I did this last season around this time because reckless speculation and postulation is always good fun mid-August. I felt like last year I was being far too optimistic with it and wouldn’t you know, the team blew right past every expectation.
So let’s try again with an eye towards extreme optimism, because you know, that’s the way I roll.
Oct. 27 – Nov. 15 (Chicago, at Detroit, Utah, at LA Clippers, at Portland, Boston, Philadelphia, Portland, San Antonio, at Utah)
The Thunder’s opening month isn’t easy, but their first 10 games are fairly brutal. It starts out meager with games against Detroit, the Clippers and Philly mixed in, but other than that, nothing is a gimme. I actually like OKC to start out 4-0 before traveling to Portland for what will certainly be an early season treat. Six of the first 10 are at home which is definitely a plus and a big reason I lean towards an optimistic 7-3 rather than 6-4. I’d say best case in the first 10 is 8-2 with OKC surprising either Boston, Utah or Portland on the road and a worst case would be 5-5.
Record through 10: 7-3
Nov. 16 – 29 (Houston, at Boston, at Milwaukee, Minnesota, Dallas, at Indiana, at Houston, New Orleans)
November is a tough month for the Thunder, but this stretch heading into a lighter December is big. If OKC starts slow and is 5-5 or gasp, worse, a little winning streak could happen within these eight games. But at the same time, a three-game losing streak could be found here as well. Half are on the road with the two toughest being at Houston and Boston, though Milwaukee is obviously good. The Thunder’s already getting a second look at teams just a few weeks into the season with these games now on the road. Win at home and maybe steal one on the road here would be the goal.
Record through 18: 12-6
Dec. 1 – 10 (at New Jersey, at Toronto, Golden State, at Chicago, at Minnesota, at New Orleans)
Ah, finally a shot to pile up a few. But not so fast. While the names are lighter here, five of these six are on the road. And yes, OKC was surprisingly a good road team last year, but good road team doesn’t mean you win them all, it means you just win some. Chicago is stuck right in the middle of these six games and it’s the second night of a back-to-back. Five wins here would be swell, but at least four and I think the Thunder’s on track.
Record through 24: 16-8
Dec. 11 – 31 (Cleveland, Houston, Sacramento, Phoenix, at Charlotte, at New York, Denver, Dallas, New Jersey, Atlanta)
Late December and into January is where the Thunder went from nice team to legitimate playoff contender last season. OKC beat some good teams and proved this wasn’t just some flash in the pan. A four-game homestand and then only two games on the road in these 10 games is an excellent opportunity to get positioned heading into what I think is the toughest month of the schedule. If a second place finish in the West is actually going to become a reality, the Thunder’s going to have to take full advantage of these types of stretches and win at a high clip at home. I don’t think 8-2 or 9-1 is out of the question, but beating Denver, Dallas and Atlanta will be tough, plus a sleeper game in there is a roadie against the Bobcats.
Record through 34: 23-11
Jan. 1 – 19 (at San Antonio, at Memphis, at Dallas, Memphis, at Houston, Orlando, at LA Lakers, at Denver)
The plan for January is to escape still intact. Just make it through the month in one piece and get settled for a good run to finish out. A road trip with games against the Spurs, Grizzlies and Mavericks could be trouble and one of those where you’re saying, “Win one and I’m happy.” Then finishing out against Orlando, at the Lakers and at the Nuggets. Another, “Just win one” situation. In this eight-game stretch there’s not a single gimme game and realistically, OKC could go 1-7 or 2-6. I think this team is pretty good and will steal some that on paper they might should not.
Record through 42: 26-16
Jan. 20 – Feb. 22 (New York, at New Orleans, at Minnesota, Washington, Miami, New Orleans, at Phoenix, at Utah, Memphis, at Sacramento, at Golden State, Sacramento, LA Clippers)
After a brutal start to the month, things chill out with a little lighter plate. There are a bundle of should-wins in this package, but as always, some landmines and a few really tough ones. For instance, the back-to-back of at Sacto and at Golden State scares me. Then turning around and playing the Kings a few days later to finish off the first half before the All-Star break could be a time OKC sleepwalks a bit.
Record through 55: 35-20
Feb. 23 – March 16 (at San Antonio, at Orlando, LA Lakers, Indiana, at Atlanta, Phoenix, at Memphis, at Philadelphia, Detroit, at Cleveland, at Washington, at Miami)
Last season, OKC ripped off nine straight games going into the All-Star break and then coming out of it. That’s not happening this time around. There’s definitely a chance to have a streak going in, but coming out won’t be easy. The Thunder starts back up against San Antonio and Orlando, then has the Lakers looming shortly after that. This isn’t an overly difficult run of games, but the Thunder’s going to have to beat some really good teams if they want to go streaking.
Record through 66: 42-25
March 16 – 30 (Charlotte, Toronto, Utah, Minnesota, Portland, Golden State, at Phoenix)
If the Thunder’s where we all think they will be, this series of games will be the biggest in the season. OKC has 15 games left and is likely right in the middle of the West through 66 games. Here’s a six-game homestand where it’s almost a necessity to go at least 5-1 in, with a tough game at Phoenix right after. All of the games at home are against equal opponents with no real juggernauts coming in. It’s probably a bit glass half full to go 7-0 here or even 6-1 for these seven games, but 5-2 should keep OKC right where it needs to be.
Record through 73: 47-27
April 1 – 13 (at Portland, at LA Clippers, at Denver, LA Clippers, Denver, at LA Lakers, at Sacramento, Milwaukee)
What an odd end to the schedule. The Thunder plays the Clippers, then the Nuggets, then the Clippers and then the Nuggets all in a row at one point. With five of the final eight away from the Ford Center and the Thunder likely needing five or six wins to get in the discussion for second, OKC will be playing with a bit of pressure. The Thunder has to plan on doing most of their damage late in this schedule after weather the storm early. Fifty wins should happen almost in the same fashion as it did last season. Everyone might expect the Thunder to get to 55 or 60 wins, but this team actually might be better and win only a game or two more.
The West is recovered with Yao Ming back, Chris Paul back and teams like the Clippers and Kings improving while the old dogs like Dallas and San Antonio hanging around. So my way too early prediction has OKC finishing out going 5-3 and sitting with 52 wins. Where that puts the Thunder, I’m not sure. I feel like I’m cautiously optimistic this season and that’s mainly because of the burden of increased expectations that will be thrown on this young group. Though while if OKC finishes over 50 again this year that’s great, the goal isn’t the regular season this time around. It’s about moving forward after this schedule is finished.
Final record after 82 games: 52-30