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Wanna Spend Christmas With The Thunder?

by Darnell Mayberry Published: December 1, 2011

Could Oklahoma City get a Christmas game?

Before we explore that question, allow me to ask another. Do you even want a Christmas game?

If so, would you prefer it to be at home, where you can attend it, or on the road so you can watch from the comfort of your couch with your family?

Last season, the Thunder played its first ever Christmas game and everything worked out quite well. OKC beat Denver 114-106, Kevin Durant scored a game-high 44 points and a sold out crowd of 18,203 showed up and enjoyed a great night.

It’s possible that we could be in for a repeat performance.

The NBA will expand its Christmas lineup from three games to five, and the Thunder could be one of the four teams added to the slate. The league is expected to announce the Christmas schedule Friday and release the entire 66-game 2011-12 schedule next week.

But the scuttlebutt is the Thunder will host the Grizzlies at 7 p.m. inside The Peake. It would be the fourth game in the lineup, following Boston at New York, Miami at Dallas and Chicago at the L.A. Lakers. A fifth game would be played at 9:30 p.m. central time.

So who are the best possibilities for the Thunder?

I’ve got to admit, I’m not feeling a potential Thunder-Grizzlies game on Christmas all that much. The second round playoff series from last season was a dandy, and Memphis certainly has some talent. But I’m still not sold on the Grizzlies being able to sustain their success. They’ve got too many question marks: Rudy Gay meshing again, Marc Gasol being a restricted free agent, Shane Battier being unrestricted, the future of O.J. Mayo and whether Zach Randolph wants to continue to be on his best behavior. Besides, there simply are better options.

Let’s rank them in order of likability.

1) L.A. Clippers
Pros: Well, Blake Griffin, of course. Some have argued the former OU star is now the most exciting player in the league. Christmas, from a sports standpoint, can’t get much better around here if you’re talking about spending it as a part of Griffin’s homecoming. Add to that, the Clippers were surprisingly competitive against the Thunder last year. They split the four-game series, with each team winning on its home court. The last two games were decided by six and four points, respectively.
Cons: They’re still the Clippers. They’ve won 61 games in the last two seasons, or six more than the Thunder’s win total from a year ago. There’s no guarantee that a Christmas Day game wouldn’t be a complete dud. When these two teams met for the first time in OKC last year, the Thunder crushed the Clippers by 23.

2) Orlando
Pros: It would guarantee OKC a chance to see Dwight Howard this season. With the shortened season wiping out six out-of-conference games for each team, every team from the opposing conference will not be scheduled to make at least one appearance in every building this season. It’d be absolutely awful if Thunder fans miss out on Howard. If you don’t believe me, think back to last year’s matchup with the Magic inside the Ford Center. The Thunder won a 125-124 thriller, Howard had 39 points and 18 rebounds and Russell Westbrook shined with his fourth career triple double with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists. Oh, and how ’bout a matchup between Howard and Kendrick Perkins to start the season? There’s no love lost there, dating to Perk’s playoff days in Boston.
Cons: It could be an extremely losable game for the Thunder. Nobody in OKC wants that. Not on Christmas. The Magic just manhandled the Thunder in Orlando last year, obliterating OKC by 23. Granted, that was against a short-handed Thunder team that had just traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, and had yet to welcome Perk and Nazr Mohammed. But when the Magic are clicking, they can be a tough, tough out.

3) Portland
Pros: Northwest Division rival that offers great matchups across the board. Great test right off the bat to see where the Thunder is physically and mentally. Enough talent, if not star power, to keep everyone interested. If the Blazers bring a (somewhat) healthy Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby to town in addition to LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum, this one could feel like a big-time game. One that’s played in May, not December. Keep in mind, last year’s four-game series was separated by only 19 points, with the largest margin of victory being nine.
Cons: Brandon Roy is a shell of his former self. And according to reports, he might not even be with the team come Dec. 25 if the Blazers decide to cut ties with him via the league’s amnesty savior. Center Greg Oden, the No. 1 pick in Kevin Durant’s draft, also is on the shelf while rehabbing his latest injury, so that storyline gets squashed, too.

4) San Antonio
Pros: Say what you will about the Spurs being boring. But San Antonio still plays some of the best ball in the league. And if you’re a purist, it’s a thing of beauty. From ball movement, to defense to the cliched one-for-all and all-for-one approach. Like it or not, the Thunder is striving to get to where the Spurs are as a fundamental team that plays on one accord. And if it’s star power you want, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have it. Just think: Parker v Westbrook, Duncan v Serge Ibaka, Ginobili v James Harden and Richard Jefferson v Kevin Durant. Scrumptious!
Cons: OK, so even the purist in me will be ticked if we are subject to an 88-83 result. Not to say that every low-scoring game is a shame. I’d much rather watch a competitive defensive battle than a defenseless shootout. But at least give me something in the 90s. The problem with the Spurs is you just never know. Thankfully, they turned up the tempo last season and averaged 103.7 points, their highest since the 1994-95 season under Bob Hill.

5) Atlanta
Pros: With Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford, the Hawks can put on a show on any given night. Johnson, though he’s definitely paid like it, quietly remains one of the league’s most talented players. Two years ago in OKC, Johnson torched the Thunder for 37 in a losing effort. Plus, there’s still that stat-padding incident from New Year’s Eve by Westbrook and Ibaka that drew the ire of the Hawks. If you don’t remember, Westbrook fired a pass to Ibaka for a dunk with six seconds remaining despite the game being in hand. The assist gave Westbrook a triple-double. The dunk gave Ibaka a double-double. Smith, especially, didn’t take to kindly to that. Ibaka and Smith were jawing all game prior to that anyway, so it could be a nice little matchup.
Cons: Nobody really wants to go see the Hawks. Despite their talented trio, and the emerging Jeff Teague, the Hawks are kind of just there. Good, but not good enough to make you get off your couch. You’ve got to be a special fan to say, ‘I want to see Al Horford play live!’ That’s just not happening. The good thing for Oklahoma City is the Thunder fan base is so good that it rarely matters if the opponent is Miami or Minnesota. We know Thunder heads would have The Peake rocking on Christmas Day.

-DM-

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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