Thunder: Looking At Potential First Round Playoff Matchups

Monday, April 4th 2016, 6:37 pm
By: Brett Coppenbarger

Unlike most seasons, the Thunder will have a semi-boring final stretch to its season as the playoffs approach in less than two weeks. Instead of trying to move up in the standings or hold off other teams,   OKC’s 53-24 record has it firmly planted as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

While the Thunder is sure it’ll be hosting a first round playoff series, Big Blue won’t know its opponent until the bottom half of the West standings sort themselves out.

Here’s a look at possible first round opponents the Thunder could face:

Portland Trailblazers

If the playoffs started today, OKC would be stuck with the daunting task of playing the Blazers (41-37) in the first round. It wouldn’t have seemed like a tough task at all before the start of the season, but Damian Lillard’s dominance and the emergence of C.J. McCollum has Portland sitting as a dangerous draw. OKC has struggled defending opposing guards throughout the season, and the duo form Portland can make it rain.

Throughout the season the Blazers have wins over the Thunder, Warriors and Cavaliers, so it’s clear they aren’t intimidated to play against some of the leagues’ best. Terry Stotts has done a phenomenal job in coaching this team up despite losing LaMarcus Aldridge last offseason, and is considered to be the coach of the year by many.

The Blazers toughest opponent to close out the season comes against the Thunder on Wednesday night, while its other three games come against three lottery teams: Sacramento, Minnesota and Denver. That leaves the chance for Portland to move up to the No. 5 spot in the West and face the Clippers in the first round instead of the Thunder.

Memphis Grizzlies

The grit and grind Grizz currently sit at the five spot in the Western conference, but that may not be the case for much longer. After a season filled with multiple injuries and a roster loaded with an interesting cast of characters, the Grizzlies appear to be plummeting down the standings.

Memphis (41-36) has lost six straight games and 10 of its last 12. The Grizzlies only have a half game lead over the Blazers for the fifth spot, so it’s starting to seem very likely that Portland does indeed take that leap in the standings with a much easier schedule to close out the season.

While the Thunder and Grizzlies have had its fair share of playoff battles in the past, a matchup in the 2016 postseason wouldn’t bolster near as much hype. Memphis is without both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley due to injury, while Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are merely shells of their old self.

Mavs or Jazz

It’s starting to appear unlikely, but there’s always the chance that either the Dallas Mavericks (39-38) or Utah Jazz (39-38) make a late season surge in the standings and get up to the No. 6 spot. Both teams are currently slated in at the No. 7 and 8 seeds, but if the Grizzlies continue this massive downfall and either the Mavs or Jazz can finish strong, it’s possible one of the two could move up in the standings.

Dallas and Utah will play each other on April 11 in Salt Lake City, and it’s likely there will be a lot on the line when the two battle it out on the second to last game of the season. While the Jazz would probably be a tougher matchup for the Thunder due to the Maverick’s recent rash of injuries, neither team would pose much of a threat in pulling off an upset.