Each August, I look at the new schedule release with both anticipation and trepidation, and ask myself these questions: “How many back-to-back games will the Oklahoma City Thunder endure?” “Long road trips?” “The gauntlets of tough teams streamed together?” “Home stands?”
At this point, I know of a few marquee games during part one of this series: The October 19th opener with the NY Knicks, Christmas Day against Houston, and Paul George’s meetings with Indiana. Oh, and Nov 22 with Golden State.
So, let’s decide what the first three months of the upcoming season may bring and talk about it when we’re done.
But first, let’s check out overall national TV appearances. Gauge the love, or hate as the case may be, for the Thunder by big networks:
Each team's number of national TV games overall and by network. pic.twitter.com/CZ2ZpGWEo7— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) August 14, 2017
With 37 nationally-televised appearances, the Thunder come in at #4, a placement that must gall Spurs fans and their #7 spot as much as Houston’s #2 ranking irks Thunder fans, but take heart Spur lovers. Console yourselves that you aren’t fans of the Brooklyn Nets or Atlanta Hawks. NBA League Pass ain’t cheap.
Thunder Nation, I give you the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2017/18 regular season schedule:
Here we go, month by month:
The good news about October? None of the teams are rated higher than the Thunder (6th) on CBSSport’s Matt Moore’s 2017/18 pre-season power rating. The T-wolves are tops at #9. I chose Moore’s rankings because Hoops Hype put the Timberwolves above the Thunder and I’m biased. The bad news is HH might be right, and the Thunder face Minnesota twice in the opening month.
Further, wasn’t it just last week the owners and the NBA got together to pass rules against resting players in big games and their compromise was less back-to-back games?
The NBA reportedly has tweaked the schedule to eliminate back-to-back games before national TV games, remove four-games-in-five-night scenarios and start the season a week earlier to spread out an 82-game schedule.
My bad. I’m just stuck on the back-to-back game theme, the one where a team is supposed to rest before playing on national TV. We will keep an eye on this as we go along, but in the meantime, a note to Mr. Silver, “back-to-backs have a cumulative effect and scheduling two in just over a week is a bad idea.” (note the team whose position in the power rankings that is in dispute with the Thunder are involved in both the B2B’s and not playing in B2B’s themselves. atta kid Adam)
The Knicks, Bulls, Jazz, and Pacers are projected lottery fodder, the latter 3 the victims of a vicious free agency summer, and even the Bucks dropped a spot in Moore’s projections to #10 so, all total, the month of October offers the Thunder a chance to build chemistry, and hopefully momentum, while facing a couple of decent tests along the way.
Good month: 6 - 1 Bad month: 4 - 3
November features a couple of the league’s elite, a couple of teams that dropped from Moore’s top ten, seven games vs. lottery projections, a mysterious Nuggets team, and the Rat.
The competition rises with a home game against the Celtics (5th) to begin the month. This offseason, the Celtics won big when they signed Utah’s Gordon Hayward, but to free money, it cost them Avery Bradley.
The Thunder and Celtics split last season’s series.
If you consider Paul George a better upgrade for OKC than the Celtics’ Hayward get, and regard Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton as stronger moves than trading Bradley for Marcus Morris, then you probably agree with me that Moore may be underestimating the Thunder a bit.
After losing Chris Paul to the Rockets this summer, the Clippers are a bit enigmatic. The addition of Danilo Gallinari to the starting rotation keeps the talent level high among the front five, but the lack of any kind of bench will be the Clipper’s Achilles heel. (sound familiar Thunder Nation?) The Clippers are a solid contender to make the playoffs, but not much more.
Mid-month brings a road trip to San Antonio in what should be the season’s first bona- fide test for OKC. “Should be” being the operative phrase. One of the season’s more intriguing storylines will unfold as we watch Rudy Gay —a talented player that for whatever reason has failed to make a positive impact on any professional team he has played for— occupies the court under Gregg Popovich’s watch.
Meanwhile, Tony Parker will be remain sidelined until sometime in December, but the Spurs checked an important box this summer when they re-signed Patti Mills.
The Spurs rank as Moore’s #3, but even he wonders if San Antonio may see a dip similar to 2015’s. Though, I’ll need to see it before I believe it because we are still talking about Pops and Kwahi Leonard.
The following week brings November’s pièce de résistance, the first match-up with the defending champion Warriors. When these teams first met last season, the Thunder was still reeling from the loss of two top players, while fielding one of the youngest rosters in the league on the road, in only the season’s fifth game.
The Thunder are still playing catch-up, but this season’s initial GSW affair will occur in OKC’s 17th game, at home, and on Thanksgiving-Eve. Loud City will be looking for a little Du-Rat appetizer before their holiday Turkey and the decibel levels at the Peake’ will be off the chart.
Further, Paul George and Patrick Patterson will get their first taste of playoff basketball played in Chesapeake Energy Arena because this game will be played with playoff intensity.
No offense to the Rockets, but the Thunder and Warriors hate each other.
Both sides will try to label Nov 22nd’s meeting as just another game... all I have to say to that gentlemen is “blah, blah, blah.” All the taunts, head butts, nut shots, and bad feelings from the past two seasons will bubble to the surface, and this game will turn into a war.
The Thunder re-tooled during the summer. The Warriors know it and will come to Oklahoma City looking to put the Thunder down and put them down hard. For their part, the Thunder will enter this game looking to prove they belong on the same floor and I don’t foresee either side backing down. This could prove to be one of those November games fans still buzz about in April. I can’t wait.
Good month: 11-2 Bad month: 8-5
December for the Thunder will be like what it is for many retails stores around the country — the busiest month of the year. In all, the Thunder will play seventeen games and are booked on both Christmas Day and New Years Eve.
Quantity is somewhat balanced by quality, as the large number of December games are offset by nine lottery level match-ups.
Additionally, the Thunder only plays six road games, compared to 11 home dates — this includes the rare treat of spending Christmas Eve through Jan 2 in Oklahoma City.
Featured games of the month are a December 3rd home rematch with the Spurs and a Christmas date with 2016 playoff-rival Houston Rockets.
Since their final 2017 playoff meeting, both the Thunder and Rockets have upgraded their line-ups. The Thunder, as we know, added Paul George, Patrick Patterson, and Raymond Felton, basically in exchange for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo.
Additionally, the Thunder signed G-League All-Star Dakari Johnson, chose Terrance Ferguson with their #21 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, and used the franchise’s first two-way contract to sign Daniel Hamilton, an intriguing 6’8” guard prospect.
Houston, like OKC, didn’t idle after the season, and landed Chris Paul in a trade with the Clippers for Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer, $661k cash and a 2018 1st round pick. Also joining a Rockets team which finished 3rd in the 2016/17 Western Conference standings is PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute.
Ironically, many pundits are predicting the Rockets to win 55 games this season. Which is their exact total from last season. CBS Sports sets the Rockets’ bar at 55.2, while the Vegas line is 55.5. Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Sharp put it this way:
The chemistry could get tricky and the depth isn't great..... But this feels like a 55-win team and basketball's most interesting science experiment.
My guess for the stagnant win predictions after trading for a Chris Paul may lie in what the Rockets lost in depth, particularly Patrick Beverly and bench assassin, Lou Williams.
Williams blossomed in the Rocket’s offensive system and posed a consistent 20+ point threat in a reserve capacity, while Beverly, a player whose results show up more on the floor rather than the stat sheet, was a constant thorn in the side of any perimeter player he faced, especially Russell Westbrook. Paul might put up pretty defensive numbers, but stopping Westbrook has not been one of his strengths.
Plan on opening presents and carving the roast beef early on Christmas, this is a game you don’t want to miss.
Good month: 13 - 4 Bad month 10 - 7.
Mostly, the NBA gods smiled on the Thunder. As I stated about the October schedule, the first 2.5 months are soft enough to allow time for chemistry growth and confidence, but contain enough tests along the way to gauge progress.
As the saying goes, there’s many a slip twixt cup and a lip, so goes any NBA season. Anything may happen so it is best we hold off making predictions too far down the road, thus the three-month format.
Look for part 2 after the first of the year.
Hopefully when the Thunder have run roughshod over the first 2 and 1⁄2 month’s slate of opponents and are ready to go into a challenging second half schedule primed and ready for battle. Until then.....
How many wins will the the Thunder post after playing their first 37 games?
This poll is closed
More than 30
25 - 30
20 - 25
15 - 20
How long will it take Paul George, Patrick Patterson, and Raymond Felton to get comfortable in their new skin?
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A few weeks?
Hopefully by the February tradeline?
The day Russell Westbrook rides into Chesapeake Arena on a real live unicorn?
Which team is your favorite NBA team?
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Another Western Conference team
An Eastern Conference team