The Thunder have just 29 games remaining. And as they prepare for the final stretch run with sights on the postseason, what do they need to do to get there? It goes without saying that Kevin Durant’s health plays a big factor in that; how many games could he miss?
To the 3-on-3 machine:
1. What do the Thunder need to go over the final 29 games to guarantee a postseason berth?
Royce Young: The Suns are currently on a 44-win pace. For the Thunder to match that, they need to go just 16-13. With 17 of their final 29 at home — BARRING ANY INJURIES — I’m thinking that’s a lock. But there’s a good chance the Suns pick up their pace as the race tightens. The Thunder are 17-9 when Durant plays (.653 winning percentage) so if they maintain that, they’ll go 19-10 in their final 29. That’s 47-35. That should do it just fine.
Jon Hamm: 29 wins would be super. However, I feel pretty certain that this team won’t ride a 32 game win streak into the playoffs. Phoenix is currently (and barely) in eighth place in the west and is on pace for 44 wins. If that holds, then assume the Thunder needs to get to at least 45 wins, which equates to a 17-12 record the rest of the way (a .586 winning percentage). I’d bet my mother’s house that they’ll do much better than that, assuming they lower their MBPG (Medical Bills per game).
Ryan Woods: Poor Phoenix, man. The Suns still have the toughest part of their schedule left to play and have KD and Russ bearing down on them just half a game back. I can’t imagine it taking more than 45 wins to get the eighth seed so something around 18 and 11. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Thunder run off 23 of 29 and climb even higher.
2. Over/under: Kevin Durant misses 1.5 more games this season.
Young: Over. I think the Thunder are going to try and strategically rest him when possible. Obviously every game remaining could be crucial, and the Thunder have proven that there are no gimmes without him (Knicks game cough cough), but when the 76ers come to town March 4, that’s a good opportunity to let Durant rest. Because as much as the Thunder need a healthy Durant for this final stretch, they need him even more in the postseason.
Hamm: Under. This team seems to have recognized not only the seriousness of their situation, but also the potential of what they can be. I don’t believe Durant will sit out another game unless he suffers a “can’t play in a playoff game” type of injury. Maybe he sits the final regular season game if playoff seeding is decided.
Woods: Under, but I’ll hedge my bet: If the Thunder locks up playoff position with a couple games remaining KD could get a couple nights off. KD and Russ are very mindful of where the Thunder stands and what it’s going to take to ensure they’ll be playing in late April and beyond.
3. Confidence scale (10 being the highest): How likely are the Thunder to make the playoffs?
Young: 10 out of 10 out of 10. Again, assuming no more debilitating injuries. The two games against the Suns are critical, and are both in Phoenix. But I just refuse to believe a Thunder team with a healthy Durant and a healthy Westbrook aren’t going to do what’s necessary over the final 29 games to get into the playoffs. If they don’t, then there certainly was something wrong with them.
Hamm: 45. I feel for Phoenix and New Orleans, who are both deserving of playing in the postseason. Instead they’ll be watching the likes of Charlotte, Miami, Brooklyn, Boston, Detroit or Indiana compete in playoff games on NBATV this April. It’s a shame for Phoenix who not only deserved a playoff berth last season, but in 2008-09 as well. But barring another significant injury to the Thunder’s Big Three, they’re in. (It could be worse. The 2007-08 Warriors won 48 games and missed the playoffs. 48 wins would have snagged the 4 seed in the east that season.)
Woods: 10. This team started 3-12 and at one point was dead last in the West. But since Nov. 23 the Thunder has league’s eight-best record of 25-14. Had it not been for Anthony Davis hitting the shot of the season (there’s no close second) the Thunder would be taking a six-game winning streak into the home stretch. Thus, confirming a theory that a healthy Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are net positives for a basketball team in 2015.