Ranking the Top 5 Oklahoma City Thunder Games to Watch in April
The San Antonio Spurs still sit atop the Western Conference and are benefiting from a returning Tony Parker. However, the Thunder have the chance to make a final push to secure home-court advantage for possibly the the entire postseason.
Aside from their own ambitions, the Thunder will encounter other teams jostling for playoff positions, as well as teams looking to sneak into the postseason.
As you can imagine, this month will hold a lot of importance, and OKC will be holding nothing back, so let's highlight a few important games coming up to close out the regular season.
5. At Portland Trail Blazers: Apr. 12
While Rip City may be just out of reach of a postseason berth this year, the player matchups between these teams are rather enticing.
Russell Westbrook will be facing off against rookie sensation Damian Lillard, and Kevin Durant will be battling against a fellow lengthy wing in Nicolas Batum. If that's not enough, there's sure to be some great play between the blocks, with Serge Ibaka guarding one of the best power forwards in the league, LaMarcus Aldridge.
Don't underestimate the Blazers' desire to get their shots in against a Western Conference power to try to give themselves some momentum going into the offseason. This game will be anything but a breeze for Oklahoma City, especially in a potentially loud environment in Portland. However, I think Durant and the crew will get things done and come out on top.
Prediction: Oklahoma City 101, Portland 90
4. At Utah Jazz: Apr. 9
Speaking of hostile environments, there are few places in the league tougher to visit than the Utah Jazz's home court.
Unlike the Blazers, the Jazz are very much in the hunt for a playoff spot and will be playing some inspired basketball if it means keeping the Lakers out of that eighth seed.
Utah has lost two out of three games against Oklahoma City this season, but its sole victory came at home with a rather convincing advantage of 15 points. Now that the season is really getting down to the crucial stages, the Jazz could consider this a winnable game knowing that they've beaten the Thunder this season already.
Though I foresee a hard-fought, probably even ugly, game for the Thunder against a scrappy Jazz team, I definitely see them stealing one late in the contest and coming out of Utah with their hands raised.
Prediction: Oklahoma City 99, Utah 97
3. At Indiana Pacers: Apr. 5
It's been a somewhat rocky year for the Pacers, who've had to deal with a lingering injury to one of their top scorers in Danny Granger, but they've still managed to do well enough to work their way into a No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Barring some sort of Miami Heat meltdown (pun intended) in the playoffs, this will probably be the last time the Thunder will face the Pacers this season.
In the one contest between these teams this year, OKC made fairly easy work of Indiana with an 11-point win.
Though there's no real history or tangible storylines going on for these two (besides the question of whether Nick Collison or Tyler Hansbrough will tally the most hustle plays), we should expect to see a rather quality ball game between two very good teams. Above all, seeing budding Pacers star Paul George would be worth the price of admission, no matter what team you're rooting for.
This game may not be the most exciting, but it will still be a game to watch, as the Thunder start to warm themselves up for the elite type of talent that they'll be faced with on a nightly basis in the postseason.
Prediction: Oklahoma City 105, Indiana 100
2. At Golden State Warriors: Apr. 11
Sticking with the theme of "tough games to win on the road," this contest will surely be no different.
The Warriors have been sort of inconsistent this season, looking like a possible contender at times and looking very sloppy and disorganized at other times. With big games like this, however, the Dubs tend to look like the former.
OKC has two wins against Golden State this season, and the Thunder scored 119 points in both of those wins. That being said, defense will not be a prominent feature in this contest since both teams are very capable of lighting up the scoreboard.
Golden State doesn't have much of a chance to move up past the sixth seed in the playoff picture, but they certainly don't want to fall down any further with the heightened risk of a first-round elimination. Therefore, I believe this team will rise to the occasion to make a statement with the start of the playoffs just over a week after this contest.
Prediction: Golden State 121, Oklahoma City 117
1. Versus San Antonio Spurs: Apr. 4
As the only home game on this list, it's certainly also (by far) the most important game the Thunder will play in the month of April.
While it'd be nice for the Thunder to catch the Spurs and lock up the top seed in the West, it's even more important that they get a good feel for their biggest threat against defending their conference-champion crown.
These two teams made for a pretty entertaining playoff series last year and will most likely face off once more this season in the Western Conference Finals. Therefore, this regular-season game is a perfect opportunity for head coach Scott Brooks to really find the right angle of attack against a very tough, fundamentally sound and well-coached Spurs team.
Brooks has the chance to experiment with lineups and rotations to see which players are most effective against a well-rounded team. This may hurt the Thunder in the small picture of this game (and I believe it will), but they will definitely benefit from some early preparation against a team poised to dominate in the postseason.
Prediction: San Antonio 93, Oklahoma City 87