Top-seeded Thunder looking to playoffs
OKLAHOMA CITY – With a game to go in the regular season, the Thunder clinched the top spot in the Western Conference.
And with a game to go in the regular season – Wednesday at home against Milwaukee – we can end all the what-if conversation and speculation of whether this team will earn the No. 1 seed.
Oklahoma City beat Sacramento Monday night 104-95 and now the next step is figuring out who OKC will take on in the first round of the playoffs. All of that will come to be Wednesday.
The next step after that is immediately discarding the information.
Because whether it’s the Lakers or the Jazz or even the Rockets, it won’t matter.
None of those teams will give the Thunder a series, and there’s no reason to give those teams a chance.
The top spot is meaningful. The Thunder have yet to earn it since coming to Oklahoma City. And the regular season has been a success for the Thunder. They won 60 games for the first time since relocating. Amazing accomplishments, both of them.
“It feels good,” forward Kevin Durant said of taking the top spot and winning 60 games. “But we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ve never done it before, so it’s new to us, but it feels good and it shows our progression as a franchise each and every year.”
And home-court advantage is a big deal.
Just not yet.
Neither the Lakers, the Jazz or the Rockets are going to extend the Thunder to a glad-we’ve-got-a-home-game situation. Neither the Lakers, the Jazz or the Rockets are really capable of extending the Thunder past about five games.
All three teams will be in action Wednesday, including the Rockets playing the Lakers, so there’s a lot to be decided. If the Jazz win and the Lakers lose, Oklahoma City would take on Utah in the first round. If the Jazz lose and the Lakers win, the Thunder get the Rockets in the first round. If the Jazz and Lakers both lose, the Thunder plays the Lakers and if the Jazz and the Lakers both win, Oklahoma City gets Houston.
All interesting. None of it matters.
The Thunder’s problems this season have come against the elite of the NBA – the Spurs, Heat, Grizzlies,Nuggets – not the ones scrambling to get into the playoffs.
The Rockets have overachieved and they have scoring phenom James Harden and a nice storyline. But the Rockets can’t stop anyone (28th in points allowed), including the Thunder. Oklahoma City is 2-1 against Houston this season, has scored 120, 124 and 119 points in the three games. Even if the Thunder can’t solve Houston’s Harden, they won’t have any issue outscoring the Rockets.
Oklahoma City is 3-1 against Utah, losing at the Jazz in February. Utah has a strong inside presence with Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap, but just this month, the Thunder outrebounded the Jazz – the leading rebounding team in the league – by more than 20. Hard to imagine Utah being able to win a single game in Oklahoma City.
Then, there’s the Lakers. Even if healthy, Los Angeles had little success defending Oklahoma City. The Thunder went 2-1 against the Lakers, and that was with a healthy Kobe Bryant. Without Bryant, the Lakers will depend on Dwight Howard and an injured Steve Nash, certainly a dangerous combination, especially when Pau Gasol contributes, but the Lakers didn’t stop the Thunder a season ago in the Western semifinals and will have even less of a chance of doing it now.
Earning home court advantage is worth celebrating, but not yet. Not necessary.
“It’s great,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “You go into the season and you set some goals. We’re like all the other teams in this league. We want to strive for excellence and we want to continue to improve both ends of the floor. We’re hard on ourselves and each player is hard on himself, myself included. To get 60 wins is quite an accomplishment. We’ve come a long ways through the hard work our entire organization has put in. It’s always about the team first, and we have many members of the team that are so important. It’s not just about the players, but it’s our staff and everyone in our building. The business and training site are committed to getting there every day, and it’s paid off. Sixty wins is a quite an accomplishment and not many teams get that.”
Wednesday will be a walk-through against Milwaukee. Durant and Russell Westbrook will play, but probably not much.The night will be a celebration for a successful season.
But the real celebration won’t come until later, and may not come at all. Only if Oklahoma gets to a game 7.
And that’s certainly not going to be the case in the first round.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter @theandrewgilman