Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Wild scramble for first-round playoff foe

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 11, 2014 at 10:30 am •  Published: April 11, 2014

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, left, and Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul reach for a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, left, and Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul reach for a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

The Thunder is headed for the second seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs’ magic number to finish atop the West is one — any combination of one San Antonio victory or  Thunder defeat guarantees the Spurs the top seed.

The Thunder’s magic number to finish second is two. Any combination of two Clipper defeats or Thunder victories makes OKC second. The Thunder’s magic number is one to assure itself of a tie with the Clippers, but the Clippers would win the tiebreaker in that scenario. The teams split the season series 2-2, but the Clippers would have a better conference record. L.A. right now is 34-15 vs. the West and would be 37-15 by winning out. The Thunder is 35-15 vs. the West, but if OKC doesn’t win at least twice down the stretch, it can’t get to the 37-15 to match the Clippers.

But who will the Thunder draw in the playoffs? No way of knowing. Could be Dallas, Phoenix, Memphis or Golden State, probably in that order of probability.

Golden State is 48-30, Phoenix 47-31, Dallas 48-32 and Memphis 46-32.

So Memphis clearly is the odd team out right now. But the Grizzlies play at Phoenix on Monday night and host Dallas on Wednesday night.  And Phoenix plays at Dallas on Friday night, then plays at San Antonio on Saturday night.

Wow. This is going to get tight. This we know. Golden State has the easiest schedule and barring a complete collapse, should finish sixth and play the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. But the Warriors have been been floundering. Their remaining schedule is at the Lakers, at Portland, home against Minnesota and at Denver. The Warriors just lost at home to Denver, and remember, Golden State ruined Denver’s season a year ago, upsetting the third-seeded Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. Golden State doesn’t want to go to Denver for that season finale really needing a victory.

Here’s how tight the West race is. Just projecting the likely results of games, I can see Phoenix, Dallas and Memphis all finishing in a three-way tie for seventh. Which would leave one team out. That would be bad news for Phoenix. The tiebreaker would be games against each other. The Suns are 0-3 against Memphis and 1-1 against Dallas, with games remaining against each. Dallas is 3-0 vs. Memphis, with one game remaining. So in a three-way tie, the Mavericks would finish seventh and the Grizzlies eighth.

But what if Golden State stumbles and creates a wild four-way tie for sixth? Right now, the standings among those teams against each other are Golden State 7-5, Dallas 5-4, Memphis 5-5 and Phoenix 3-6. If Suns sweep both Dallas and Memphis in the upcoming days, they would avoid being the odd team out — the Dallas-Phoenix loser on Wednesday night would be. Of course, if the Suns sweep both Dallas and Memphis, they shouldn’t have to worry about tiebreakers.

It’s all great drama and fun to watch down the stretch as the Thunder waits to see who its first-round foe will be.

Here is the status of the West playoff contenders going into the final few games:

 

San Antonio 61-18

Games remaining: 3. Phoenix, at Houston, LA Lakers.

Likely record: 63-19.

Magic number to finish first: One.

 

Oklahoma City 57-21

Games remaining: 4. New Orleans, at Indiana, at New Orleans, Detroit.

Likely record: 60-22.

Magic number to finish second: Two.

 

LA Clippers 55-24

Games remaining: 3. Sacramento, Denver, at Portland.

Likely record: 57-25.

Magic number to finish third: One.

 

Houston 52-26

Games remaining: 4.  At Minnesota, New Orleans, San Antonio, at New Orleans.

Likely record: 55-27.

Magic number to finish fourth: Two.

 

Portland 51-28

Games remaining: 3. At Utah, Golden State, LA Clippers.

Likely record: 54-28.

Magic number to finish fifth: Two.

 

Golden State 48-30

Games remaining: 4. At LA Lakers, at Portland, Minnesota, at Denver.

Likely record: 50-32.

Magic number to finish sixth: Three.

 

Phoenix 47-31

Games remaining: Four. At San Antonio, at Dallas, Memphis, at Sacramento.

Likely record: 49-33.

Magic number to finish seventh: Four.

 

Dallas 48-32

Games remaining: Two. Phoenix, at Memphis.

Likely record: 49-33.

Magic number to finish eighth: Three.

 

Memphis 46-32

Games remaining: Four. Philadelphia, at LA Lakers, at Phoenix, Dallas.

Likely record: 49-33.

 

 

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
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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