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Predicting The Thunder's Playoff Matchup

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The Thunder has six games remaining. Just six out of 82.

And depending on the results of those six games, Oklahoma City could potentially play six different opponents in the first round.

The most likely scenario is that the Thunder holds on the No. 2 seed and plays Phoenix, Memphis or Dallas. There's also a decent chance OKC falls to the No. 2 seed and plays Golden State, Portland or possibly even Houston.

But in order to determine which team the Thunder plays, it's important to first project OKC's most-likely spot. The Thunder currently sits two games ahead of the Clippers in the loss column (the number that matters) but has to play in Los Angeles on Wednesday night.

If the Thunder can win that game, it will essentially secure the No. 2 seed. If Oklahoma City loses that, its likelihood of securing the No. 2 seed would drop to down around 60 percent. An OKC loss would still mean a one-game lead over LA, but the Thunder would have to win its remaining four games to guarantee the No. 2 seed.

So because Oklahoma City's most-likely destination is the No. 2 seed, let's take a deeper look into whom the Thunder might meet. But before that, the tiebreaker scenarios:

*Tiebreakers*

Grizzlies > Suns

Mavericks > Grizzlies

Winner of Suns @ Mavericks on April 12 will determine that tiebreaker

 

Dallas Mavericks

Record: 47-31

Four games remaining: @Jazz, vs. Spurs, @Grizzlies, vs. Suns

Odds of getting No. 7 seed: 45 percent

The leader in the clubhouse for the No. 7 spot is the Mavericks. Dallas has a half-game lead on the Suns and a 1.5-game lead on the Grizzlies. In addition, the Mavs only have to play four more games as opposed to the five which Phoenix and Memphis must play. They own the tiebreaker over Memphis and a win against the Suns in Dallas would secure the tiebreaker over both clubs.

Why Dallas might win

Dallas presents plenty of problems for the Thunder. OKC's previous two games against Dallas have ended poorly – very poorly. The Mavs has averaged 118.5 points with a 16-points-per winning margin. They have a number of 3-point threats, including Vice Carter, Jose Calderon, Devin Harris and Shawn Marion. Oh, and that Dirk Nowitzki guy is pretty good, too.

The Mavs are used to the postseason and expect to succeed. Rick Carlisle is a top-notch coach and Dallas is a tough place to play.

Why the Thunder would probably win anyway

Prior to the recent two losses, Oklahoma City has dominated the Mavs. The Thunder took 11 straight from Dallas dating back to the 2011-12 regular season. In addition, the Mavs don't play a lot of defense and teams like that rarely last long in the postseason.

There is also evidence to suggest that Dallas' previous two wins might be flukes. The Mavs shot 53 percent from the floor, 45 percent from 3-point range and 81 percent from the free throw line in those games.

In all other games, Dallas shot 47 percent from the floor, 38 percent from downtown and 79 percent from the line.

Fluke or no fluke, there's little doubt that a fully-staffed Thunder rotation will defend much more effectively in a potential postseason matchup.

Likely outcome

Thunder in 6.

 

Phoenix Suns

Record: 46-31

Five games remaining: @Pelicans, @Spurs, @Mavericks, vs. Grizzlies, @Kings

Odds of getting No. 7 seed: 25 percent

The Suns have a brutal final stretch. Four of five being away is rough, especially for a mediocre road team like Phoenix.  PHX is a game up on the Grizzlies, but considering the schedule and the fact that Memphis owns the tiebreaker, the upstart Suns might be the favorite to miss the dance.

Why the Suns might win

Similarly to the Mavericks, Phoenix has had no issues lighting up the Thunder. In fact, Oklahoma City has allowed more than 120 points in a regulation game just four times this season, but two were in Phoenix.

The Suns are a run-and-gun squad that can spread the floor and give teams problems. They have atypical big men that render Kendrick Perkins useless and force Serge Ibaka away from the rim.

This is a young team with nothing to lose that doesn't know any better – the perfect formula for a first-round upset.

Why the Thunder would probably win anyway

Also similarly to the Mavs, Phoenix's performances against Oklahoma City could easily be written off as flukes.

Take shooting guard Gerald Green for instance. Green shot a whopping 55 percent from the floor and 60 percent from the 3-point line while averaging 28.7 points against OKC this season.

His other games? Try 44 percent from the floor, 38 percent from downtown and 15.3 points per game.

Or take P.J. Tucker's recent performance. Tucker dropped 22 points on 7-9 shooting against OKC on Sunday in Phoenix, but averages just nine a game.

The Thunder's offense is steady. Durant, Westbrook and Reggie Jackson will all score. Ibaka will contribute. Caron Butler and Derek Fisher will come off the bench and contribute a few 3-balls. That will happen in every single game.

But for Phoenix, it's hard to imagine its rag-tag group of castaways keeping up that type of offensive efficiency over a seven-game series. Not to mention, their defense isn't very good.

Likely outcome

Thunder in 5.

 

Memphis Grizzlies

Record: 45-32

Five games remaining: vs. Heat, vs. 76ers, @Lakers, @Suns, vs. Mavericks

Odds of getting No. 7 seed: 30 percent

The Grizz have a couple of gimmes left (76ers, Lakers) but they're sandwiched between some rough games. Memphis' final two games against Phoenix and Dallas will likely determine its fate.

Why the Grizzlies might win

Memphis likes to slow down the pace and make its opponents hit difficult shots. The Grizzlies want to keep the game in the upper 80s to lower 90s, and have a track record of making that happen. The Thunder beat Memphis 86-77 in OKC and fell 90-87 in Memphis.

In their playoff series victory over the Thunder last season, Memphis held OKC to less than 100 points in every game and an average of just 89.6 per game. If the Grizz can dictate the tempo, the Thunder is vulnerable.

Why the Thunder would probably win anyway

Let's face it. With Westbrook in the lineup, Oklahoma City consistently has too much firepower for Memphis. Westbrook's 27 helped the Thunder cruise to a 116-100 win on Dec. 11 in Memphis. Oklahoma City scored 113 more in a Feb. 28 win at Chesapeake, with Westbrook dropping 21.

Memphis is really solid. But Courtney Lee, Nick Calathes, Tayshaun Prince, Mike Miller and James Johnson isn't a good collection of wing players, and unless a couple of them catch fire, Memphis probably won't score quite enough.

Likely outcome

Thunder in 5.

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