The full NBA schedule was released yesterday giving fans a glimpse into the near basketball future.
For the Oklahoma City Thunder, there are a plethora of big games. 36 nationally televised contests — for context, the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers will be on 41 nationally televised games — games on Opening Night, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
While we are still over a month away from the start of preseason, there is no shame in getting excited for the year. Over this week, you will be able to dive into the top 10 games to look for on the Thunder’s schedule.
Here are numbers 10, 9 and 8.
#10 Denver Nuggets @ OKC – March 29th
This will mark the Thunder’s final game against a Northwest Division opponent. The Nuggets are poised to be one of the more exciting teams in the league boasting an impressive young core of developing scorers.
Last season, Denver owned the regular season series 3-1 and gave the Oklahoma City defense fits. As the Nuggets attempt to jump into the logjam of playoff contending teams this year, seeding will be paramount for the Thunder. Denver fought for it’s playoff lives as the season drew to a close last year. The same could very well happen again. Desperate teams can be dangerous.
By this time, you would hope Oklahoma City has their playoff future clinched, but if they are still fighting for the postseason or seeding then the Nuggets this late in the year could present a problem.
Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap combine to be one of the better passing big men-duos in the league. Jamal Murray provides excitement and explosive shooting — over the last 37 games, Murray shot over 40 percent from deep.
And everyone will remember Gary Harris:
#9 Houston Rockets @ OKC – November 8th
The glorious return of revered Thunder player Carmelo Anthony to the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
All kidding aside, it will be interesting to see the reaction Thunder fans give Anthony. While the big three experiment did not work for Oklahoma City, Anthony was by all accounts a great teammate and enjoyed his short time in the city. As the Rockets attempt to take a crack at Carmelo-conundrum, there will no doubt be an exciting energy in the arena for this early season game.
The actual basketball on the floor will be interesting as well. The Rockets will be without perimeter defenders Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute which will have an effect on their defense. Despite those losses, Chris Paul and James Harden will be headlining one of the top offenses and teams in the league. The collection of All-Stars makes this game an early season must-watch.
Make no mistake, the Rockets will be a great team despite their losses.
Last year, the Thunder were expected to be in the top-tier along with Houston, Golden State, etc. While Oklahoma City’s record against those teams implied the potential of the squad, inconsistency kept them from a serious contender conversation. Everyone will be focusing on beating the lesser teams more frequently, the Thunder must continue their good fortune against the upper-tier.
An early match against Houston should do the trick.
#8 Los Angeles Lakers @ OKC – January 17th
Oklahoma City will become quickly familiar with the LeBron James led Los Angeles Lakers in January. After a trip to the West Coast on January 2nd, the Lakers head to Oklahoma City two weeks later.
It is up for debate at this point whether the Lakers will be fighting for the playoffs, a middle-of-the-pack Western Conference team or a serious title contender. James moves the needle that much even for a franchise that has enjoyed the cool, relaxing waters of the NBA Lottery for the past few years. With a slew of exciting, young players and James at the helm, the Lakers will bring actual basketball excitement in addition to being the Lakers.
Other than the Kobe Bryant swan-song in 2016 — which ended in a 112-79 thrashing of Los Angeles — this will be the biggest Lakers/Thunder game in Oklahoma City since those early battles when Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden eliminated the Lake-show in 2012. Lakers’ fans always show out on the road, but the added LeBron factor will make this a fun home environment.
Playing against the Lakers in tough, exciting games are what put Oklahoma City on the basketball map. Not to mention the Thunder and Los Angeles may be fighting for playoff position as the season plays out.
These will be fun.