After Christmas Day and opening week matchups were released earlier this week, the NBA made public the entirety of its schedule for the upcoming season on Monday.
The Thunder are poised to contend for a top seed in the West, and this brings no dearth of high-profile games. Here's a look at 10 must-see matchups next season.
Oct. 22 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (Home)
With these teams likely to battle for playoff seeding and the Northwest Division crown, all eyes should be on their first matchup of the season. This game features serious star power with Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Does it get much better than that? OK, yeah, maybe it does, but you get the point. There is talent to spare in this matchup. Both teams will have an influx of new players and this game will serve as a barometer, measuring the fluidity with which each unit has meshed.
Nov. 9 vs. Denver Nuggets (Road)
This will conclude the second of two three-game road trips sandwiched by a matchup with the Boston Celtics. If the Thunder wish to emerge as an elite team, winning this game, in a tough environment, against a formidable opponent, would speak volumes about their chances of doing so. And oh yeah, Nikola Jokic is must-see TV any time he takes the court.
Nov. 17 vs. San Antonio Spurs (Road)
Spanning three decades, the Spurs represent the class of the Western Conference. This game will be the Thunder's first opportunity to prove they have returned to elite status. With the Thunder now rostering two superstars, it is worth monitoring how an elite defensive team in San Antonio goes about limiting George and Westbrook's contributions. Both the Spurs and Thunder will vie for the West's No. 2 seed next season and this game will provide fans with a glimpse of the early favorite for the coveted title of Best Team in the West not named the Warriors.
Nov. 22 vs. Golden State Warriors (Home)
Speaking of the Warriors, be sure to mark this one on your calendar, Thunder fans. Dig between couch cushions and car seats; return bottles to your local grocery store; be a stingy tipper. Do whatever you must in order to attain the necessary funds for tickets to this game. When the 2017 NBA Champions roll into Oklahoma City this fall, it will be the most anticipated game of the season to that point — and potentially of the whole year. The Warriors-Thunder rivalry failed to live up to its billing last season with Golden State winning by an average margin of 19.8 points in each contest. This season though, the Thunder are vastly improved, primed and ready to give Golden State their best shot. Get out the popcorn for the fifth installment of KD vs. Russ — and this time, Westbrook has help.
Dec. 13 vs. Indiana Pacers (Road)
Paul George's return to Indianapolis will be worth tuning in for. What will the reception be for the Pacers' former franchise centerpiece? While he led them to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances during his tenure, he more recently made known his wishes to be play elsewhere. Aside from the noise surrounding George, this game also kicks off the Thunder's first true East Coast road trip. They'll play three games in four days with a back-to-back against the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks following their tilt with the Pacers. With lofty goals entering the season, it will be imperative the Thunder win games against lesser opponents, even on the road.
Christmas Day vs. Houston Rockets (Home)
Rumor has it Christmas is supposed to be about spending time with loved ones, but for NBA aficionados, Christmas is reserved for basketball. Besides, aren't the Thunder our true family anyway? What better way to spend the holiday than watching last year's MVP front runners, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, do battle? Both teams acquired a superstar-level talent this offseason and are hoping to challenge the Warriors' perch atop the conference. Forget what I said earlier about star power. This is where the real talent lies with Westbrook, Harden, Paul George and Chris Paul all set to star in the Christmas Day action. If you're a fan of people with two first names and high-quality basketball, this matchup is the perfect gift.
Jan. 25 vs. Washington Wizards (Home)
When John Wall and Bradley Beal come to Chesapeake Energy Arena, it will serve as a showdown between two of the NBA's most electrifying tandems. Only a handful of players in the NBA today are must-see TV; Westbrook and Wall are two of them. And while the matchup between All-Star point guards will be the main attraction, both George and Beal are talented players entering their prime as well. With both the Thunder and Wizards likely to contend for homecourt advantage in their respective conferences, this midseason matchup should act as a talent scale between the East and West.
Feb. 14 vs. Memphis Grizzlies (Road)
While this game lacks the allure of other games listed, its importance outweighs many. This will be the Thunder's final game before the All-Star break, ending a stretch where they play nine playoff contenders from either conference in the span of 11 games. Entering the All-Star break with momentum as the playoff race heats up will be crucial to the team's success. So celebrate Valentine's Day either a day early or a day late and apologize to your significant other in advance because all eyes should be on this matchup. And hey, if your S.O. wants to watch the game with you, they're a keeper, so seal the deal ASAP.
April 1 vs. New Orleans Pelicans (Road)
This matchup could become a "trap game" with contests against the Warriors and Rockets looming. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are two of the league’s most talented big men and will lead a Pelicans team likely to be amidst a scrum for one of the West's final playoff spots. With the race for home court advantage sure to be tight, Russell Westbrook and Co. must bring their A-game to the Big Easy.
April 7 vs. Houston Rockets (Road)
During this late-season affair each team will likely be entrenched in a race for mid-to-upper-level playoff seeding. Therefore, this meeting could prove which franchise landed the most successful offseason acquisition. Will the Chris Paul experiment have paid off in Houston? Has Paul George been a seamless a fit in Oklahoma City? Does either squad have a chance at retaining their soon-to-be free agents, making each more than just a one-year rental? And at the very least, watching Russell Westbrook and James Harden go to work is always a treat — but this time, there's almost assuredly more than bragging rights at stake for the former teammates.
Which game are you most looking forward to?
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