There’s a faction of Thunder fans likely rooting for the Mavericks against Memphis tonight.
Assuming OKC beats the Pistons and locks up the second seed, it would face the winner of that game in the first round. And with the Grizzlies viewed as a bruising, underseeded opponent, Dallas would seem to be a bit more appealing.
But there’s a second reason — not postseason related — for OKC faithful to pull for Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs.
If Dallas beats Memphis, the Mavericks will clinch at least the ninth best record in the NBA and their first-round pick (22nd or 23rd overall, depending on the Warriors result) would go to the Thunder.
But if Dallas loses, Memphis would hop the Mavs and Dallas would fall into 10th place. Dallas’ pick — which OKC acquired in the James Harden trade — is top-20 protected, meaning the Thunder would get it if it’s between 21-30. And a 10th place finish would mean OKC gets the 21st pick.
But here’s where it gets tricky.
The Raptors and Bulls enter the night with identical 48-33 records. If both win — the Bulls play at Charlotte and the Raptors play at New York — they would match the Mavericks record (assuming a Mavs loss) and create a 3-way tie. In that case, there would be a blind draw for the 19th, 20th and 21st picks. OKC would essentially have a 33 percent chance of getting it.
And even if just one of the two win, it would create a 2-way tie with the Raptors/Bulls and Mavs. So in that case, OKC’s chances of getting Dallas’ pick is 50 percent.
Even if the Thunder don’t get Dallas’ pick this year, it’s not a lost selection. With the same top-20 condition, it pushes until the 2018 Draft, where it would become unprotected. But if you’re a Thunder fan who wants another selection in this supposedly deeeeeep draft, there’s another reason to root for the Mavs tonight.
Here’s the current standings, in descending order:
30. Spurs – 62-19
29. Thunder – 58-23
28. Clippers – 57-24
27. Pacers – 55-26
26. Heat – 54-27
25. Rockets – 54-27
24. Blazers – 53-28
23. Warriors – 50-31
22. Mavericks – 49-32
21. Grizzlies – 49-32
20. Bulls – 48-33
19. Raptors – 48-33