Thunder Playoff Hopes Come Down to Season Finale


As the regular season is coming to a close and teams only have one or two games left on their schedule, the playoff picture is coming into form. Several teams in both conferences have clinched their playoff berth but many teams are still fighting for playoff seeding – in fact, 12 of the 17 remaining games left to play in the regular season have some type of postseason implications. The Oklahoma City Thunder, however, are fighting for their playoff lives.

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The team is 44-37 on the season, good enough to tie the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. New Orleans holds the tiebreaker against the Thunder with a 3-1 record against OKC this season. That tiebreaker was sealed when Pelicans forward Anthony Davis knocked down that double clutched 3 point buzzer beater on February 6th in OKC, which all Thunder fans remember but would also like to forget.

It was only a few short weeks ago that the Thunder held a 3.5 game lead on New Orleans for the final spot in the playoffs but now the tables have turned and the Pelicans are in control of their playoff lives as well as the Thunder’s.

It has all come down to the final day of the regular season for both teams’ respective playoff hopes.

The Thunder will play away against the Minnesota Timberwolves (16-65) on Wednesday at 8:00 P.M. ET, while the New Orleans Pelicans (44-37) will play host to the San Antonio Spurs (55-26). That game is set to tip-off at the same time as Oklahoma City’s. 

With the Thunder playing a lesser opponent in the T-Wolves, they should, if all goes right, win that game handily. The Thunder are just 3-7 in their past 10 games. They will once again be without Serge Ibaka but his return for the playoffs is optimistic. Other than Kevin Durant and Ibaka, OKC should be at full strength for this game. Russell Westbrook has continued his stellar play for well over two months now and he looks to put the team on his back once more to lead them into the playoffs. Minnesota has the worst record in the league and is on an 11-game losing streak. They will be without a majority of their roster’s talent including Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng and possibly Kevin Martin. This is a game that the Thunder should win.

The Pelicans on the other hand will have to face a Spurs team that is at full strength and that has been on a complete tear with their 11 game win streak. Most would expect San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich to rest all of his starters or at least stars like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili but instead they will likely all play in their season finale. The Spurs are fighting for seeding in the brutal Western Conference which can be very important for who they play and when. As pointed out by Ginobili, they can wind up anywhere in the final standings depending on the outcome of their last game:

The Pelicans have done pretty well as of late, winning seven of their last 10 games. The will probably be without their starting point guard, Jrue Holiday, for this matchup. They will need a near perfect game to beat the Spurs but they definitely can, having won 2-of-3 matchups this season.

Simply put, if they win, they are in.

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Whether the Pelicans or the Thunder secure the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, they will face the top-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round. Both will be sizable underdogs to the West’s best team.

Oklahoma City’s only way to make the playoffs is if they beat the Timberwolves and the Pelicans lose to the Spurs. If the Thunder win and the Pelicans win, then the Pelicans will make the playoffs because of the tie breaker. If the Thunder lose then they can not make the playoffs. The Thunder will have to win and root for the Spurs tomorrow if they want to make the playoffs.