The Oklahoma City Thunder franchise has waited five years for another postseason appearance, only to put itself in danger of a quick exit.
In their last game before starting a series against the Western Conference’s best team, the Thunder look to end their struggles as they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
A playoff berth can do wonders for the confidence of a young team such as Oklahoma City (49-32). The franchise will make its first appearance since the 2004-05 season, when it was still based in Seattle.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” coach Scott Brooks told the Thunder’s official Web site. “It’s a great opportunity for us to go out and compete. We feel that if we compete and leave everything out on the floor we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Oklahoma City’s opportunity, though, may not last long. The Thunder are the eighth seed and will face the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Oklahoma City had a chance to finish as high as sixth in the West, but it struggled over the past week, losing four of five. The Thunder return home after consecutive road defeats, 103-95 to Portland on Monday night and 120-117 to Golden State the previous evening.
“Of course we want to win every game, but that’s impossible,” said Thunder forward Kevin Durant(notes), the league’s leading scorer with 30.1 points per game. “But we want to finish this season off strong. We still have one game to play and we will take this opportunity to play our hardest. No one expected us to be here. We would have liked to be (seeded) higher. But we have to keep fighting and get ready for the playoffs.”
Durant, averaging 37.2 points over his last six games, will need an outstanding series to give Oklahoma City any chance of upsetting Los Angeles. He’ll also need plenty of help.
Thunder rookie James Harden(notes) appears to have ended his shooting slump. He’s averaging 15.0 points and making 63.2 percent (12 for 19) over his last two games after scoring a total of four points and shooting 1 for 11 over his previous two.
Gay has again been a bright spot, averaging 19.5 points, but Memphis has missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
The Grizzlies, though, are much improved after finishing with a winning percentage below .300 each of the last three seasons. Memphis lost 123-101 to Denver on Monday night, falling below .500 for the first time since Dec. 30.
O.J. Mayo(notes) was held to 12 points and 4-for-13 shooting, playing 32 minutes despite suffering a left ankle sprain in a 120-101 loss to Philadelphia on Saturday night. Mayo shot 1 for 12 and had five points in Memphis’ last contest with Oklahoma City.
The Thunder won their other matchup with the Grizzlies this season 102-94 on Dec. 11 behind 32 points and 10 rebounds from Durant.