The Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Pelicans both have four games left and are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Both are anchored by MVP candidates and each team has struggled with injuries all season.
ESPN's Basketball Power Index gives the Thunder a 54 percent chance of capturing the last spot. The Thunder are ranked higher in BPI than the Pelicans, and the Thunder face a much easier road through these four final games.
The Thunder are sixth in BPI with a total BPI score of 3.6 points above average, and they are favored in each of their four final games. They finish the season, first on the road against the Indiana Pacers (18th in BPI) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (29th in BPI), then at home against the Sacramento Kings (24th in BPI) and the Portland Trail Blazers (fifth in BPI). Although the Blazers are ranked higher than the Thunder in BPI, the Thunder are favored to win in their home arena.
Overall, in 10,000 simulations of the remainder of the season, the Thunder win an average of 2.6 games.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans (13th in BPI) face two Western Conference playoff teams in their final four.
They will face the Rockets (seventh in BPI) in Houston, where they have only a 35 percent chance of winning. Then it is onto face the San Antonio Spurs (third in BPI), where the Pellies have only a 40 percent chance of winning. Additionally, they will face the Timberwolves in Minnesota and the Phoenix Suns (15th in BPI) in New Orleans. The Pelicans average only two wins in the BPI simulation.
The counterargument to the BPI results, however, is that while the Thunder are still far below full strength, the Pelicans are healthier and are in a good position to outperform their BPI, which was established through the results of games they played at less than full strength.
While the Pelicans now have a healthy Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans back, their total BPI is 2.6 points behind the Thunder, and since Davis only missed 15 games -- Russell Westbrook missed 15 for the Thunder -- it is unlikely their defense will suddenly flourish and become better than the Thunder's. Even if the BPI difference were able to equalized between the two teams, the Thunder simply face a significantly easier final four games (the overall strength of schedule for the two teams is exactly the same over the course of the season), so the they would still be favored to make the playoffs over the Pelicans.
• The Brooklyn Nets (81 percent), Miami Heat (63 percent), Boston Celtics (33 percent), and Indiana Pacers (23 percent) all are fighting for a playoff spot in the East.
• The most likely first-round matchup in the West is Mavericks-Clippers (55 percent chance).
• The New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, and Sacramento Kings all have at least a 20 percent chance to have a top-three pick in the draft.
• The Lakers have a 17 percent chance of losing their first-round pick to Philadelphia.
Note: The NBA Basketball Power Index (BPI) is a measure of team strength developed by the ESPN Analytics team. BPI is meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance going forward for the rest of the season. BPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. BPI accounts for game-by-game efficiencies, strength of schedule, pace, number of days' rest, game location and preseason expectations. Ratings will be updated in this space weekly.