The Oklahoma City Thunder have played better than 13 out of 14 Western Conference opponents in the 2011-2012 NBA season. The Thunder can finish no worse than second place in the playoff standings with four games left on the schedule.
The only team competing with Oklahoma City for the number one slot in the postseason are the San Antonio Spurs.
Who gets home advantage in the conference playoffs is still pretty much up in the air. San Antonio leads the race by a half game. Despite early dominance by the Thunder, OKC has cooled off in the latter stages of the season.
Oklahoma City plays two games against the Sacramento Kings home and away. The other two remaining games are at the Los Angeles Lakers April 22 and at home against the Denver Nuggets to close out the season April 25.
The Spurs play a seemingly easier schedule. April 20 they host the Lakers. Then it's four games in five nights against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers at home before going on the road to face the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors. The only hiccup in the Spurs' schedule is the extra game. San Antonio may be more worn out before playing two road games to finish out the year.
I believe the Spurs have an easier schedule because more of the teams they play are further down the standings. Among Cleveland, Portland, Golden State and Phoenix the top team are the Suns at 33-30. Everyone else, with the exception of the Pacific-leading Lakers, has a losing record.
Comparatively, the Thunder play only one team with a losing record twice. The Kings are hardly pushovers since Sacramento won by a score of 106-101 Feb. 9.
Who wins the West will come down to how quickly the Spurs and Thunder put away lesser teams. If San Antonio jumps out to big leads against Cleveland and Portland at home, the starters can rest for the final two games on the road.
The same is true for Oklahoma City. Head coach Scott Brooks needs to be able to rest Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant on the road against Sacramento April 20 before the crucial game in Los Angeles. The same will be true at home against the Kings April 24 before the final game against Denver a night later.
A first or second place finish in the Western Conference is still the best the Thunder have done since relocating to the Midwest. It's been a great season no matter what happens in the final week of regular games.
William Browning has been a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder ever since the team relocated from Seattle. As the closest NBA team to Branson, Mo., the Thunder serve as the regional team for southwest Missouri.