dallas; 4/5 Golden State; 4/8 LA Lakers; 4/12 Memphis
Road games: 3/27 Thunder; 3/28 San Antonio; 3/30 New Orleans; 4/7 Utah; 4/13 Golden State
Home record: 26-10
Road record: 16-20
Comment: Portland has arguably the best home crowd in the league (151 straight sellouts). The fans are energetic and wise. They don't simply react to good things happening. They create a mood, an atmosphere. The Blazers have been hobbled all season (228 missed games due to injury), but forward Gerald Wallace was a terrific addition.
OKC survives: 55 percent.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (40-33)
Home games: 3/27 San Antonio; 3/30 Golden State; 4/2 Minnesota; 4/5 LA Clippers; 4/8 Sacramento; 4/10 New Orleans
Road games: 4/1 New Orleans; 4/12 Portland; 4/13 LA Clippers
Home record: 25-10
Road record: 15-23
Comment: This would be the Thunder's scariest first-round series. The Grizzlies have been a matchup nightmare for OKC, even with Rudy Gay out with injuries. Memphis is long and athletic, which is a big reason it leads the league in steals (9.4). Good news is the Grizzlies have yet to face the Thunder with center Kendrick Perkins.
OKC survives: 50 percent.
Many Thunder fanatics grew to love the NBA thanks to the New Orleans Hornets temporarily relocating here from 2005-07 because of Hurricane Katrina.
However, nostalgia isn't why OKC fans should want to face the Hornets in a No. 4 vs. No. 5 best-of-seven series.
The Thunder's best chance of advancing is to play New Orleans. OKC won the season series 3-1, with the lone Hornets victory coming on a David West step-back 20-footer over Serge Ibaka with .05 seconds left on Jan. 24 in New Orleans Arena.
Now West is gone. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound power forward is lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered Thursday night at Utah.
Injuries are the cold, harsh reality of sports, especially come playoff time.
“Man, that's my guy, that's all I can say,” Hornets point guard Chris Paul said. “We lost my brother. It's been the hardest day ever. I was emotional in my postgame interview, but that's my guy. Plain and simple. I told him some people in your life that you meet, you have friends that are closer than family. He's one of those guys for me. It may sound crazy, but I'm hurt just as bad as he is that he can't play.”
One thing about Paul, he always seems to excel whenever he's hurt — physically or emotionally. In an odd way, this could be a good sign for the Hornets to climb to the No. 5 spot, which likely would have them facing the Thunder.
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