Thunder journal: OKC, Spurs and Clippers jockey for seeding
The Clippers did the Thunder a favor Friday night.
Their matchup against the Lakers was supposed to be to be the easiest of their final three games of the season. But the Clippers lost to their injury-hampered crosstown rivals, 122-117.
At the same time, OKC was locked in arguably its most complete post All-Star break performance. The combination of the Thunder’s 123-110 win over the Pistons and the Clippers’ surprise loss didn’t change the standings, but it did upgrade the Thunder’s chances at claiming a No. 6 seed from purely a mathematical possibility to a plausible one.
“Right now, we’re in charge of our own destiny with these last three games going,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said Saturday after practice, “and I think that’s what you put your focus on. I think when you start to play mathematics of, this happens or that happens with other teams, you really don’t have control over that. It’s really about us and what we have to do.”
The Clippers (47-33), Thunder (46-33) and Spurs (46-34) entered Saturday in the Nos. 6 through 8 spots in the Western Conference, in that order and all within one game of one another.
L.A. has the hardest remaining schedule, playing at Golden State and against Utah to close the season. San Antonio has the easiest, facing Cleveland and Dallas, two teams in the race for the best lottery pick.
The Spurs won the regular season series against the Thunder, so in order to remain above the Spurs in the standings, OKC needs to win more games in its three remaining contests than the Spurs in their last two.
Tie breakers get more complicated between the Thunder and Clippers. Head-to-head doesn’t solve anything after the two split the regular season series. The next tiebreaker is Western Conference record, a category in which the Clippers (27-23) have a one-game lead on the Thunder (26-24). After that comes record against playoff-eligible teams in the West. Thanks to sweeps of the Trail Blazers and Jazz, the Thunder has the edge there.
If the Clippers lose both their remaining games, OKC will still need to beat either Minnesota on the road or Houston at home to claim higher seed. If L.A. wins its last two, however, the Thunder’s conference record won’t be good enough to jump the Clippers even if it claims three more victories this season.
If all three teams tie, winning percentage in games among tied teams decides seeding. The Spurs will move up to No. 6, and the Thunder will slide to No. 8.
Donovan said that despite traveling to Minnesota the day of Final Four, he would not be attending any college games Saturday night. The former Florida coach has met all four NCAA coaches who converged on Minneapolis Saturday. Of the group, Donovan is the least familiar with Texas Tech’s Chris Beard. Donovan’s college coaching career overlapped with Auburn’s Bruce Pearl and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo for more than a decade. When Donovan coached the USA U19 FIBA World Championship team to a gold medal in 2013, Virginia’s Tony Bennett served as an assistant coach.