The NBA Playoffs are beginning today. The Oklahoma City Thunder won’t play their first game vs. the Houston Rockets until tomorrow night at 9:30 p.m. EST.
The Thunder wound up with the top seed in the Western Conference which means their road to the NBA Finals should be as easy as possible.
With the West so deep and talented this year, every game is likely to be a pretty big challenge for OKC. If they’re going to make it to the Finals again this year, it wouldn’t hurt if some things go their way.
Here is the perfect possible scenario for the Thunder in the playoffs:
Many are calling the Rockets one of the more talented eight-seeds in recent history. While that may be true, this matchup is more one of those where you throw the records out. It is about James Harden vs. the Thunder.
The best case scenario is if this series goes just like Harden’s first game against his former team. Harden really struggled in that game and the Thunder blocked his shot seven times.
I have a feeling we are going to see something close to that in the first round. The pressure will really be on Harden and it is unlikely that he has one of the super efficient games that he totally dominates.
The Thunder should dominate the first two games at home then maybe Houston gets one big game out of Harden at home and a win. The Thunder should win this one easily in five.
If the Thunder advance, they will be playing the winner of the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers. As you can see, the road will already get extremely difficult for OKC by round two.
Who do the Thunder want to see out of these two?
I’m going with the Clippers. The Grizzlies could really hurt the Thunder inside and their defense is among the best in the league. Harden was always extremely valuable for the Thunder when playing Memphis and they needed him to get by them.
Russell Westbrook always struggles against Memphis and any team that Westbrook struggles with is very bad news for the Thunder in these playoffs.
The Clippers of course have Chris Paul but other than that they really have a lot of problems. Their depth that looked like such an advantage earlier in the season won’t be one in the playoffs.
Their offense becomes very stagnant and predictable at times and the Thunder really shouldn’t have any issue containing them.
This one is close but the Thunder will be better off if it’s the Clippers they see in the second round.
Obviously, the best case scenario for the Thunder in the Conference Finals would be if they somehow see the Los Angeles Lakers there.
That is a very long shot so let’s not waste our time on that dream scenario. The two teams really with the best chance of getting to the Conference Finals are the San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets.
Even though Manu Ginobili is not totally healthy and the Thunder have gotten past the Spurs before, the Nuggets would be the more favorable matchup here.
The Danilo Gallinari injury adds to this but even though the Nuggets have had success against the Thunder this season, I’ve always loved this matchup for OKC. The main reason is that Denver really doesn’t have anyone who can check Kevin Durant.
The most important thing for the Thunder if they are going to win a title is to have Durant playing at the highest level possible. The next closes important thing is Westbrook doing the same.
The Spurs would be able to contain those two even if the Thunder are able to win the series. Against Denver, you know KD and Russ are going to go off. Serge Ibaka probably would too.
If the Thunder are going to have any chance of winning the title, they would love to have Durant coming off a Western Conference Finals in which he averaged 35 a game while shooting lights out. And a series where Westbrook was throwing up near triple-doubles every game.
I think that could be the case if it’s the Thunder and Nuggets in the WCF.
Now, the Spurs probably have something to say about this and I do think they are most likely the team OKC will see at this point.
The Spurs will be a tougher test and a series that will probably go seven games. The Thunder should be able to pull it out though with home court.
There’s no sense wasting time here pretending like anyone other than the Miami Heat is coming out of the East.
The key for the Thunder to take down Miami is for them to really grow up in the series before. They’re going to need to do that this year even to make the Finals. Getting there for the second straight year and seeing Miami again, you have to like the Thunder’s chances better than last year.
The problem against Miami for the Thunder is that the Heat will go small and OKC won’t be able to matchup. The best chance for the Thunder is Kendrick Perkins (and Derek Fisher) going down with an injury sometime in the WCF that will keep them sidelined for the Finals.
Hopefully, the Thunder will go to war against Miami with these guys: KD, Russ, Ibaka, Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Reggie Jackson.
Those eight guys could hang with the Heat in small ball lineups. The Thunder will have to outscore them and hope they are able to take away the three-point shot.
I actually like that the Thunder won’t have home court in this series. Getting those three games in a row at home in the middle of the series is an advantage in a lot of cases.
The pressure will be off the Thunder to win one of the first two in Miami. If they can steal one then going home for three in a row will be huge.
Everything will have to go the Thunder’s way to beat the Heat. Martin and Ibaka will have to shoot lights out and Westbrook will have to be a point guard getting a lot of assists and keeping the turnovers down.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves now with all of this talk. Now it’s time to just focus on the Rockets tomorrow night and go from there.