The Thunder’s unofficial "second half" gets under way Wednesday in Houston and just like last season, Oklahoma City is looking towards an appearance in the NBA Finals.
Obviously the Thunder are one of the best teams in the league and want to climb back into the #1 playoff seed. However, the latter half of their regular season schedule is no joke.
With just 4.5 games separating the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers at the top of the Western Conference as of Feb. 20, anything can happen. It is possible the playoff picture could be quite different in the middle of April.
With the light at the end of the tunnel growing every game, let’s take a look at the Thunder's final 29 contests and break down month-by-month what the team has to do to position itself at the top of the conference come mid-April.
February shouldn’t be a problem.
Yes, they square off against former teammate James Harden to start the "second half," and the Rockets are clinging to the 8th seed. However, the final three games of the month should be an easier stretch (vs. Minnesota, vs. Chicago, vs. New Orleans).
Oklahoma City is a combined 7-1 against the four teams they play in February, including three wins against New Orleans where they will be looking for a season sweep. Chicago is without Derrick Rose so they shouldn't be a problem. Minnesota is also without their superstar, Kevin Love, so a road win in Oklahoma City is likely out of the picture for them.
5-Star Matchups: N/A
Obviously missing a chance to see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go up against Love and Rose is a disappointment, but don't sleep on the Houston matchup.
The Rockets are currently sitting as the No. 8 seed out west and are only two games behind Utah as of Feb. 20. Depending on how the final part of the season shakes up, we could be looking at a Thunder vs. Rockets first round series. There’s no doubt Kevin Durant and co. want to let their former teammate know what he could be dealing with during a seven-game series.
March will be a tough stretch.
The Thunder play 10 of their 17 games in March away from the Chesapeake Energy Arena and six of their road games will be against potential playoff teams.
They open the month with what could be its toughest four-game stretch of the season: at Denver, at Los Angeles (Clippers), vs. Los Angeles (Lakers) and at New York. They also have roadies with San Antonio and Memphis in the middle of the month before finishing with a lighter load against five teams who could miss the postseason.
5-Star Matchups: at LAC (Mar. 3), at NY (Mar. 9), at SA (Mar. 11)
The first two weeks of the month will be tough. Oklahoma City will travel from coast-to-coast with seven games packed in 11 days. That’s a brutal stretch for any team, even one of the best in the league.
With things heating up between the top three seeds in the West, the Thunder’s games with the Clippers and Spurs will be extremely important. It could be the difference between hosting throughout and giving up home-court in at least one series.
Six of the final eight games of the season could potentially swing the top of the Western Conference.
The Thunder host San Antonio and New York and must visit Golden State, Indiana, and Utah.
Talk about a make-or-break stretch. Given that the Spurs' final month is going to be challenging as well, the top seeds in the West could easily swing from one team to another in this final stretch of play.
5-Star Matchups: vs. SA (Apr. 4), vs. NY (Apr. 7), at GS (Apr. 11)
Last season showed that how a team finishes the regular season does not necessarily predict how their playoffs will go, so none of these games will be must-win situations in the final month. However, that doesn’t take away from how important their final games could be from a seeding standpoint. OKC wants that top seed and desires to stay hot going into the postseason.
Although the first 11 days of April are daunting, the season concludes with games against Sacramento and Milwaukee.
Now that I've finished my first article, I'd like to introduce myself.
My name is Trey Hunter. I recently joined the team at Welcome To Loud City after covering the Thunder and Oklahoma Sooners football team for another outlet. I'm extremely excited to join SB Nation and can't wait to hear what Thunder and NBA fans think about my opinions. We may not totally agree on everything, but as always, thanks for reading.
You can follow me on Twitter: @TreyHunterOKC