The big question facing each of the West’s muddled middle class, Part II

We’re finishing our run through the West’s congested middle class by looking at the one big question facing teams No. 9 through No. 12 as they sprint into the stretch run.

The 2023 NBA postseason starts in just one month, and there’s still so much left to be decided. — particularly out West, where just 3.5 games separate the fifth and 12th seeds.

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With so many teams so tightly bunched, each night’s results trigger a fresh round of musical chairs. And with multiple playoff berths and all four spots in the play-in tournament all hanging in the balance, each team’s performances cast into stark relief the major issues that they find themselves facing in the sunset of the season.

After hitting the first four Wednesday, let’s dig into the rest of the bunch, starting with some youth being served:

Oklahoma City Thunder (34-35, No. 9 seed): Can OKC score enough to score an upset?

In the grand scheme of things, I understand the take that the Thunder — in Year 3 of their rebuild, with the NBA’s youngest roster, with No. 2 draft pick Chet Holmgren coming next season and control over as many as 15 first-round picks between now and 2029 — are basically playing with house money right now. But while they might not necessarily be heartbroken if they wind up back in the lottery, they’re sure as hell not playing like a team that’s indifferent to the prospect of making the playoffs. Just ask the Nets, who watched OKC turn a 16-point deficit into a 14-point win Tuesday:

Rather than shutting down All-NBA candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander after he missed a handful of games with ankle and abdomen injuries, the Thunder have continued to play through him, giving them an elite shot-creation engine and one-on-one scoring threat down the stretch. They’ve got a pair of capable secondary playmakers in Josh Giddey (averaging about 17-8-7 over the last two months) and Jalen Williams (arguably the best rookie in the league in that span). They’ve got a stout defense, led by point-of-attack ace Luguentz Dort, with enough size, length and athleticism to…

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Publish date : 2023-03-16 17:12:52

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The big question facing each of the West’s muddled middle class, Part II  
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