Thoughts On The 2009-10 Thunder Schedule
The NBA released its league-wide schedule today, and the Thunder will open the season at home against Sacramento on Oct. 28. Oklahoma City will travel to Detroit to take on the Pistons on Oct. 30 before returning to the Ford Center to face Portland on Nov. 1 and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 3.
Other highlights of the schedule include: Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic at the Ford Center on Sunday, Nov. 8, No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers at the Ford Center on Sunday, Nov. 15, the Boston Celtics coming to town Friday, Dec. 4, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers visiting OKC on Sunday, Dec. 13, Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets coming Jan. 6 and March 10 and the Lakers returning Friday, March 26.
Also, the Thunder will have 10 Sunday home games, nine Friday night home games and three Saturday night home games. Oklahoma City will host Utah on New Year’s Eve and Milwaukee the day after Thanksgiving.
But the most interesting bit of news in Oklahoma City’s schedule is that the Thunder will again have just one nationally televised game, a Dec. 16 home game against Dallas. For all the buzz the Thunder has built around the league for how it’s the best up-and-coming team, the television networks sure don’t seem to be impressed. The Dec. 16 game will be televised by ESPN. It’s understandable how ABC wouldn’t pick up a 23-win team for its Sunday slate but for TNT to not pick up a single game is pretty amazing. Even more incredible is the Thunder is scheduled to have only two games aired on NBATV. I guess respect really is earned, not given.
Anyway, let’s break down this here schedule shall we?
Toughest month: Based solely off of opponents that made the playoffs last season, the Thunder’s toughest month will be November. Ten of the 15 games in the month are against teams that were in the postseason last year. But two of those games are against Houston, which lost its three best players (Yao Ming, Ron Artest and Tracy McGrady) to injuries and free agency. Nevertheless, the Thunder must face both conference champions, the Lakers and Magic, twice apiece in the month as well as road games at San Antonio, at Miami and at Utah. Add to that, the Thunder plays the Clippers, who they went 1-3 against last season, twice in the month and must also face the Washington Wizards, who are healthy and revamped. Let’s just say things have the potential to go south quickly if the Thunder isn’t careful.
Time to gain ground: With so many teams improving this off-season it’s hard to find a month in which the schedule turns in the Thunder’s favor. But February looks to be the month of least resistance for Oklahoma City. The Thunder will play six games against five teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season — Golden State, New York, Minnesota (twice), Phoenix and Toronto. The remaining teams in the month — Atlanta, New Orleans, Portland, Dallas and San Antonio — are all teams the Thunder played relatively well last season which should bode well this year.
Most grueling stretch: And the winner is, by default, a four-game road trip in mid-January. For the second straight season the Thunder received a favorable travel schedule. Oklahoma City is away from the Ford Center for more than three straight games only once this season, a string of games from Jan. 18-23. Even then, the opponents aren’t overwhelming: Atlanta on Jan. 18, Minnesota on Jan. 20, Memphis on Jan. 22 and Cleveland on Jan. 23. The toughest test looks to be early, from Nov. 14 to Nov. 24 when the Thunder plays five of seven games on the road. The opponents: at San Antonio on Nov. 14, at home against the Clippers on Nov. 15, at Miami on Nov. 17, at Orlando on Nov. 18, at home against Washington on Nov. 20, at the Lakers on Nov. 22 and at Utah on Nov. 24.
National attention: If that’s what you want to call it. The Thunder is scheduled for only one nationally televised game, an ESPN broadcast on Dec. 16 against Dallas. NBATV is currently scheduled to air two additional Thunder games, a Nov. 15 home game against Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers and a Dec. 2 home game against Philadelphia. The national television schedule is subject to change, especially later in the season. But for the Thunder to initiate that change it must first win some ball games.
Back-to-backs: The Thunder has 18 back-to-back sets this season, most of them spread out over the course of the year and just about evenly distributed among the three possibilities: Eight road-road, five home-road and five road-home. Not bad.
Five Games To Look Forward To
Dec. 4: Boston: The 2007-08 champs look to have one more run in them. Kevin Garnett’s knee should be healed and ready to rejoin Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. And Rasheed Wallace has entered the mix in Boston, perhaps making the Celtics the favorite to come out of the East. Better enjoy them live if you can.
Dec. 13: Cleveland: Everything about LeBron James already is captivating, from his physique, to that pre-game powder thingy, to how he pummels his competition. But the reigning MVP still has a sour taste in his mouth after last season’s unexpected ousting in the East Finals at the hands of Orlando. So it’s no telling what lengths he’ll go to this season to avoid yet another untimely exit. Expect him to be on a mission to win it all this season. He came to Oklahoma City and dropped 31 on the Thunder last season. This year’s visit could be just as entertaining. And oh yeah, James now has Shaquille O’Neal by his side.
Nov. 3 (or March 26): Los Angeles Lakers: It’s always exciting when the defending champions in any sport can get even better. The Lakers did just that by swapping Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest in free agency while hanging on to Lamar Odom. If Andrew Bynum remains healthy and plays up to his potential all season the Lakers could win 70 games. Thunder fans get two shots at this star-studded squad. Take your pick.
Jan. 16: Miami Heat: Somehow (perhaps because of the Kobe-LeBron craze), Dwyane Wade never did get his due recognition for how truly great he was last season. In case you didn’t know, D-Wade is back and the 2006 Finals MVP is better than ever. He’ll single-handedly make Miami worth watching this season, and judging by his performances last year against the Thunder you won’t want to miss him when he comes to the Ford Center. Wade averaged 35 points, 8.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 1.0 steals in two games against the Thunder last season. And this year’s game is one of only three the Thunder has on Saturday night. What more could you ask for?
Jan. 6 (or March 10): New Orleans Hornets: Don’t write off the Hornets just yet. By trading Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor New Orleans is looking to stay in contention in the West. Last year’s lofty expectations might have been too high, but this year they’ll fly under the radar and could sneak up on the league like they did two seasons ago. But the draw of course is Chris Paul, who has fully established himself as the game’s best point guard. Paul still holds the key to many NBA fans’ hearts in OKC and, really, why wouldn’t he? He dazzles you on the court and charms you off of it. The only drawback is both his visits are on a Wednesday night.
Beware Of The Brand
Houston Rockets: They lost Ron Artest in free agency and both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady likely are out for the season because of injuries. Last year’s playoff darlings don’t quite have the same sizzle with Shane Battier, Aaron Brooks and Luis Scola leading the way. Unfortunately these guys are on the home schedule twice in the regular season (Sunday, Nov. 29 and Wed. March 24) and once on the road in the preseason (Oct. 19).
Detroit Pistons: Chauncey Billups? Gone. Rasheed Wallace? Gone. Allen Iverson? Gone. Antonio McDyess? Gone. Coach Michael Curry? Gone. Their replacements? Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Wilcox and John Kuester. Good luck with that, Detroit. Then again, how much worse could it get after last season? The Thunder ran through last year’s middling Pistons inside the Ford Center, and their only appearance this season (Friday, Dec. 18) looks like it could be setting up to end in similar fashion.
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