It’s a shame that this season isn’t 82 games because the Thunder’s 50-win season streak will almost assuredly come to an end at two. (The Mavs’ is at 10, I think.) But it’s time to take guesses on how this thing will shake out. It’s time make a prediction on Oklahoma City’s record, seed and the scene when the final buzzer sounds on the season.
1. How many games will the Thunder win?
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Put me down for 47-19. Through 66 games last season, the Thunder were 43-23. So Oklahoma City will be four games ahead of that clip and on pace for 58 or 59 wins if this were a normal season. Which sounds just about right to me. They should be better, but I don’t see any reason to be THAT much better
Patrick James, Daily Thunder: The Thunder will win 46 games, a slight improvement on last year’s winning percentage. I don’t buy many arguments that say the compressed schedule will have much of an effect because it affects all teams, but it may affect the young Thunder a little less. I think Oklahoma City will display a nice killer instinct this year and bring solid focus throughout the entire season.
J.G. Marking, Daily Thunder: I say the Thunder go 50-16. The Northwest Division simply isn’t what it used to be and given the Thunder’s depth and youth, I honestly think they are more suited to succeed in a compacted and brutal schedule than any other team in the league.
2. What seed will the Thunder get in the West?
Royce Young: First. The West is going to be pretty choppy this season with a pretty firm top six all kind of beating around on each other in a short amount of time. There really aren’t many little sisters of the poor in the West right now with the Wolves looking to be better along with the Kings and Warriors. But if the Thunder can win more than 45, they’ll be in really good shape for at least home court through the first two rounds.
Patrick James: Second. Don’t ask me who finishes first, because I don’t think the West is going to have a dominant team that is a surefire bet to finish first. But second seems about right for the Thunder this year. I think the West’s top seed can be won with 48 wins or so, and the Thunder will come up a few short.
J.G. Marking: Call me Mr. Jinx, but if they manage to get to 50 wins in the Western Conference, there’s no way the Thunder won’t be the #1 seed. Dallas will need at least 1/3 of the year to adjust to all their new parts and pieces, the Spurs are another year older and have to play in the Southwest Division. The Lakers… well, they’re not really the Lakers from a year ago, are they? The Clippers are a great starting lineup, and excellent depth — at point guard, but that doesn’t get you deep in the playoffs in a shortened season. The Grizz will unfortunately realize how big of a loss Darrell Arthur’s injury truly was during this back-to-back-to-back season. Now toss on the fact that a good chunk of the Nuggets’ depth will hear their introductions announced in Mandarin until the spring, and I think the Thunder notch that top seed and homecourt throughout the playoffs.
3. What does it look like when the final buzzer sounds on OKC’s season?
Royce Young: Confetti falls in American Airlines Arena as Oklahoma City falls in a Game 7 battle against the Heat. And trust me — I hated writing that as much as you hated reading it. But it just doesn’t feel right to predict a title for this Thunder team right now. Besides, it just kind of feels wrong at this point to go all the way and say the Thunder are winning it all. I don’t even feel comfortable using the words “Thunder,” “NBA,” and “title” in the same sentence right now.
Patrick James: The Miami Heat will be celebrating LeBron James’ first title on their home floor in Game 6 of the NBA Finals as Kevin Durant gives the Thunder a rousing speech in the visiting locker room. I just think it’s Miami’s time this year, and OKC can take another step, but not the final one just yet. Assuming Russell Westbrook remains in a Thunder uniform in 2012-13, NBA fans could be treated to a tasty Finals rematch with a different outcome.
J.G. Marking: As much as it pains me to say this, I think the Thunder are in Miami for a Game 6 when the buzzer sounds and have to watch Lebron James absolutely break down under the weight of the Larry O’Brien trophy as Dan Gilbert prepares another Comic Sans tirade. I think the Thunder are done knocking and absolutely kick the door open this year, but just can’t quite get inside before the Heat do.