While there’s still work to do in order to make the playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder are officially locked into the postseason as the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference. They’ll need to win two games on the road during the play-in tournament to earn a spot in the playoffs, but being in the postseason at all is extremely impressive.
The Thunder went two years without making a postseason appearance prior to the 2022-23 campaign, which was the longest drought in the history of the franchise since coming to Oklahoma City. Thunder GM Sam Presti has done a fantastic job of rebuilding this roster and emerging as a team with one of the brightest futures in the league. With that in mind, his vision goes well beyond this season as the front office build a roster with upside for longer term success.
“When we make it back, it won’t be an appearance, it will be an arrival,” said Presti last summer.
Oklahoma City’s ticket to the play-in was punched on Friday night as the Dallas Mavericks fell to the Chicago Bulls, putting the Thunder out of reach.
The youngest team in the NBA, the Thunder have one game remaining on Sunday afternoon against the Memphis Grizzlies, although there’s nothing at stake in that contest. Win or lose, play-in positioning for the Thunder will not change. It will be fascinating to see if OKC rests its primary players or gets them some time on-court to carry momentum into the postseason.
This late in the season, nearly every player is dealing with soreness and minor injuries that can be played through. Given the Thunder haven’t played since Thursday, sitting out their top pieces would give them nearly a week of much needed rest. Especially for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was on an injury management plan just a few weeks ago, time off to recover could be significant.
This is a team that starts two rookies and a sophomore that was projected to win less than 25 games in the preseason. Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as an All-NBA level player this season and is the primary reason Oklahoma City has made it this far.
Even then, the season has had many highs and lows as the Thunder had multiple four-game winning streaks but just as many five-game skids. Regardless, the team fought through the adversity and hurdles to officially play beyond the regular season.
While the opponent the Thunder will take on is still to be determined, we do know that the game will take place Wednesday night on the road against the No. 9 seed. The four teams that are still in play for that matchup are the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves and LA Clippers.
If the Thunder win that contest, they’ll play again on the road Friday in attempt to land the No. 8 seed and a spot in the true playoffs against the Denver Nuggets in a seven-game series.
Oklahoma City is playing with house money at this point, being the biggest surprise riser of the season. Whatever happens in the play-in, it will be considered a successful 2022-23 campaign for the Thunder.