We hear the word "tanking" a lot this time of year in the NBA. Teams near the bottom of the standings are annually accused of not putting their best foot forward in order to improve their lottery odds in search of a high draft pick.
Is tanking immoral? Depends whom you ask. Some would say that it's OK for teams to throw fairly meaningless games in order to improve the franchise's position moving forward. Others argue that it goes against the integrity of the league.
But draft slots aren't the only reason a team might consider taking the night off this time of year. Take the Thunder's circumstances, for instance. Oklahoma City has already clinched the No. 3 playoff spot in the West, so it will await the No. 6 seed in the first round. But with just a handful of games remaining, that seed is still up for grabs. The Memphis Grizzlies (42-36) currently occupy the No. 5 spot, but the Portland Trailblazers (42-37) sit just a half game back.
So it basically comes down to which team you'd rather see.
On one hand, you have the reeling Grizzlies, which might not have anyone you've heard of healthy come playoff time. Memphis, losers of 10 of 13, is starting the likes of Chris Andersen and Jordan Farmar thanks to injuries to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. The Grizz, a formidable foe most seasons, now has "first-round sweep" written all over 'em.
On the other, you have Wednesday's opponent, the Trailblazers. Led by the dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland is healthy and surging toward the finish line. The Blazers are 31-17 since a horrific 11-20 start and have one of the toughest home-court advantages in the NBA. Case in point, OKC has lost in four of its past five trips to the Moda Center dating back to the 2013-14 season, including a 115-110 loss there back on Jan. 10.
With that said, there's two primary ways to tank a game. The first is to simply not try, which we know isn't programmed into Russell Westbrook's DNA. The second is for the coach to hold guys out. Billy Donovan has given no indication that he will rest anyone on Wednesday, but it might not be the worst idea.
Bottom line: A Portland win on Wednesday would greatly enhance the odds of OKC dodging the dangerous Blazers in the opening round. Not that the Thunder wouldn't beat either opponent, but why make it harder than it has to be?