Toby Predicts the Thunder's Playoff Future

Thursday, May 26th 2011, 12:12 pm
By: News On 6

Originally Published: Feb 10, 2011 10:14 PM CDT

Toby Rowland
Oklahoma Sports Anchor/Reporter

OKLAHOMA CITY -- With the All-Star game approaching and there are just 31 games to go in the regular season, it's not too early for Thunder fans to start thinking about the playoffs.

So who will OKC most likely meet in Round 1? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

The Thunder currently sits in 4th place in the West at 33-18, two games back of the Lakers, two-and-a-half ahead of the Hornets.

The big question: Can the Thunder overtake the Lakers?

The good news, Oklahoma City has the toughest part of their schedule in their rear view mirror. The Thunder has played the second-toughest schedule in the entire NBA so far this season. By comparison, the Lakers have played the 28th-toughest schedule out of 30 teams.

From here to the wire the roles reverse.

OKC has the easiest schedule in the Western Conference the rest of the way according to opponents win percentage. Nineteen off the Thunder's final 31 games are against teams that currently have losing records.

The Lakers, however, have the toughest schedule remaining in the West.

Twenty of their final 30 games are against teams with winning records. In fact, the Nuggets, Jazz and Hornets all have significantly more difficult schedules down the stretch than the Thunder.

How about home and away games? Comparable. The Thunder plays 15 of its remaining games in the OKC Arena and 16 on the road. The Lakers have 14 home games in the Staples Center, 16 on the road.

So what is the most likely scenario?

Let’s not forget the Lakers are the two-time defending champs, in addition to having Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson. It could be a tight fit, but the most likely scenario is the Lakers hold off the Thunder and OKC finishes as the four-seed in the West.

Our projection: a 1st-round series against the 5th-seeded New Orleans Hornets.

As for the rest of the West, this could get really interesting. We'll go Spurs, Mavs, Lakers and Thunder up top. Jerry Sloan is out in Utah and Carmelo will likely be gone in Denver. Don't be surprised if the Jazz and Nuggets both get jumped by the Memphis Grizzlies, a young team that is starting to hit its stride.