On Pardon The Interruption yesterday, a universal truth was verbalized on the hallowed airwaves of ESPN: Oklahoma City is making the playoffs. Though our own Daniel Zimmermann conjectured that Phoenix and New Orleans positioned themselves to contend for the final spot, the A+ trade (Korey Burdman’s words, not mine) to acquire Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler, D.J. Augustin, and Steve Novak positioned them to confidently assure fans of yet another playoff appearance. John Hollinger’s NBA Playoff Odds give them a 74.5% chance of the postseason; in other words, barring catastrophe, OKC will hold off Phoenix and New Orleans for that final playoff spot. The question then becomes: What next?
The most likely scenario is the 8-seeded Thunder taking on the NBA’s overall number-one seed, the Golden State Warriors. We’ve seen a generous amount of 8-over-1 upsets and close calls this decade, and assuming this matchup results otherwise would be both naïve logistically and sad for the NBA looking to immediately entice fans. For a healthy Thunder squad, this would be a dream match-up. Though they’re 1-3 on the season versus Golden State, the last match-up, in which Russell Westbrook dropped one of the few 15-15-15 games in history, was the most indicative of the post-trade Thunder team. Golden State’s defense is favorable for Russ and KD to explode offensively, and the astounding depth of their new bench bodes well for a presumed lengthy series. If the squad develops the necessary chemistry over the season’s back third, chalk up OKC moving on to the Conference Semifinals.
From there, Portland or Houston most likely comes next. Both teams have given the Thunder trouble over the course of the season, but their revamped line-up and a healthy leading duo provide much greater potential than the other two teams. Plus, despite their relative youth, crucial playoff experience still errs to Oklahoma City’s side. Look for this series to feature the bench players heavily, and Serge Ibaka to be a decisive factor. Best-case scenario? A trip to the Conference Finals, where the scariest team for all Thunder fans should await: the Memphis Grizzlies. Trying not to shudder at the thought, the Memphis Grizzlies represent the greatest threat to Oklahoma City’s chances at hoisting the ever-elusive title this season. Yes, I said it. With the break-up of the Heat to the astounding playoff inexperience of the league’s top teams relative to OKC, overcoming the stingy defense of Memphis will be their toughest task. If they manage to do so, they will certainly capture the NBA Title for the West once again.
Speculating on a playoff gauntlet months down the road surely leads to incessant guessing. But in the one league where seeding most often determines first round success at the top and bottom numerals, sometimes eschewing the norm is possible. Only, of course, if your 8-seed has 1-seed talent.