No. 5: Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Season: 45-37
9th place in West; Missed playoffs
The 2014-15 Oklahoma City Thunder season was marred by injury almost before it began. A Jones fracture in Kevin Durant's right foot that ultimately limited him to 27 games, all but one of them before the All-Star break, was only the start of Oklahoma City's woes. Nobody was hit harder by absences than the Thunder, who still weren't eliminated from the playoff race until the final night of the regular season.
Now, Oklahoma City begins another season with legitimate championship aspirations but a different mix around its core of Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. The Thunder replaced Scott Brooks, who grew up alongside his young stars, with veteran college coach Billy Donovan. Oklahoma City is also counting on last season's midseason additions, Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters, to help get back to the NBA Finals -- all with Durant's looming free agency in the background.
Durant was diagnosed with a Jones fracture midway through training camp. The Thunder figured Westbrook would carry the team in Durant's absence, only to lose him to a fractured bone in his right hand two games into the regular season. The two stars weren't alone on the sidelines. At one point early in the season, Oklahoma City was without eight players because of injury, thrusting 15th man Lance Thomas into a starting role. The depleted roster limped to a 3-12 start.
Durant and Westbrook returned in late November, and the Thunder climbed back to .500 by Jan. 2. Even when Durant was sidelined again by discomfort in his foot that eventually required season-ending surgery, a playoff berth appeared inevitable. As originally expected, Westbrook became Oklahoma City's go-to guy on offense, leading the league in usage and posting 11 triple-doubles. The Thunder peaked at 41-30 on March 24, giving them a three-game lead for the eighth seed in the West.
Then Oklahoma City collapsed behind a leaky defense that ranked 27th in defensive rating (107.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) after the All-Star break, per NBA.com/stats. The Thunder lost seven of their next nine games, and wins in their last two weren't enough. The New Orleans Pelicans claimed the final playoff spot via the head-to-head tie-breaker secured by a winning 3-pointer from Anthony Davis at the buzzer at Oklahoma City on Feb. 6.