It’s not necessarily a sign that we’ll have basketball this season, but the 2011-12 schedule release at least lets us think about what it would be like if there was. We can just picture and visualize each game. Better than nothing, right?
If you want to go over the entire thing, it’s right here, but I’m going to hit on the big parts of it.
FIVE MUST-SEE HOME GAMES
1. Nuggets, Nov. 18. The Thunder’s home opener is against the Pacers Nov. 4, but the first really interesting home game comes against Denver Nov. 18. Not only is this a rematch of the heated, semi-nasty opening round playoff series last year, but it’s also a game against one of the Thunder’s top Northwest Division rivals. It feels like something is brewing in terms of animosity between the Nugget and Thunder fanbases and I get the feeling the teams don’t care for each other much either.
2. Mavericks, Dec. 29. The first opportunity for payback and redemption comes almost two months into the season. It’s a long time to wait, but you can be sure the Arena Formerly Known As The Ford Center will be amped about this one. The last time the Mavericks were in Oklahoma City, they broke the Thunder’s heart with that ridiculous 15-point comeback. No way KD, Russ and the Thunderdome are planning on letting them walk out with anything easy this time.
3. Celtics, Jan 22. Potentially, depending on what the Celtics do, this could be Jeff Green’s return to Oklahoma City. That would make it a special night by itself, but the Celtics are one of the league’s most followed, marquee teams and any time the all-time champs come to town, it’s great. It’ll be Perk’s first chance to show off his new digs to his old teammates and a game featuring two really tough and talented rosters.
4. Heat, March 25. I shouldn’t have to give you a reason why this one is a must-watch home game. LeBron v. Durant. Wade v. Westbrook. The good guys v. the bad guys. All the storylines are still there and the Heat remain the most followed, most polarizing team in sports. Hosting them is always a good time, if only just so you can boo LeBron.
5. Lakers, April 8. The Lakers visit Nov. 23 for the first time, but go almost four months between trips as they return with just a week left in the season. That’s a bummer, but there’s a chance this game could have major Western playoff seeding implications. The Lakers always bring out the best in Thunder fans, but if the stakes are raised, it’ll just be that much better.
March 25 – April 1: There may be other sequences in the schedule where the Thunder have a difficult home-road turnaround or a tough four-in-five-nights stretch, but in terms of just strength of schedule difficulty, the Thunder’s six days to end March look really tough. OKC plays Miami at home then travels to the West Coast to take on Portland and the Lakers before returning home to play the Bulls. That’s three contenders and a solid playoff team in seven days. Coming out of that 2-2 seems like it would be a victory.
The longest road trip for the Thunder is just four games, but OKC has to do that three times. The Thunder tend to always escape long trips mainly because of their location, but long road trips is what wears teams out. None of the trips are exceedingly painful, though the first one has San Antonio and Miami on it (along with Milwaukee and Minnesota).
Nineteen back-to-backs for the Thunder this season which isn’t horrible, but isn’t great. Last season that number was 15, which was on the extreme low end of all teams. At one point though, the Thunder have three consecutive back-to-backs, which is odd. OKC plays Feb. 6 and 7 (Portland, Golden State), Feb. 9 and 10 (Sacramento, Utah) and Feb. 14 and 15 (Minnesota, Houston).
I feel like the Thunder’s pre-Christmas schedule is really tough. And it starts with a difficult November. The Thunder have nine road games compared to just seven home games, with road tilts including the Lakers, Suns, Mavericks, Knicks, Bulls and Spurs. Not to mention that OKC starts with five of six on the road. Also included in November is this three-game road trip: at Dallas, at New York and at Chicago. OKC starts the season on a road back-to-back (Lakers and Suns) and have four back-to-backs in the month. In the 16 games, honestly getting 10 wins would feel like a major success.
After a gauntlet in November and December, things cool considerably for the Thunder to kick off 2012. OKC opens with a three-game homestand and while out of the 14 games, OKC has just six home games to eight roadies, the close of January is pretty light with games against Washington, New Jersey, Milwaukee, Detroit and Cleveland. But I’m going with February as the easiest month. The Thunder plays just five playoff teams, has a four-game homestand and realistically could go 10-2 or even 11-1 in the month. Slogging through November and December could be a challenge but it eases up in 2012. So if the season just starts in January, the Thunder actually might have a pretty easy start to the schedule. Bright side!
WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND
The Thunder have only one Saturday home game. This isn’t anything new. Last season, OKC played just three at home on Saturday. The reason is simple: The Thunder don’t want to compete with OU and OSU football for eyeballs. So as a result, OKC has 13 Friday home games and 10 on Sunday. The Thunder love the family-friendly 6 p.m. Sunday game so that’s also one of the reasons you don’t see many Saturday home games. But 23 of the 41 home games on the weekend is pretty good.
LOOK AT ME NOW
Last season the Thunder appeared 17 times on national TV. At the beginning of the season they were scheduled for 15 but were picked up for two games late in the season. This year the initial number is 19 with eight on TNT (two last year), nine on ESPN and two on ABC. The Thunder are one of the top five most televised teams now and it’s obvious that the league considers OKC one of its marquee television teams.
FIRST AND TEN
Again, the first 10 games of the season aren’t easy. I’d say the Thunder have a good chance to start the season 7-3, but if things don’t go well it could easily be 4-6. That three-game road trip going to Dallas, New York and Chicago really sucks.