Will OKC Make the Playoffs?
*Photo via Getty images
Today was a tough loss for the Thunder , against the Houston Rockets. They never got a good lead in the game, and in the end a lack of clutch defense took away their chances to win the game when it got close. You can't blame Westbrook for the loss; he did miss crucial free-throws at the end of the game. But he also put up another triple-double, and it would be hard for me to blame a loss on a player who has to do almost everything for this team.
The biggest part of the Thunder losing to the Rockets today was the fact that now New Orleans is only a half-game behind for the final spot in the playoffs. The Thunder have gone 1-5 in their last six games, while New Orleans have gone 4-2 in the same span. Just last week, the Thunder even had the chance to maybe sneak up to the seventh seed and take it away from the Mavericks. But losing to the Mavericks on April 1st, then losing to Memphis and Houston after that, has taken away any chance the Thunder had of trying to move up out of the eighth seed. Now at this point the Thunder are just trying to make the playoffs.
The momentum is in the Pelicans favor, because simply they are winning games and the Thunder aren't. Let's look at both of the teams remaining games to see how they will do:
The Thunder have five games left: San Antonio, Sacramento, Indiana, Portland, and Minnesota. It is safe to say the Thunder will win against Sacramento and Minnesota, and let's say they beat Indiana also. Since the Thunder haven't beaten a Western Conference playoff team since their Feb. 19th , a win against Dallas, it's not a far stretch to say that the Thunder lose to both San Antonio and Portland. That will give the Thunder a 45-37 record. The #7 seed Mavericks are 46-31, so even if Dallas looses out they will more than likely keep their #7 seed.
The Pelicans have a much tougher schedule in their last six games: Golden State, Memphis, Phoenix, Houston, Minnesota, and San Antonio. Minnesota is an easy win, and Phoenix is a toss-up. If they can pull out a win against Phoenix, it will bring their record to 43-35. They would need two more wins to tie the projected Thunder record of 45-37. The games against Golden State and Houston are almost guaranteed losses, bringing New Orleans to 43-37, two games back. They have beaten Memphis twice already, so they could possibly win that one. That just leaves the final game of the year against San Antonio, which New Orleans has also won twice against. If New Orleans beats Minnesota and Phoenix, and two out of four playoff teams, they would get a 45-37 record, resulting in a tie with my projected Thunder record 45-37.
New Orleans would win the tie-breaker because they have won the head-to-head matchup against the Thunder three games to one. Since New Orleans only needs to play for a tie, it would seem they have a better chance to get into the playoffs than the Thunder. But it's going to be a close race for two teams that can't afford to slip now. Unfortunately, the Thunder no longer control their own destiny as they did a week ago, the Pelicans do now. If both the Thunder and Pelicans win out, they will have the same 47-35 record, in which the Pelicans would win the tie-breaker. I would say the Thunder entire playoff hopes comes down to if they can win against Indiana. If they do, they force the Pelicans to have to beat Phoenix and two high caliber playoff teams. The last time New Orleans beat a playoff team at all was the Milwaukee Bucks almost a month ago; a Bucks team who currently don't even have a winning record.
It might be simplifying the entire playoff race too much to say the Thunder game against Indiana will decide these two teams’ fates, but I believe that is how the cards are going to fall. And do I think that the Thunder will beat the Pacers? Yes. The Thunder will beat the Pacers, and the Pelicans will not be able to win enough games against high quality teams to catch up. But make no mistake: while the Pelicans can afford to drop a game or two in the next two weeks, the Thunder cannot.