Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 4/13/12
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he and his team are not focused on making sure they earn the top seed in the Western Conference. However, Brooks also admitted he studies the stats, the box scores and, of course, the standings. And now with eight regular-season games to go for the Thunder, and that top spot still a possibility for Oklahoma City, figure Brooks is paying really close attention. And so is Kevin Durant. "You just have to play basketball," Durant said. "Yeah, you look to see who you would play if the season ended today, but we've played all these teams before. You just have to be prepared. It's just going out there and playing our game and seeing where that takes us." Here's a peek at the possibilities and probabilities for where the Thunder could land and who they could match up with in the first round. Thunder as the No. 1 seedProbability: 45 percent The Thunder head into Friday tied in the loss column with San Antonio but the Spurs own the tiebreaker, thanks to winning the season series. While Oklahoma City has given up its hold on the top spot, the Thunder can take a bit of solace in the fact they have a good number of winnable games coming up including a Friday night game at home against the Kings. OKC still has two more games after Friday with the Kings as well as road games at a depleted Minnesota team. The Thunder will also be at the Clippers, Suns and Lakers before finishing up with two at home against Sacramento and then Denver. The Spurs have a more-favorable schedule than the Thunder. They have only two games remaining against playoff-bound teams. However, consider the Spurs often rest starters and have empirically discounted seeding as important. Memphis, Dallas, Houston and Denver are all within two games of each other and any of them could end up anywhere from No. 5 to No. 8 in the conference. The Clippers are 1.5 games ahead of the group for the No. 4 seed. Also, Utah and Phoenix are within two games of the No. 8 seed. Here's a look at how the Thunder might fare against the most-likely, first-round playoff opponents and the Thunder's chances of advancing: Vs. DenverChance for Thunder success: 90 percent Denver hasn't been good against the Thunder this year, or last year. OKC had little problem with the Nuggets last year and have gone 2-0 with a game to go vs. Denver this year. The chances of faltering against Denver would seem to be slight. Meanwhile, the Nuggets are going to have a hard time just making the playoffs. They have a hard schedule the rest of the way with games against the Lakers, two with Houston, vs. the Clippers, at Oklahoma City and against Orlando. Forward Danilo Gallinari is healthy, but he's going to need a lot of help in a matchup against the Thunder. One thing the Nuggets can do is score, as they rank No. 1 in the league, but they are 29th in the league in points allowed. Vs. UtahChance for Thunder success: 85 percent The Thunder are 2-1 this season with two blowout wins against Utah, including one in Salt Lake City. Utah did beat the Thunder once in Salt Lake. Utah could make up the difference on Denver and make the playoffs as the Jazz face Nuggets once more and Portland twice. Portland will not have LaMarcus Aldridge for the rest of the season, due to injury. If the Jazz are able to slide into the playoffs and face the Thunder, they'll have a hard time in a seven-game series, as forward Paul Millsap could be out with injury, too. Millsap is day-to-day with a sprain of his right wrist. No chance the Thunder lose to the Jazz if he's not 100 percent. Vs. DallasChance for Thunder success: 80 percent Seems like Dallas has underachieved all season, but don't be surprised if the Mavericks have been saving it all for the playoffs. But the best thing the Thunder have going for them in a potential matchup with Dallas is revenge. OKC has played well against Dallas this season, winning three of the four games. It was a season ago Dallas beat the Thunder in the Western Conference finals. Undoubtedly, the Thunder won't have a hard time getting motivated to get up for a rematch. Dallas has the ageless guard duo of Jason Kidd and Jason Terry as well as reliable Dirk Nowitzki, but the Mavs are missing some pieces from last year, including guard J.J. Barea and the Mavericks don't have Tyson Chandler anymore. Chandler, who could very well be the defensive player of the year, makes the Mavericks vulnerable inside. With Serge Ibaka's improvement, that could be a deciding factor. Vs. HoustonChance for Thunder success: 70 percent The Rockets head into the weekend 32-26 overall and tied for the No. 8 spot. Amazing, really, considering they have had a number of injuries all year. What the Rockets do best is play hard and they've done it well against the Thunder, beating OKC in one of the more surprising wins of the season when they rallied from 11 down in the final 3 minutes for a victory in Oklahoma City. The Rockets went 2-2 against the Thunder this season, including that March 13 win when neither of their starting guards played. Houston has won four of its past five games, including wins at Chicago and at the Lakers. The Rockets should make the playoffs, as they have two games left against New Orleans and one against Golden State. If they don't completely fall apart in the other five, expect Houston to sneak in as the No. 7 or No. 8 seed. If guard Kevin Martin is healthy, he and point guard Courtney Lee make up a great scoring combo, one the Thunder should handle, but, reliable nonetheless. Vs. MemphisChance for Thunder success: 55 percent Of all the teams the Thunder could see in the first round, Memphis has to be the one the Thunder would like to avoid. Memphis took Oklahoma City to seven games before falling in the playoffs last year and have shown the ability to slow down both Westbrook and Durant this year. Despite the fact the Thunder won the season series 3-1, Memphis is a tough matchup because of its ability to play great defense. Guard Tony Allen is a lockdown defender, who has had success against Kevin Durant. Meanwhile, Allen guarded Russell Westbrook when the team met on April 2 and limited Westbrook to 5-of-16 shooting while Gilbert Arenas spent time guarding Durant, helping harass Durant into 8-of-20 shooting. Memphis is healthy with the return of guard Mike Conley. Rudy Gay missed the playoffs last year and now forward Zach Randolph is back, too. The Grizzlies are playing their best basketball of the season. They are 9-3 in their past 12 games.
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