NBA Playoff Bracket 2012: Why Oklahoma City Thunder Are Lock for NBA Finals

Thad NovakCorrespondent IApril 26, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 06:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder dunks the ball during the NBA game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 6, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The last few seeding details will be determined later tonight, but with the NBA playoffs about to get underway, Oklahoma City is locked in as the No. 2 seed in the West. Just because they aren’t at the top of the bracket doesn’t mean that the Thunder won't be representing the West by the time the NBA Finals come around.

The likeliest scenario has Oklahoma City facing the defending champion Mavs in the first round, but this is far from the same Dallas team that beat Miami last June. No player has shown that decline more sharply than 39-year-old Jason Kidd, whose scoring (6.2 points per game) and assists (5.5 a night) are at their lowest levels of his storied career.

Considering that Kidd is going to be stuck matching up with All-Star Russell Westbrook, it’s hard to see that series ending well for the Mavs.

OKC’s second-round opponent would then be the winner of a Lakers-Nuggets series, with neither team likely to pose much of a threat. L.A. has playoff experience but wouldn’t be able to run with the deeper Thunder for a seven-game series. Denver—which can match Oklahoma City’s depth—doesn’t have the star power to handle Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

Even in the Western Conference Finals, where either the playoff-tested Spurs or the up-and-coming Grizzlies would likely await, the Thunder would have the edge.

Memphis still wouldn’t have home-court advantage—which killed them in last year’s seven-game thriller against the Thunder. Surviving two rounds of more athletic opponents would leave the aging Spurs—particularly 36-year-old Tim Duncan—without much gas in the tank for the fleet-footed OKC lineup.

Once they get to the NBA Finals, all bets are off in a potential Thunder meeting with either Miami or Chicago, either of whom would have a fine chance to take home the title—even against Durant and his mates. Before then, the matchups just don’t give any of OKC’s opponents a good chance at stopping the Thunder from winning the West.