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Note: This article was written prior to the conclusion of the Lakers game against the Pacers.
Almost two months ago, the Oklahoma City front office decided it was time to lose out. It has worked remarkably well, as the Thunder are 2-26 since Shai Gilgeous-Alexander injured his foot.
This has helped the Thunder plummet up the reverse standings. They are tied with the Orlando Magic for the third-best NBA draft lottery odds, and a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the final game of the season would ensure them no worse than the fourth-best odds, depending on a potential tiebreaker and the result of the second-worst Detroit Pistons.
But the Clippers may ruin that for OKC. Based on LA’s lineup against the Houston Rockets, they’re not exactly trying to win the third seed.
Whoever finishes in the fourth seed will play either the Blazers or the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.
Whoever finishes third might play the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Clippers would never say they are afraid of their Staples Center neighbors, but their lineup against the Rockets didn’t exactly scream competitive: They rested Kawhi Leonard, Paul Goerge, Reggie Jackson and Patrick Beverley (though Beverley is still recovering from an injury that kept him out for 2.5 months).
This allowed the Clippers to lose to the Rockets, who have the worst record in the NBA.
That brings them to the Thunder, who have been the worst team in the NBA over the past two months.
The Clippers will show how serious they are about getting the third seed based on their lineup.
Oklahoma City will have to hope that they bring out guys like Leonard and George. The Thunder have not shown they can match up to a team like that.
Granted, with the way they’ve been playing, they haven’t exactly shown they can match up to a bench unit of a great team — after all, the Thunder’s starting lineup is void of most of its opening day starters, too.
The Lakers very well may finish in the seventh seed. In fact, if they lose to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, they’re locked into seventh.
But there’s risk that they finish sixth, and risk of a first-round exit for a legitimate title contender if they have to face LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
However, with James only just returning to the lineup from a long-term injury, there’s also risk of allowing the Lakers to jell over the first round and then face them later at full strength.
Oklahoma City tips off against the Clippers at 8 p.m. on Sunday.