Zach Harper of CBSSports.com on the schedule: “James Harden returns to Oklahoma City for the first time this season and this time he’s bringing a pretty big teammate with him. In his first game back against the Thunder in OKC last season, he had a really rough night with 17 points on 3 of 16 shooting and a 22-point loss. The Rockets got better as the season progressed and pushed the Thunder in their opening round showdown once Russell Westbrook went down. Now, he’ll be returning to OKC with Howard by his side, title aspirations in his eyes, and no Kevin Martin for the Thunder to throw his way. We should see a less lopsided game.”
Anthony Slater picking five big games: “Could be a trainwreck, could be a veteran-laden masterpiece. But either way, the new-look Brooklyn Nets should provide nonstop entertainment. And they make their lone stop to OKC on Jan. 2nd, to face a Thunder team that pays $15 million less in salary (around $70 million) than the Nets do strictly in luxury tax (around $86 million).”
Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com’s favorite game: “The Thunder still feel like a team that, when healthy, could be a title threat every year to Miami. Before Russell Westbrook went down, the Thunder were mowing down teams en route to a championship-like differential. We shouldn’t trade the Spurs-Heat series for anything, but James-Durant is captivating stuff that should happen more often.”
Best shooting guard in the game? Don’t read this.
Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.com: “The Timberwolves might be even more desperate than the Pelicans to make a postseason appearance, and in a deep Western Conference, every game will be critical for them. Because if the re-tweaked Wolves don’t taste the postseason this year, you can expect Kevin Love to start making some strong suggestions to be traded. Beating either the Thunder in Minneapolis on Nov. 1 or the Knicks in New York on Nov. 3 would be a decent indicator as to whether Minny is finally postseason material again. All we have is the schedule, and there’s already too many NBA storylines to keep track of for the upcoming regular season.”
Dan Devine of BDL: “I think that Minnesota team will be, if not excellent, then at least immensely watchable on a night-to-night basis thanks to improved outside shooting, punishing inside-out play from Love and Pekovic, the always-appointment-viewing passing of Rubio and a new slew of active wings capable of activating offense in Rick Adelman’s corner scheme. I’m also willing to consider the possibility that they’ll be better than I expect defensively, as they were in 2011-12 before Rubio’s torn ACL sent the team careening off the path. At worst, they’ll be fun; at best, they could be a threat. So let’s line them up against perhaps the best team in the Western Conference — a team led by Love’s Team USA buddy, Kevin Durant, and whose second-in-command, Russell Westbrook, is on track to be back from the knee injury he suffered during the playoffs — and see which path these Wolves are on.”