The schedule came out last week and since there’s not a whole heck of a lot happening right now, why not aimlessly predict stuff? For the record, whatever number I wind up with isn’t the “official” prediction for this season’s win total, just more what I settled on right now. Feel free to add your own and tell me how wrong I am. I’m going to break this down in increments. I wouldn’t dream about doing it game-by-game because that’s FreeDarko’s thing, and they do an awesome, hilarious job of it. So put on your predicting hats and let’s get dangerous.
October 28 – November 15 (Sacramento, @Detroit, Portland, LA Lakers, @Houston, Orlando, @Sacramento, @LA Clippers, @San Antonio, LA Clippers)
The season starts with an incredibly tough stretch of games. We’ve talked about it a little before, but these first 10-15 games are going to tell us a lot about this team. The Thunder could start the season out 2-8 very easily. The best I think OKC can come out of these first 10 is 5-5. And if that happens, that would be a HUGE victory and I think really good things would be in store for this team. That would mean they’re beating teams they should, winning on the road and maybe even beating teams they shouldn’t. They’d be set up to possibly be over .500 in their first 20 because the next 10 aren’t as tough. But I don’t think 5-5 is really that realistic. Five road games, six games against 2009 playoff teams and two back-to-backs. Too tough for a team that’s going to take a little time to gel.
Record through 10: 4-6
Nov. 17 – Dec. 18 (@Miami, @Orlando, Washington, @LA Lakers, @Utah, Milwaukee, Houston, Philadelphia, Boston, Golden State, @Memphis, Cleveland, @Denver, Dallas, Detroit)
Fifteen games for the Thunder leading up to a difficult Christmas time stretch. There’s some tough games in this run, but the good news is that nine of the 15 are at home. With this squad, I’m not ready to call anything a certain win, because they’re not there yet. But there’s clearly some games that OKC should win. The five-game homestand right in the middle is big because that’s a chance to win some games.
Record through 25: 10-15
Dec. 19 – Jan. 23 (@Houston, @LA Lakers, @ Phoenix, Charlotte, @New Jersey, @Washington, Utah, @Milwaukee, @Chicago, New Orleans, Indiana, New York, San Antonio, @Dallas, Miami, @Atlanta, @Minnesota, @Memphis, @Cleveland)
Keep in mind, at the turn of the year last season, OKC was 4-29. This year, the team should be looking at a record of something like 14-18 or something like that. Well, that’s if things are going about as we expect. This stretch has the Thunder’s only four-game road trip, as well as a few games against contenders. But overall, it’s not too tough. Of the 19 games, 12 are on the road. So while the opponents aren’t ridiculously difficult, the fact that OKC is on the road is (remember, the Thunder was just 8-33 away from home last year).
Record through 44: 17-27
Jan. 27 – Feb. 28 (Chicago, Denver, Golden State, Atlanta, @New Orleans, @Golden State, @Portland, Dallas, @New York, @Minnesota, Phoenix, @San Antonio, Minnesota, Toronto)
So we’re just a few games past the mid-point and the Thunder’s 10 games under. Through 44 games last year, OKC was 9-35. Success, amirite? The first half of the season is much more difficult than the second and while the playoffs might not be a real possibility at this point, the second half sets up to win some games. February is an easier run and there’s a chance to get somewhat near .500 again.
Record through 58: 27-31
March 2 – March 21 (Sacramento, @Denver, @LA Clippers, @Sacramento, New Orleans, New Jersey, Utah, @Charlotte, @Toronto, @Indiana)
Two three-game road trips could kill any playoff hope that was built in February. It’s not like there’s a bunch of killer games, but there’s back-to-backs and games on the road – things OKC doesn’t do well. These 10 games look easy on paper, but in reality they won’t be. Going 5-5 would be excellent, but there’s bound to be some rough patches and losing streaks this season. This looks like it could be one of those areas. But the key is, instead of losing 10 straight, get a win here or there and break it up. That’s (hopefully) one of the differences between this year and last.
Record through 68: 29-39
March 22 – April 14 (San Antonio, Houston, LA Lakers, Portland, @Philadelphia, @Boston, @Dallas, Minnesota, @Utah, Denver, Phoenix, @Golden State, @Portland, Memphis)
Time to finish the race. After a poor streak of games in their last 10, the Thunder comes home against some tough opponents. Other teams are battling for playoff positions and seeding, while the Thunder’s trying to put a cap on an improved season and build momentum for a run next year. Eight of the Thunder’s last 14 are at home, giving OKC a chance to close on a good note. And a good note would be not falling on their faces and crawling to the finish line. Beating a contender or two, winning some on the road and taking care of business at home would be an excellent way to close the season.
Record after 82: 35-47
So after all this, we end up with 35 wins. To me, that sounds just about right. We can get high, possibly unrealistic hopes of 40-plus wins, but that’s based on Russell Westbrook taking a huge leap and James Harden being The Piece that was missing. It’s possible, and I’m not saying it won’t happen, because Lord knows I’d love for it to, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves and caught up in the hype. You can’t forget that this team is one of the youngest in the league and that there’s no huge rush to make this happen now. Thirty-five wins is right on pace and puts the Thunder in prime position to get in the playoff hunt for 2010-11. Which is exactly the plan.