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SPORTS: Oklahoma City Thunder

OKC Thunder Playoff Breakdown

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Tony Parker and the Spurs might be the toughest Western Conference opponent in the playoffs for the Thunder. (AP Photo) Tony Parker and the Spurs might be the toughest Western Conference opponent in the playoffs for the Thunder. (AP Photo)

Grant Belcher, News9.com

OKLAHOMA CITY – Each team has some of those matchups that always seem to work against them, no matter how talented they are.

And the Thunder's recent loss against the Spurs – their second in as many tries – has some a bit concerned about a potential playoff series with San Antonio.

Luckily for OKC, it appears at this point that it would not have to meet up with San Antonio until the Western Conference Finals if the current standings stay put.

Oklahoma City, if it remains the top seed in the West, would face the No. 8 seed in the first round, then the winner of the 4-5 matchup in the second round, avoiding the currently No. 2 Spurs for the time being.

Here is a breakdown of the potential playoff matchups for Oklahoma City and how well it would likely fare in a series with each team.

Potential First Round Matchups:

Houston Rockets

Current Spot: 8th seed

Chances of Oklahoma City winning a seven-game series: 70 percent

Why: The season series between the Thunder and Rockets is almost over, and the teams split the four games evenly: each won one at home and one on the road. The difference here is that both of Houston's wins were by a single point, and OKC's wins were by an average of nine points. It's also worth noting that both of OKC's win against Houston came with Thabo Sefolosha in the lineup, and its two losses came without Sefolosha playing. He is usually matched up against guard Kevin Martin, who played a major role topping the Thunder the past two times.

Denver Nuggets

Current Spot: 7th seed

Chances of Oklahoma City winning a seven-game series: 80 percent

Why: The Nuggets are currently the No. 7 team in the West but always have the potential to fall back two games before the end of the season, which could pit them against OKC in the first round. Denver always conjures images of being a really tough, physical matchup for Oklahoma City, but a surprising statistic seems to prove otherwise. The Thunder have actually won eight of the past nine games against the Nuggets. It's hard to find that kind of a streak against even a bottom-feeder, much less a playoff team. So perhaps that fear is unfounded. Plus, Denver's biggest matchup problem, center Nene, now plays for the Wizards and would not cause OKC any more harm like he has in past matchups.

Phoenix Suns/Utah Jazz

Current Spot: Out of playoffs

Chances of Oklahoma City winning a seven-game series: 90 percent

Why: The Suns and Jazz currently in the eighth and ninth spots in the Western Conference, but only by a half-game. A matchup against either of these teams would be more favorable for the Thunder than taking on the Nuggets or Rockets. Despite a surprise fluke loss to the Suns this year, neither team has the talent to hang with the Thunder in a seven-game series.

Potential Second Round Matchups:

Los Angeles Clippers

Current Spot: 4th seed

Chances of Oklahoma City winning a seven-game series: 65 percent

Why: Earlier this year, this percentage might have been something more like 50/50. After all, the Clippers have blown out OKC in the only matchup between the teams this season. But the loss of their starting shooting guard Chauncey Billups has apparently hit the team hard. Los Angeles is just 11-11 since losing Billups for the season last month. OKC will get a much clearer picture of what to expect from this Clippers team as it still faces them three more times before the end of the regular season. But until then it wouldn't be fair to put the percentage above 65.

Memphis Grizzlies

Current Spot: 5th seed

Chances of Oklahoma City winning a seven-game series: 65 percent

Why: Memphis obviously provided a tough matchup for Oklahoma City last year in the playoffs, taking the Thunder to seven games. This year, OKC is obviously better than it was last year, but the Grizzlies are still a tough positional matchup for OKC. The inside duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph is a load for any team to handle. Tony Allen has traditionally been one of the best defenders on Kevin Durant over the past few years. And a healthy Rudy Gay gives the Grizzlies an added dimension they didn't have last year. But the Thunder have taken all three games so far this year, which gives them the edge at the moment.

Dallas Mavericks

Current Spot: 6th seed

Chances of Oklahoma City winning a seven-game series: 75 percent

Why: Sure, Dallas knocked off OKC in the Western Conference Finals last year fairly easily, but it's clear that this is a different Dallas team. Big man Tyson Chandler and backup point guard J.J. Barea are long gone, and newcomer Lamar Odom is essentially doing more harm than good. It's quite obvious that Mavs owner Mark Cuban is essentially giving his pocket book a year off before trying to make a huge splash in free agency. OKC has won all three games against Dallas so far.

Potential Western Conference Finals Matchups:

Los Angeles Lakers

Current Spot: 3rd seed

Chances of Oklahoma City winning a seven-game series: 60 percent

Why: This isn't the same Lakers team that was doing its best to keep itself out of the playoffs at the beginning of the year. But it's still not the world champion Lakers that everyone knows and loathes. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are matchup nightmares for any team, but only if they can ever get the ball from Kobe Bryant, who is throwing up shots at a record rate. But the frontline of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka was built almost specifically to combat the Lakers' frontline. And Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) is only a shadow of his defensive self that gave Durant problems years ago.

San Antonio Spurs

Current Spot: 2nd seed

Chances of Oklahoma City winning a seven-game series: 50 percent

Why: Here it is. The matchup that everyone has been dreading. There is just something about the Spurs that makes them among the best in the league year-in and year-out. They execute to perfection on both ends of the floor. Their role players know their roles (a novel concept) and fill them perfectly. The Spurs' diamond-in-the-rough draft picks always seem to pan out. DeJuan Blair was drafted 36th overall, Tony Parker 28th and Manu Ginobli 57th. But most importantly, with Phil Jackson retired, Gregg Popovich has no rival as the best coach in the league. OKC should hope that the Spurs somehow get bounced before the Finals, because a matchup could be problematic.

Potential NBA Finals Matchups:

Chicago Bulls

Current Spot: Top seed in East, best record in NBA

Chances of Oklahoma City winning a seven-game series: 40 percent

Why: There is no question that the Western Conference has been a more solid overall conference for some time now, but the East is more top heavy. Almost anyone who studies the game would agree that Chicago and Miami simply outrank the best the West has to offer. Chicago plays at the top of its game every night and never takes a possession off. Their defense is relentless, both in the post from guys like Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, as well as on the perimeter with Luol Deng, who many say is the best defender in the league and perfect for guarding Durant. Plus, the Bulls would have home court advantage in the Finals – a monumental advantage – thanks to their top record.

Miami Heat

Current Spot: 2nd in East

Chances of Oklahoma City winning a seven-game series: 35 percent

Why: Though Miami doesn't always know how to use it, the talent is there and it is undeniable. The Heat will always be a serious contender and probably the favorite as long as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are there and healthy. They create matchup nightmares on offense for any team. The combination of Wade, James and Chris Bosh means that one opposing defender is always going to be at a serious disadvantage. Though Sefolosha could probably hold his own against Wade, James would be too strong for Kevin Durant and too quick for Serge Ibaka. And when the Heat actually decide to play defense, they are the best in the league.

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