Oklahoma City Thunder: Talking Possible First-Round Playoff Opponents

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Russell Westbrook
March 14, 2016: Portland Trail Blazers Guard Damian Lillard (0) looks for a pass while Oklahoma City Thunder Guard Russell Westbrook (0) plays defense at the Chesapeake Energy Arena (Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire) (Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)
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In the annual playoff logjam, the Oklahoma City Thunder have found themselves in the middle of it all. Currently the fifth seed in the Western Conference, the Thunder are just half-a-game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the fourth seed. They are also just three games from falling out of the playoffs entirely. The Thunder can clinch their spot in the postseason tonight with a win against the Golden State Warriors and a Denver Nuggets loss. Oklahoma City controls their own destiny in terms of playoff seeding and can land anywhere from third to ninth place in the West.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Talking Possible First-Round Playoff Opponents

San Antonio Spurs

If the season ended today, the Thunder would face up the Spurs, most likely without Kawhi Leonard in the first round. The Spurs have been led this season by LaMarcus Aldridge who made his sixth all-star appearance this year. Aldridge has carried much of San Antonio’s offensive load during Leonard’s absence and if they are going to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, expect Aldridge to control the game early and often for the Spurs. This would present a challenge for the Thunder in the first round, but expect OKC’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony to lead the Thunder out of the first round in 6-7 games, assuming Leonard does not play.

Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers have had a great season, led by Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. In this scenario, the Thunder would likely fall to the sixth seed, where they would meet the three-seeded Trail Blazers in the first round. If these two teams match up, expect a competitive series. It also could get chippy real quick. Russell Westbrook has a history with both Lillard and Trail Blazers big man, Jusuf Nurkic. Whichever team can maintain their home-court advantage will play a large factor in determining the winner of this series.

Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz are just half a game behind the Thunder in the playoff race right now, which means that each team’s final regular season games will be crucial to their seeding in this match-up. It would most likely mean the Thunder finish in fourth place in the West, and the Jazz finish in fifth. Donovan Mitchell will obviously play a key role for the Jazz. Mitchell is only a rookie, but he has led Utah back to the playoffs this season. The Rookie of the Year candidate has become the leader of the team. In order for the Jazz to advance against the Thunder, they will need to see strong contributions from Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder, and Joe Ingles.

Conclusion

The Oklahoma City Thunder will have a variety of teams they could play in the first round of the playoffs. They have a very strong core of players that have high expectations for their team this season. The Thunder will most likely emerge from the first round of the playoffs, unless they face the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets. Although it is unlikely the Thunder will play one of these teams in the first round, it is possible. What happens in the playoffs could have heavy implications on the Thunder’s off-season. A first-round exit could definitely cause Paul George or Carmelo Anthony to leave in free agency. However, if they were to win a series against one of these teams, it could be a harder situation to walk away from. Ultimately, no other team has more riding on this season’s playoffs than the Thunder.

 

Main Photo:

March 14, 2016: Portland Trail Blazers Guard Damian Lillard (0) looks for a pass while Oklahoma City Thunder Guard Russell Westbrook (0) plays defense at the Chesapeake Energy Arena (Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire) (Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)

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