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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.
By John Rohde Published: March 26, 2011
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The upper echelon of the Western Conference appears to be secure with San Antonio as the No. 1 seed, the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2, Dallas at No. 3 and OKC at No. 4.

Entering Saturday night's schedule, just two games separated the No. 5 seed from the No. 7.

While trying to secure the Northwest Division title and the No. 4 seed, the Thunder simultaneously could catapult New Orleans to No. 5.

In key head-to-head games, OKC (47-24) still plays Denver (44-29) and Portland (42-30) twice each. New Orleans (42-31) is done with Denver, has a home game against Portland on Wednesday and plays six of its last eight games at home.

If the Hornets can stabilize themselves without West, and Friday's 106-100 victory at Phoenix was an impressive start, they could reap the rewards if the Thunder performs well.

On the flip side, if OKC flops in these key games, the Trail Blazers and Nuggets can quickly make up some ground for the division crown.

The Hornets would have been the Thunder's best first-round matchup even if West were healthy, but OKC's other three first-round possibilities — Denver, Portland and Memphis (40-33) — are all deadly in their own way.


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.

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