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OKC Thunder: Oklahoma writers discuss upcoming NBA playoffs

Oklahoman Published: April 17, 2014

Four questions for four writers, previewing the upcoming NBA playoffs with a league-wide scope:

1. What 1-2 seed is most likely to get upset before the Conference Finals?

Darnell Mayberry (beat writer) - Oklahoma City. The Thunder has by far the toughest road to the conference finals, with a wrestling match out of the gate against Memphis and a shootout series on deck with either the Clippers or Warriors. San Antonio should execute the Mavs in the first round and easily out-savvy either Houston or Portland in the second round. And the East isn't even in the discussion.

Jenni Carlson (columnist) - San Antonio. The reason: old legs. I think way more highly of the Spurs and the Thunder than I do of the Pacers and the Heat, but the East is just so weak. I just don’t see either Indiana or Miami losing before the conference finals. And while the Thunder has struggled down the stretch, the matchups seem more favorable in the first two rounds for Oklahoma City than for San Antonio. The Spurs are going to face a youthful team in the second round, Rockets or Blazers. That will be a huge test over a seven-game series. As good as the Spurs are, it just seems like their age might get the better of them.

Anthony Slater (beat writer) - It's a pretty easy answer: The Thunder. Of the four teams, OKC has the toughest first-round opponent AND the toughest second-round opponent. Memphis is dangerous and underseeded and the Clippers are explosive on offense and far better on defense than people realize -- 102.1 points per 100 possessions, seventh lowest in the NBA. Miami will cruise to the conference finals and Indy should bruise its way there. San Antonio has a bumpy road, but the Thunder is weaving through a minefield.

Berry Tramel (columnist) - Indiana is the team most likely to get upset before the conference finals. The Pacers have done more than just hit a rough stretch. They are playing beyond poorly. And they’re in the same bracket with the Bulls, who will positively chew up the Pacers. If Indiana’s offense doesn’t improve quickly, the Pacers won’t reach 80 in any game against Chicago.

2. Who's the most likely darkhorse contender (seeds 4-8)?

Mayberry - Memphis. The Grizzlies' defense gives them a puncher's chance against anyone. Their toughest test comes in the first round against the Thunder, which I doubt they get past. But if they do, it'll set up for them to make a nice run. I still have major questions, however, about first-year coach Dave Joerger and his ability to match former coach Lionel Hollins as a postseason tactician.

Carlson - Chicago. The Bulls will get after you defensively. That’s the kind of thing that wins ballgames in the playoffs. And the East is ripe for the picking. And Joakim Noah is a difference maker. He is a guy who will make a shot or block a shot to win games.

Slater - To me, Houston is a near lock to get out of the first round. Portland has revealed its true colors in the second half. The Blazers aren't a title threat. Can the Rockets then get past a scorching Spurs team? It'll be tough. But in some ways, that matchup actually favors Houston. Like OKC, the Rockets went 4-0 against the Spurs this season, using its youth and athleticism to overwhelm San Antonio. Can they play enough defense in the playoffs? We'll see. But any team with a legit shot to make the conference finals is a legit contender.

Tramel - Memphis, not even close. The Grizzlies are a totally different team from the squad that started 10-15 thanks to Marc Gasol’s injury. The Grizzlies are built for the playoffs. Tough defense, veteran leadership. It’s a tough stretch for Memphis: OKC, probably Clippers, maybe Spurs. But Memphis will be a tough out for any of those.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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by Anthony Slater
Thunder Beat Writer
Anthony Slater started on the Thunder beat in the summer of 2013, joining after two years as's lead sports blogger and web editor. A native Californian, Slater attended Sonoma State for two years before transferring to Oklahoma State in...
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