OKC Thunder: Fifth seed in the West up for grabs
The Thunder hosts the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night, and if the Thunder wins, it passes Dallas in the Western Conference standings and gets right on the heels of the Houston Rockets.
Dallas and Houston each is 28-17, with the Mavs holding the tiebreaker at this point. The Thunder is a game back at 28-19.
Getting into the top four of the West seems unlikely for any of the trio – fourth-place Denver is 32-14, 3-1/2 games ahead of the Rockets and Mavs.
And truthfully, the difference between 5-7 is not much, because we don’t know how the West standings will fall 2-4. The Nuggets, Jazz and Clippers all figure to finish in a bunch for those positions.
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But still, climbing into sixth place or challenging for fifth would be a monumental achievement for a Thunder team picked to win somewhere in the 30s for the entire season and finish out of the playoff race.
And the Thunder does not have the toughest remaining schedule. Houston has a more difficult finishing slate than does either OKC or Dallas.
Here are some scheduling comparisons among the Thunder, Rockets and Mavericks.
OKC has 35 games remaining; 17 at home and 18 on the road.
Dallas has 37 games remaining; 17 at home and 20 on the road.
Houston has 37 games remaining; 19 at home and 18 on the road.
Slight advantage to Houston, slight disadvantage to Dallas.
Strength of opponents
The NBA has a clear distinction this season: 13 teams have winning records, and of that group, only the Thunder (28-19, .596) is below a .600 winning percentage. After that, the best winning percentage belongs to 22-24 Memphis (.478). That’s more than 100 points difference. So it’s easy to make a divide between the Thunder and Grizzlies.
OKC has 14 games remaining against winning-record teams and 21 games remaining against losing-record teams.
Dallas 14 games remaining against winning-record teams and 21 games remaining against losing-record teams.
Houston has 16 games remaining against winning-record teams and 21 games remaining against losing-record teams.
Slight advantage to Dallas, disadvantage to Houston.
Strength of schedule
We can break down the schedule even more. Road games against winning teams are the most difficult to win. Home games against losing teams are the easiest to win.
OKC has 10 home games remaining against losing teams and seven road games remaining against winning teams. If you give the Thunder a victory for each of the former, a defeat for each of the latter and split the remainder, the Thunder would finish with a record of 47-35.
Dallas has nine home games remaining against losing teams and six road games remaining winning teams. If you give the Mavs a 9-6 record in those games, plus splitting its remainder, Dallas would finish with a record of 48-34.
Houston has 14 home games remaining against losing teams and 10 road games remaining against winning teams. If you give the Rockets a 14-8 record in those games, plus splitting its remainder, Houston would finish with a record of 48.5-33.5.
And that makes some sense. The Rockets have the most easy games left – 14 home games against teams with losing records. The Thunder has just 10 of those games; Dallas has only nine.
So that’s how I’ll pick the finish: Houston, Dallas, OKC, in a tight fit.
But it looks to be quite a chase for the Western Conference’s fifth seed.