Thunder clinch playoff spot as NBA locks in return plan

By Michael Kinney

Despite being out of work for the past three months, the Oklahoma City Thunder accomplished an impressive feat last week. The franchise essentially clinched a spot in the postseason without having to lift a finger.

When the NBA Board of Governor’s and the NBA Player’s union approved the plan to resume the season, it put the Thunder in a position to where all the work they had done in the regular season was enough to guarantee them a spot in the upcoming playoffs.

“I think it’s great. It’s been a great group of guys, and our players and our coaches have done a really good job of looking at the season as a whole and not getting like too high or too low as the season had rolled around,” Thunder General Manager Sam Presti said. “Everybody has contributed. You know, and I don’t think any of us had an idea where we would be, quite frankly. We certainly didn’t expect to be in the situation that we’re in going down to Orlando. No one predicted that.”

However, the NBA’s plan to restart the season wasn’t just a snap of the fingers. It took weeks of negotiation for all sides involved to come up with a way to finish the season but also keep everyone safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

The regular season will resume July 31 for 22 of the 30 teams in the league. Those 22 teams (13 in the West, 9 in the East) were within six games of being in the top eight in each conference. The other eight teams saw their season come to an end.

The qualifying squads will play eight games on their schedule on Orlando’s Walt Disney World Campus.

Of the 22 teams, 16 will make the playoffs. The order in the standings will be determined by winning percentage.

But here is where things get complicated.  A possible play-in tournament for the eighth seed in each conference would then be held if the ninth seed finishes the regular season within four games of the eighth seed.

In order to advance, the ninth seed would need to defeat the eighth seed twice, while the eighth seed would just need one win to eliminate the ninth seed. The NBA’s regular playoff format would then proceed as normal. The NBA Finals will end no later than Oct. 12.

Currently, the Thunder sit in fifth place in the West. However, they are just one game behind the Utah Jazz for fourth place and two and half behind third-place Denver.

Because the Thunder are exactly eight games ahead of the current No. 8 seed Memphis, they are locked into the postseason.

“The format is not really a concern for us. We were going to go with whatever was best for the league,” Presti said. “You know, we’ll play anywhere, so we’re perfectly happy with what the league chose to go with. I think everyone has to be. There’s no choice. The one thing about this format or this event is that it’s– everyone is dealing with the same thing, so as competitors, that should be all you ask for.”

All remaining regular season games and the playoffs will take place on the Walt Disney World Campus.

The NBA and the NBPA are working with infectious disease specialists, public health experts and government officials to establish a program to decrease the risk of contracting COVID-19.

 “I think being there is I think going to be a great thing to be a part of something like that. We don’t have any idea what this is going to be like, so we’re going in with no preconceived notions other than we’re going to have to be adaptable, and we’re going to have to get comfortable with the fact that things are not going to be the way we’re used to them being,” Presti said. “Once you get past that, I think you can get into kind of really embracing that kind of like uncertainty, because as I said earlier, everyone is dealing with that.”

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