How high can OKC Thunder move up NBA standings in Orlando?

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the OKC Thunder drives around Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the OKC Thunder drives around Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /
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OKC Thunder huddle up during the game (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Where will the OKC Thunder finish season?

Best case scenario would be for the Thunder to take the fourth seed and hope the Jazz can retain the fifth seed.

Much could depend on how motivated both the Thunder and their opponents are to secure specific seeds. For example, the Nuggets sit 1.5 games back of the Clippers but they may feel they match up better with the other LA juggernaut – the Lakers and subsequently be willing to drop to fourth.

A key to the eight games to come in Orlando is some of the top teams may not play their superstars big minutes in the first few games electing to ease them back.

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Conversely, the bubble teams won’t take the same approach as their fate requires finishing ninth. Likewise, the Nets and Magic are separated by a half-game and may not be fearful of the Wizards closing the gap but might prefer to face the Raptors over the Bucks in the first round. That should equate to each of the Grizzlies, Nets, Magic, and six bubble teams playing desperate basketball.

To that end, of the six teams seeded second through seventh here’s how many times they’ll play the above nine squads in Orlando:

  • Clippers/Jazz/Mavericks (4)
  • Thunder (3)
  • Nuggets/Rockets (2)

Although the third seed is within reach it doesn’t behoove OKC to move up that high given it would likely mean a second-round series versus the Clippers who are their worst matchup. If the Thunder has to play the Clippers the preference would be to hold off as long as possible. It’s a pick your poison scenario since the Lakers would be the second-round opponent if they avoid the Clippers.

Obviously, OKC can only determine their own fate so they’ll have to focus on winning.  Ultimately, the OKC Thunder can do some damage in Orlando and it’s likely they move up one spot to fourth.

Look for Billy Donovan to ease Chris Paul, Steven Adams, and Danilo Gallinari back building their minutes as the club progresses through the eight games. The key will be to keep these vets healthy, regaining chemistry with emphasis on making sure their clutch time closing prowess is clicking on all cylinders.

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