Spoiler alert: I’m about to tell you exactly how the Thunder’s 2013-14 season is going to go.
When the schedule comes out, I do this thing where I break it down and wildly speculate and guess how it will all shake out for the Thunder. Why? Because August. And because wild speculation and ridiculous predicting are always good times.
Three seasons ago, I sorted it out that the Thunder would win 52 games (they won 55). Two seasons ago, I had them with 57, but they won 10 fewer. Stupid lockout (over an 82-game schedule with that win percentage they would’ve won 58). Last season I had them with 60 and they won 60. You know it.
This season does feel a bit less predictable, though, what with all the non-transacting and all. The Thunder could be better by the default principle of their young players improving. They could be a little worse if some the unprovens don’t prove. Or they could be about the same. They’ll be good. The question is just about how good.
ESPN.com’s Summer Forecast pegs the Thunder to go 58-24 and finish atop the Western Conference again. Here’s my best guess of it all — mind you, in August — taking it piece by piece:
Oct. 30 — Nov. 18 (at Utah, at Minnesota, Phoenix, Dallas, at Detroit, Washington, at LA Clippers, at Golden State, at Milwaukee, Denver)
There’s a very good chance the Thunder start the season 6-0. The real chance the slip up is the second game of the season at the Timberwolves, but right now the jury is out on how good Minny will be. Still, if OKC’s sitting 6-0 or even 5-1 heading into the game against the Clippers, there will be high intrigue as to how that one plays out. Because while the first six are very winnable, the next two are dicey at the Clips and at the Warriors. The Thunder started last season 1-2 and finished the first 10 7-3. Other than the beginning, the end result could see history repeat.
Record through 10: 7-3
Nov. 21 — Dec. 11 (LA Clippers, Utah, San Antonio, Golden State, Minnesota, at Sacramento, at New Orleans, at Portland, Indiana, at Atlanta, at Memphis)
Of these next 11, six at home, five on the road. The good teams are mostly at home, the meh ones mostly on the road. At the Blazers could be a challenge and at Memphis definitely will be, but getting the Clippers, Spurs, Warriors and Wolves at home here gives the Thunder a very good chance to stretch out to a nice early season start.
Record through 21: 16-5
Dec. 13 — Jan. 2 (LA Lakers, Orlando, at Denver, Chicago, at San Antonio, Toronto, at New York, at Charlotte, Houston, Portland, Brooklyn)
The Lakers should be down, the Nuggets should be down, the Magic are the Magic, the Raptors are the Raptors, the Bobcats are the Bobcats. Other than that, woof. The Bulls, the Spurs, the Knicks, the Rockets, the Blazers and the Nets. Three at home, three on the road. The good thing about the Thunder is that any game on the schedule is conceivably winnable, but the bad thing is, there are never any guarantees, no matter how good you are. Of those six toughies, I’m giving the Thunder three of them.
Record through 32: 24-8
Jan. 4 — Jan. 21 (at Minnesota, Boston, at Utah, at Denver, Milwaukee, at Memphis, at Houston, Golden State, Sacramento, Portland)
It’s almost like the first of January is a little tune-up to a rather hellish oncoming stretch at the end of the month extending into February. There are some pushovers, and a few challenges. For the first part of the schedule, a lot of it kind of seems to hinge on how good the Blazers are going to be, doesn’t it? With the Thunder already playing them a third time here, and a fourth coming soon, if Portland’s good, it makes the Thunder’s schedule look a lot tougher. If they’re average, things don’t look quite as nasty. That’s kind of how I see this stretch. If Portland’s just alright, it’s not all that rough. If Portland’s good, it’s no cakewalk.
Record through 42: 32-10
Jan. 22 — Feb. 28 (at San Antonio, at Boston, at Philadelphia, Atlanta, at Miami, at Brooklyn, at Washington, Memphis, Minnesota, at Orlando, New York, at Portland, at LA Lakers, Miami, LA Clippers, Cleveland, Memphis)
Oh boy. Look at that. At the Spurs, at the Heat, at the Nets, at the Wizards (who will be much better this season), at the Blazers. With the Hawks, Grizzlies, Wolves, Knicks, Clippers, Cavs and Grizzlies (again) coming to OKC. That’s a ridiculously tough stretch of games to go through for more than a month. Of the 17 games, I’d peg only four as semi-locks, with the rest mostly being up in the air. The Lakers are down but playing them at Staples is no gimme. Nine on the road, eight at home. Let’s say the Thunder win seven of the home games — they’re really good at home — and split on the road. That seems fair.
Record through 59: 43-16
March 2 — March 21 (Charlotte, Philadelphia, at Phoenix, at LA Lakers, Houston, LA Lakers, Dallas, at Chicago, at Toronto, at Cleveland)
Is it just me or does the NBA feel a whole lot deeper? Maybe it’s because the East is finally sort of resembling an actual conference instead of four teams and a bunch of pretenders. Like that game at the Cavs, that’s a tough one, especially if they’re fighting for a playoff spot. Also, it’s high time the Thunder lose their annual Dumb Game of the Season, so let’s say the drop it at the Suns.
Record through 69: 49-20
March 24 — April 3 (Denver, at Dallas, Sacramento, Utah, San Antonio)
I get the feeling this will be the stretch that decides whether or not the Thunder win the top seed in the West or not. Last season they lulled for a bit around this time, but were able to bounce back and finish very strong. The game against the Spurs could settle the tiebreaker, and there four other games they should take care of there. Realistically, the Thunder should go 5-0 in this stretch, but they’ll lose one. Lose two, and it might cost them dearly.
Record through 74: 53-21
April 4 — April 16 (at Houston, at Phoenix, at Sacramento, at LA Clippers, New Orleans, at Indiana, at New Orleans, Detroit)
A little bit of everything to finish. At the Rockets will be big, then easy ones at the Suns and Kings, then at the Clippers and Pacers, with should-wins against the Pelicans and Pistons. The Pelicans could be sneaky good and who knows what the Pistons are and if that game will even matter. The Thunder typically like to play out the season until the bitter end, so I doubt they’ll be packing it in anywhere before the final game or two.
Record through 82: 58-24