Let’s talk about the Thunder’s schedule.
By now you’ve probably seen it. You can read my story in today’s paper on how favorable it is here.
But here’s what I want to talk about: the back-to-backs. They’re worth a closer look.
The Thunder has 15 back-to-back sets this season. A solid number. About average. The same number OKC had last season. But this year’s are interesting when you really look at them. Two things stand out: 1) when they appear on the schedule, and, 2) their relative lack of difficulty.
Here’s a look at all 15 sets.
Nov. 13-14: at Clippers, at Golden State
Dec. 3-4: at Sacramento, at Portland
Dec. 10-11: at Atlanta, at Memphis
Dec. 21-22: at San Antonio, vs. Toronto
Jan. 4-5: at Minnesota, vs. Boston
Jan. 16-17: at Houston, vs. Golden State
Jan. 21-22: vs. Portland, at San Antonio
Jan. 24-25: at Boston, at Philadelphia
Jan. 31-Feb. 1: at Brooklyn, at Washington
March 16-17: vs. Dallas, at Chicago
March 20-21: at Cleveland, at Toronto
March 24-25: vs. Denver, at Dallas
April 3-4: vs. San Antonio, at Houston
April 8-9: at Sacramento, at Clippers
April 13-14: at Indiana, at New Orleans
First, you’ll notice that 40 percent of the Thunder’s back-to-backs come after March 15, in the final 17 games. That could be huge. It means that a Thunder squad that should be well-rested could pile up victories throughout the first 65 games of the season. (Side note. That also could have two ancillary benefits: 1) it could help the Thunder’s new group build chemistry, camaraderie and confidence while racking up wins, and, 2) if this year is anything like last year and OKC’s margin of victory is often absurd, the Thunder’s young guns could get plenty of chances to strut their stuff early.)
Secondly, check out the travel. It’s largely a breeze. The Thunder doesn’t have any outrageous journeys. Nothing quite as cumbersome as last year’s random Atlanta-Minnesota back-to-back. The longest trip appears to be the Jan. 4-5 at Minnesota/back home against Boston set. But Boston could be awful this year, which lessens that blow and leads to my next point.
The opponents in the back-to-backs shouldn’t give the Thunder too much trouble. As I see it, the Thunder has four downright difficult tests, as in both games are tough. They are Nov. 13-14, Jan. 16-17, March 16-17 and April 3-4. Another three could pose problems on the second night. Those are Dec. 10-11, Jan. 21-22 and April 8-9. And two more are what I would describe as wild cards, back-to-backs that could be more challenging than expected. They are Jan. 31-Feb. 1 and April 13-14.
The wild cards, a Brooklyn-Washington pairing and an Indiana-New Orleans set, are iffy for different reasons. Both the Nets and Wizards could be dangerous this season. OKC also has a history of faltering in D.C., and that Wizards game comes at the tail end of a three-game trip that swings through Miami (hello) and New York (Brooklyn) first. Let’s just say the players could be a little tired. As for the Pacers-Pelicans (man, that’s going to be hard to remember this season) set, it’s one of the longest distances between cities that the Thunder will travel on back-to-backs, and a physical Pacers team could wear down OKC on the first night. It’s also the second-to-last game of the season, and the Pelicans — yes, the Pelicans, don’t sleep on them — could be playing for something while the Thunder could be playing out the string with its seeding set.
The remaining six should be, should be, open and shut. That’s not to say the Thunder should go 12-0 in those games. There are some solid tests, like Dec. 21 at San Antonio before hosting Toronto the next night, or a home game against Denver on March 24 before playing at Dallas just 24 hours later. But by and large, the Thunder shouldn’t find too much trouble with back-to-backs like Sacramento and Portland, or Minnesota and Boston, or Boston and Philadelphia.
So out of 15 back-to-backs, four are borderline brutal, three are taxing only on the second night and two are toss-ups.
That means six of the 15 are more than manageable.
That’s not a bad break.