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Best and Worst Case Playoff Opponents for the Oklahoma City Thunder

Ricky FrechCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2013

Best and Worst Case Playoff Opponents for the Oklahoma City Thunder

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    As we inch closer and closer to the NBA All-Star break, the playoff picture becomes clearer and we begin to see which teams the Oklahoma City Thunder might match up with in the NBA's second season.

    This Thunder team is an offensive juggernaut and could very well end up with the best record in the West.

    In fact, they've looked like the best team in the NBA quite a few teams this season, with eight wins by more than 20 points.

    However, there are a few teams the Thunder would rather not see in the playoffs; just as there are teams that have Kevin Durant and Co. licking their chops in anticipation of playing them.

    Which teams represent the best- and worst-case playoff opponents for the Thunder? Read on to find out.

Best Case: Los Angeles Lakers

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    The Los Angeles Lakers may have won the most recent matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but that doesn't mean they don't represent one of the teams OKC would most like to play in the postseason.

    The biggest positive for the Thunder here is that Russell Westbrook gets to take on Steve Nash, who will have a tough time defending the explosive Westbrook, especially considering Nash's advanced age (turning 39 on Feb. 7).

    In fact, one could argue that Westbrook could be a more important factor in this game than star teammate Kevin Durant.

    In the three games of this matchup so far this season, Westbrook scored 27-plus points in both of OKC's wins, while only managing 17 points on 6-of-22 shooting in the recent loss.

    Durant has been steadily great in all three matchups, dropping at least 35 points in every contest.

    Obviously, Durant has been spectacular, but it would seem that the team needs Westbrook to perform well to beat the Lakers.

    The other big positive for OKC is that Thabo Sefolosha has proven to be one of the better "Kobe-stoppers" in the league (via Darnell Mayberry of NewsOK).

    Kobe has seemingly changed up his game (via Huffington Post) slightly in recent weeks, but you have to like the Thunder's chances with Sefolosha pestering Bryant into bad shots.

    The one reason to be a little wary of this possible series is the Lakers' big men, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.

    The Thunder has some quality size of its own. However, if either Gasol or Howard get hot in the series, they have a chance of turning this into a winnable matchup for the Lakers.

    Because of that, this matchup is lower down on the list of "best-case" matchups.

Worst Case: Memphis Grizzlies

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    In all likelihood, the Oklahoma City Thunder would be able to take care of the Memphis Grizzlies, just like they have in the past.

    However, a series win against the Griz isn't going to be easy, by any stretch of the imagination.

    The Grizzlies are one of the toughest teams in the league and aren't afraid to get physical with their opposition.

    Zach Randolph in particular could make life difficult for the Thunder, as long as he isn't traded in the next few weeks (via The Examiner).

    Without Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies probably won't be able to stand up to OKC for an entire seven-game series, as they lack the offensive firepower to keep up with the Thunder for that long.

    That said, they would enforce their will physically and make the Thunder play a grueling five- or six-game series that would likely wear Durant and Co. down.

    We saw this happen in 2011, when Memphis forced the Thunder into a long, seven game series that left the team gassed.

    This led to a tired Oklahoma City team struggling in the Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, losing in five games.

    The Thunder doesn't want that to happen again and, for that reason, they don't want to play Memphis.

Best Case: Golden State Warriors

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    The Golden State Warriors present an interesting match up for the Oklahoma City Thunder, because, like OKC, they're at their best when speeding the game up and scoring lots of points.

    However, that plays directly into Oklahoma City's hand because the Thunder lead the league in points per game at 105.7 (Golden State is seventh with 100.9).

    In addition, the Warriors don't really have anyone that can stop Kevin Durant.

    Their starting small forward is Harrison Barnes and, while a solid player in his own right, does the rookie really have any hope of standing up to Durant in the playoffs?

    I don't think so.

    Add in an injury-prone star in Stephen Curry (via BR's Dan Favale), as well as a young team that hasn't seen the playoffs in five seasons, and you have a team that the Thunder should beat.

    The Warriors ability to score is going to allow them to grab a few games in a playoff series, but as long as they don't get 2007 hot, when they upset the No. 1-seeded Dallas Mavericks, this should be a relatively easy series for the Thunder to win. 

Worst Case: San Antonio Spurs

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    The San Antonio Spurs are a well-oiled machine that just wins, regardless of the situation.

    The Spurs are 9-1 over the past 10 games, giving them a one-game lead on the Oklahoma City Thunder for the top spot in the Western Conference and the entire NBA's best record.

    The biggest reason San Antonio could give the Thunder fits is that they boast one of the deepest and best benches in the NBA.

    As shown by hoopstats.com, the Spurs have the No. 2 bench in the league in terms of point differential, which means the bench is outscoring opposing teams by 10 points a game and letting the aging stars rest more often.

    The Thunder, on the other hand, has the No. 14-rated bench.

    Oklahoma City holds a slight edge with their starters because of the emergence of Serge Ibaka as a legitimate offensive threat and the continued dominance of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    However, in a seven-game series, depth becomes very important, especially late in the playoffs.

    Oklahoma City must end this series quickly, or fall victim to the Spurs' depth and veteran experience.

Best Case: Houston Rockets

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    Talk about a dream matchup for Oklahoma City Thunder fans.

    I mean, getting to see your team go up against the guy who refused to sacrifice money for the team and was then dealt to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and some draft picks, would be gratifying.

    James Harden's decision to reject the Thunder's final proposal and not sign a franchise-friendly contract like Serge Ibaka led to him being traded.

    Harden doesn't really seem to be hated by the OKC faithful, but that doesn't mean a victory over his team in this year's playoffs wouldn't be oh so sweet.

    Granted, the Thunder players don't seem to have a problem with Harden, but you know they'd give it their all and feed off the crowd's energy in trying to beat down the Rockets.

    In addition, this is a very winnable series for the Thunder.

    No one on the Rockets' roster has a chance of slowing down Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook should have a field day playing against Jeremy Lin, who's been in a slump for much of the season.

    Houston, much like the Golden State Warriors, can put the ball in the hoop, so it's likely they would get hot and win a game or two.

    However, a Thunder victory here is only a question of: How many games will it take?

Worst Case: Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Oklahoma City Thunder may be 2-0 against the Los Angeles Clippers so far, but that doesn't mean the Clippers aren't the team most likely to upset OKC in this year's playoffs.

    L.A.'s Chris Paul is one of the few point guards in the league who can hang with Russell Westbrook. The Clippers also have an answer to Serge Ibaka's athleticism in Blake Griffin.

    They also employ a trio of small forwards who won't shut down Kevin Durant, but tire out the scoring champ out.

    Add in Jamal Crawford's ability to light it up off the bench, as well as the best bench in the NBA (per hoopsstats.com), and you have a roster built to stop the Thunder.

    In fact, if Chris Paul is able to recover from injury in a timely manner and get back to being the NBA's best point guard quickly, this is a team that could make a run at the No. 1 seed and steal home court advantage from the Thunder.

    Obviously, the game isn't played on paper and no matter how good the Clippers' roster is; we won't know what's going to happen until the two teams meet.

    That said, Thunder fans would like nothing more than for Lob City to be knocked off before they can go up against OKC in the playoffs.

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