It’s still about three months away until the NBA season actually begins, but with the schedule out, it feels a lot closer than that. Because we’re actually talking about games and matchups and teams and basketball. Just get through August, then it’s September when training camp starts, then it’s October with preseason and then kaboom, season’s on.
I mean, really if you think about it, the season’s almost here. At least with a schedule, we can imagine about what it will be like, 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. Suns, Nov. 3. It’s the Suns at home. Blah. But it’s about a whole lot more than opponent. It’s about Russell Westbrook (hopefully) returning to the floor. It’s about Jeremy Lamb (hopefully) becoming part of the rotation. It’s about the developments and improvements Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and others made. It’s about getting a look at what the team will look like after months and months of conversations, discussions, debates and arguments.
2. Clippers, Nov. 21. This game comes eight days after the Thunder play the Clippers for the first time, but it’s Lob City in OKC, and a matchup of maybe the top two Western teams.
3. Rockets, Dec. 29. It’s not just James Harden returning yet again. It’s not just Patrick Beverley returning again. It’s not just Dwight Howard signing with them. It’s just the whole thing together. There’s already a buzz about this game. The Rockets look like contenders. But they’ll visit OKC right before 2014, and have a chance to make a little statement whether they are or not.
4. Heat, Feb 20. Self-explanatory.
5. Spurs, April 3. Like last season, could it come down to the Thunder and Spurs for the top spot in the West? With three games between the teams in the books already, there’s a chance this one could make it a split, or possibly award a tiebreaker.
FIVE FUN ROAD GAMES
1. Timberwolves, Nov. 1. The Wolves are once again improved, and (should be) healthy. Could they be a contender, or at least a top six Western threat? We might get a decent idea early on.
2. Clippers, Nov. 13. The first look at the team possibly most poised to threaten the Thunder, and it should be a good one. OKC took the season series 3-0 last season. The Clippers are better, but are the Thunder.
3. Knicks, Dec. 25. Madison Square Garden on Christmas? Please and thank you.
4. Heat, Jan. 29. Self-explanatory.
5. Nets, Jan. 31. The Nets are sort of rebuilt and they will have visited OKC about a month before. But that herringbone court is just so cool-looking on TV.
TOUGHEST 10-DAY STRETCH
Jan. 29– Feb. 9: The Thunder play at Miami, at Brooklyn, at Washington, home against Memphis, home against Minnesota, at Orlando and home against New York. It’s more than 10 days, but then they play at Portland, at the Lakers, home against Miami, home against the Clippers, home against Memphis and home against the Cavaliers. That’s brutal.
The longest road trip for the Thunder is four games (April 4-9) where they play the Rockets, Suns, Kings and Clippers. The dreaded four games in five nights, all on the road. Could be tough. The Thunder also have five three-game road trips.
Fifteen back-to-backs for the Thunder, which is the same number they had last season, which is on the low end for the league. Not a bad break.
January looks pretty challenging to me. The Thunder play 17 games — which is a lot for a month — and only seven are at home. Starting with the Nets, the Thunder then head to Minnesota and have a stretch in the middle of a week playing the Grizzlies, Rockets and Warriors. They have four back-to-backs, games against the Heat, Nets, Spurs, Grizzlies, Rockets, Warriors, Timberwolves and Blazers. It could be a month where 10-7 feels pretty good.
March. You could make a case for November based on the fact the Thunder have a pretty favorable first six games along with a six-game homestand to close it out, but March is filled with should-win games. Of the 14 games, just five are against 2013 playoff teams. And those teams are the Lakers, Nuggets, Bulls and Rockets. Oh, and just two back-to-backs. There’s a good chance the Thunder could go 12-2 or 13-1 in March.
WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND
The Thunder always prefer to avoid Saturday home games and instead play on Sunday. The reasoning is that they are wanting to avoid conflicting with college football, which makes sense. The Thunder do play once on Saturday this season (they didn’t have any last season), Jan. 11 against the Bucks. They play 15 times on Sunday at home, and just six times Friday night in OKC.
LOOK AT ME NOW
The Thunder make 24 national TV appearances this season (10 ESPN, 10 TNT and four on ABC). And that’s not counting the six on NBATV, which I don’t. (Why? Because NBATV is hardly “national TV.” First, not that many people get the channel and secondly, you get local announcers on the game. There’s a certain feel to a national TV game, which you most certainly don’t get on NBATV. Besides, the games are blacked out in OKC so you don’t get to see them anyway.) Twenty-four is tied with the Lakers for the most national TV appearances for any team, and is one more than the Heat get (23). Last season the Thunder were tied for the league lead with 25 national TV appearances. Small market?