It's been quite a week for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last Sunday, the Thunder hosted the Miami Heat in what was billed as an NBA Finals preview. (In fact, 14 out of 23 SB Nation NBA bloggers picked a Heat-Thunder Finals before the season began.) Oklahoma City smoked Miami 103-87, making some kind of statement about their power. A breezy win in Portland -- still not a simple task, as the Blazers are still 17-9 at home -- followed, and a smackdown of the L.A. Lakers at STAPLES Center came in the bright lights of Thursday.
But there's one more magnificent test: a Sunday match-up with the East-leading Chicago Bulls (1 p.m. ET, ABC).
The Bulls are the league's presumptive No. 1 overall seed as we approach the NBA playoffs. Chicago sits two games ahead of the Thunder for that honor, and leads Miami by 3.5 games in the East. It'd be a repeated feat for the Bulls, who managed to wrest the league's top record away from the San Antonio Spurs on the final day of the regular season a year ago.
The Thunder, meanwhile, remain 2.5 games ahead of the Spurs out West in what has become a two-team race. There's no telling who either the Bulls or Thunder will draw in the first round given the unsettled nature of each conference, but both team will be overwhelming favorites to land in the conference finals. Once there, the Thunder should certainly be favored to advance on to the NBA Finals. The Bulls have the prospective match-up with the Heat to look forward to. Miami beat Chicago 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
That's what makes this game such an opportunity for the Thunder: they can in the span of seven days show dominion over the East's two best hopes. Of course, the struggle doesn't end here for OKC: the Thunder have a date with the Memphis Grizzlies (a particularly tough match-up) on Monday and a return battle against the Heat (in Miami) on Wednesday. But before we get there, if the Thunder manage to win on Sunday, they will rightfully feel like the best team in the league. It'll be hard to disagree.
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