We broke down exactly what the Western Conference playoff picture looks like with nine days left in the regular season, and while there’s still plenty to be determined in terms of overall seeding, it’s become clear that the final playoff spot is coming down to a two-team race.
The Thunder currently hold a half-game lead over the Pelicans, but New Orleans holds the tie-breaker — which means that for the first time in franchise history, OKC does not control its fate with regard to gaining entrance into the postseason.
Here’s what we do know: the Thunder enters Tuesday’s game against San Antonio with a half game lead on New Orleans, but the Pelicans are tied in the loss column and own the tiebreaker. In other words, OKC does not control its own destiny.
It’s the first time that’s happened in the Thunder’s seven-year history.
If the Pelicans win out, the Thunder goes home. If the Pelicans go 5-1, the Thunder needs to go 5-0. If the Pelicans go 4-2, the Thunder needs to go 4-1. If the Pelicans go 3-3, the Thunder needs to go 3-2. If the Pelicans go 2-4, the Thunder needs to go 2-3. And if the Pelicans go 1-5, the Thunder would need to win just once in the final five games to make the postseason for the sixth straight season.
The Thunder are in this position because of injuries, obviously — primarily the one that limited Kevin Durant to appearing in just 27 games this season.
What this shows more than anything is how incredibly fortunate the people in Oklahoma City have been. They inherited a franchise loaded with young superstar talent, and only had to endure a single season of growing pains, while making the postseason and contending for a title essentially ever since.