The Thunder currently sit as the fifth seed with a 40-24 record in a tough Western Conference. There are only eight regular season games left to be played in Orlando. It is time to take a look at each of Oklahoma City’s opponents and what we could expect from each game.
8/1 vs Jazz:
The Thunder will pick up where they left off when the season was suspended back in March. It is difficult to think of a franchise who has had a worse four months than the Jazz. Utah have seen turmoil among their star duo of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.
It looks like both players contracting COVID within the same 24 hour window was the straw that broke the camel’s back with their relationship. The relationship between the two men was already strained due to Gobert believing that he did not receive enough touches on offense.
The Jazz also lost their 2nd leading scorer in the form of Bojan Bogdanovic to wrist surgery. These two factors have led many to believe the Jazz will look a lot worse when compared to their pre-COVID selves.
The Thunder and Jazz split their two meetings this season with the Jazz narrowly winning the season opener and the Thunder winning the second contest by double digits.
8/3 vs Nuggets:
The Thunder have historically struggled against the Nuggets. The home team won their game in their two meetings this season; the road team was unable to pick up a victory.
The Nuggets struggled to shoot from outside in both games as they went a combined 13/54 (24.1%) as a team from three. Denver shooting this poorly inside the bubble would seriously hamper their offense against the Thunder.
One of the biggest stars to contract COVID was Nikola Jokic. Jokic has recovered from the coronavirus and feels like his normal self again. Nikola has also lost a ton of weight. It will be interesting to see how a slimmed down version of himself will look.
Jokic always seems to dominate his matchups against Steven Adams. I think nothing will really change with Jokic’s game; the weight loss only stands to benefit his game. He will continue to play as the top ten player he has been for the last few seasons now.
As of July 16, the Nuggets only have eight to 10 players in the bubble; that is something to keep track of as the resumption of the season gets closer. The Nuggets not having a full complement of guys will be a difficult challenge for Mike Malone to manage.
8/5 vs Lakers:
This is probably the Thunder’s toughest game left as the Lakers have been able to handle OKC pretty well. In their November games, the Lakers won two close contests by five and three points respectively.
Their third matchup was the infamous OKC game where the Lakers were missing LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Danny Green. Los Angeles still managed to win comfortably behind Kyle Kuzma’s big night from the floor.
LeBron averaged 24 points, 12 assists and 8.5 rebounds while Davis averaged 33 points and nine rebounds against the Thunder this season. The Lakers are just a better team than the Thunder and unless Los Angeles rest their starters, this will most likely be a scheduled loss for OKC.
It is important to note that the Lakers have lost Rajon Rondo to a broken hand and Avery Bradley to personal reasons. If these two teams were to meet in the playoffs, the Thunder’s backcourt should thrive against the Lakers’ weak backcourt. Markieff Morris is also not in the bubble at the moment. Three significant role players are not with the team and that could potentially hamper their championship odds.
8/7 vs Grizzlies:
This will be an underrated game in terms of competitiveness. Memphis will likely still be playing to clinch a playoff spot at this point. The Grizzlies will be highly motivated to get an important win on their road to the playoffs.
The two game series was a split. The Thunder’s win came in a game where the team was down by as much as 24 points. It is hard to draw conclusions out of that game as it was an anomaly.
The second game saw a Grizzlies blowout win as the Thunder struggled offensively. Oklahoma City only scored 97 points on 43.3 FG%.
The Thunder should be a slight favorite in this game.
8/9 vs Wizards:
This should be an easy win for the Thunder and any team that will play against whatever is left of the Wizards. Washington’s top two scorers, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, will not play. The only game between the two teams this season was the OKC home opener.
The Wizards won that game but that was so long ago. The data from that game is irrelevant now in terms of evaluating this matchup.
8/10 vs Suns:
Every team has to play a back to back in Orlando and the Thunder got lucky with their back to back. Oklahoma City will play two of the worst teams on consecutive nights in the bubble. The Thunder won both of their games against Phoenix.
One win was a blowout while the other was a back and forth contest. Phoenix have been in the same situation for several seasons. Devin Booker will get his but the Thunder should still be able to win this game.
8/12 vs Heat:
The Heat are a bad matchup for the Thunder as their outside shooting has killed the Thunder. In the one game played between both teams this season, Miami scored 40 first quarter points.
The Heat are very much like the Thunder in terms of their roster construction. They have their own veteran star in Jimmy Butler. Miami have a rising star in Bam Adebayo. The Heat have wily veterans like Goran Dragic, Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder. Miami also have young players who improved during the season in Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro.
The Heat have a chance to move up or down in the standings so they will have something to play in the bubble.
The Heat have the fifth best offense since the All-Star Break, Miami have scored 114.6 points per 100 possessions. Erik Spoelstra have built a devastating offense around his core of talent.
8/14 vs Clippers: This is the biggest wildcard game for me because it is unknown which version of the Clippers show up in this game. The full squad with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will most likely mean this game is a loss.
However, if the Clippers are resting guys then this could be a game that the Thunder should win pretty easily. In the three games these teams played, two were very close wins for both sides. The Clippers won the first game by just two points and the Thunder won the second game by just six points.
It is important to note that Leonard missed the first two games of the season series. When he finally played against the Thunder with George, the Clips won easily due to the Clippers’ defense locking the Thunder down.
Oklahoma City only scored 94 points on 42.0/ 32.1/ 65.4 team shooting splits. The Thunder nearly had the same amount of turnovers as assists. The result of this game will come down to who suits up for the Clippers.
Marcus Morris’ status in the bubble remains unclear. Marcus and Markieff have not been in the bubble so who knows when they will join their respective teams. Morris was the Clippers’ splashy trade deadline acquisition. Morris provides scoring depth.
Montrezl Harrell leaving the bubble for personal reasons can also affect this game and the Clippers’ season overall. Harrell has been a Sixth Man of the Year candidate and his loss will surely hurt his team.
The inevitable departure of Dennis Schroder can make all of these predictions meaningless. Schroder is due to leave the bubble in three to four weeks and will miss an undetermined amount of time.
Schroder missing most, if not all, of these regular season games and playoff games will hurt Oklahoma City. The Thunder will get worse as Schroder has been one of the team’s best five players this season.
The probable return of Andre Roberson can play a role in these games as well. Roberson’s role is dependent on the number of minutes he plays and his impact. Andre could fill the backup forward role that the Thunder are missing.
Overall, I think the Thunder should safely hover around .500 with these eight games. However, the results of these games do not really matter. The Thunder’s focus will be on the playoff matchup and getting to the First Round relatively healthy. Home court advantage is gone so seeding is now irrelevant.