The full NBA schedule was released yesterday giving fans a glimpse into the near basketball future.
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.
The first three games dropped on Monday, you can view them here. Friday will feature the top four games to look for on the schedule. 7, 6 and 5 can be found here. Now without further ado, here are the final four games.
#4 Dallas Mavericks @ OKC – Dec. 31st
In one of the more interesting twists with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s schedule, the Mavericks come to Chesapeake Energy Arena a mere 24 hours after the Thunder square off in Dallas the night before. This will happen two more times for Oklahoma City when they play San Antonio and Toronto in back-to-back games.
Last season on the same day, the Thunder were upset by the clearly tanking Mavericks at home on New Year’s Eve. Dallas was 12-25 heading into the contest with little to show for other than Dennis Smith, Jr. being exciting. Of course, Oklahoma City was no where near a contender at 20-16 but had gone on a five-game winning streak — the longest of the year to that point — before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in controversial fashion.
This will be another case of, “Can Oklahoma City beat the bad teams consistently?” We know that with the talent on the roster that wins against the upper-echelon of the league will be there. 2017-18’s anthem was always, “What’s our record against the best teams?” A question that doesn’t matter when you can’t beat Dallas at home.
Lottery pick Luca Doncic brings new excitement to a Mavericks squad that is still figuring out if the playoffs are a realistic goal. Regardless of their trajectory, Dallas always plays Oklahoma City tough and typically gets the Thunder off their game with toughness and scrappy play.
Oklahoma City has been fortunate for the most part on New Year’s Eve. The Thunder are 8-2 in those games.
#3 Utah Jazz @ OKC – December 10th
The first game between the Jazz and Thunder since the wild Game 6 in Salt Lake City.
By this date, enough time will have passed to give Andre Roberson a chance to re-acclimate himself with the speed of the game coming off injury. It will also be interesting to see how Roberson can handle Donovan Mitchell for the first time since he has become…Donovan Mitchell.
For as bad as the Thunder looked against Utah in the postseason, they do have odd success against them in the regular season. Over their last 12 non-postseason games, Oklahoma City is 10-2 against the Jazz. Of course, Rudy Gobert has missed a few of those games.
This will also be a nice test for new Thunder player Nerlens Noel. Last year, the Jazz exploited Oklahoma City’s lack of size behind Steven Adams with Gobert and Derrick Favors. Noel isn’t the most physical of bigs but he is a step-up from asking Carmelo Anthony to defend the paint. If Noel is able to turn the corner on his career, games like this will be the showcase.
#2 OKC @ Houston Rockets – Christmas Day
Much like New Year’s Eve games, the Thunder have found fortune on Christmas Day. Winners of six of eight including last year’s game against the Rockets.
To this point on the schedule, of Oklahoma City’s 32 games, 20 of them will be against teams who did not make the playoffs last year. Teams like Phoenix and Dallas will be improved but there’s no denying that the Thunder have a chance to gobble up a bunch of wins. A chance to cap off 2018 with a marquee win against Houston on the road will be huge going into 2019.
The sheer amount of names in this game is enough to satisfy the most cynical basketball fan who believes the sport is now as soft as a new mattress. Chris Paul, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
The basketball world will have a better idea of how this new edition of Houston will be. While many believe the Rockets are a worse team than the one who pushed Golden State to the brink, it is foolish to think a team with that much talent and a system conducive to winning a lot of regular season games will drop off much.
It will also be interesting to see how the Rocket’s addition of Anthony will be by this point. Does the former Thunder player finally come off the bench or is he a starter? Regardless of what it may be, is he still effective and not a flaw in the Houston system?
#1 OKC @ Golden State Warriors – Opening Night
You can guarantee there will be a split screen shot of Kevin Durant receiving his 2017-18 NBA championship ring and Westbrook looking on. The drama writes itself. The now secure-for-the-foreseeable-future Thunder led by Westbrook and his blood-feud for all things Warriors versus the guy who left them.
With that much spotlight on opening night, it will be important to see what type of Westbrook we see. Is it the All-Star player who balances his intensity with the understanding that there are other talented players there to help him? Or do we see the Westbrook who wants to go on a personal crusade at the detriment of smart basketball?
Oklahoma City will have a bit of an advantage starting off. Opening nights have been tricky for the teams receiving their rings. Look no further than last year when the Rockets upset the Warriors which set up Houston’s hot start and 65-win season. If you’re inquisitive and want to look further, go back to 2006 opening night when the reigning-champion Miami Heat were taken behind the woodshed and put down by the Chicago Bulls — you know, the Alonzo Mourning gif game.
A win here can do something similar to what Houston was able to do by winning their opening night game against Golden State. Last year showed the Thunder’s progress against the Warriors since Durant left for the West Coast. A victory in Oakland can get Oklahoma City started. With a soft schedule following, the Thunder could find themselves a polar opposite of last year’s squad.