In a summer clouded with confusion and consternation and defined by doubt and dejection, a glimmer of hope reared its head Tuesday.
It was the 2013-14 NBA schedule.
For the Oklahoma City Thunder, it brought reason to believe that this team, despite what many have labeled a disappointing offseason, remains capable of compiling a higher winning percentage than the previous campaign for the fifth consecutive season.
That's because the Thunder lucked out with a super schedule, a favorable 82-game slate that, if all goes well, should position OKC to claim a second straight 60-win season and its fourth straight division crown.
Noticeably absent from this year's schedule are long road trips, arduous back-to-backs and dreaded four-game-in-five-nights stretches. They've been replaced with extraordinary balance, extended home stands and, above all, abundant and consistent rest.
The first 30 games offer a peek into that balance.
Although the Thunder will open the 2013-14 season on the road, with games at Utah on Oct. 30 and at Minnesota on Nov. 1, OKC will never be away from home long. The home opener comes in the third game of the season, a Nov. 3 date with Phoenix, and 15 of the Thunder's first 30 games will be played inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
This will mark the second consecutive season that the Thunder opens the season on the road. Last year, the Thunder opened the season against the Spurs in San Antonio. In each of the four seasons before 2012-13, the Thunder opened at home.
But study the schedule and you'll see how that's one of only a handful of gripe-worthy inconveniences — if you just must nitpick.
Most everything else is gravy.
The Thunder is scheduled for only 15 back-to-backs, which matches last year's total. But six of this year's back-to-back sets come in the final 17 games, or after March 15. That means that for much of this season's first 65 games, a well-rested Thunder squad should be able to stock up on victories.
Additionally, the Thunder has only one test of four games in five nights on its schedule. And three of those four opponents — Portland, Boston and Philadelphia — project as lottery teams.
January appears to be the Thunder's toughest month, as 10 of the team's 17 games will be played on the road, against worthy opponents such as Denver, Memphis, Houston, San Antonio, Miami and Brooklyn.
But the next month again turns favorable, when the Thunder plays seven of its 11 February games at home. The month also includes a six-day hiatus between the Thunder's final game before the All-Star break and its first game out of the break.
The second of two six-game home stands also is scheduled to commence immediately after the break, keeping the Thunder at home from Feb. 20-March 4. The first six-game home stand runs from Nov. 18-Dec. 1.
Oklahoma City's longest road trip is four games, a relatively trouble-free trek that starts in Houston on April 4, swings through Phoenix and Sacramento and concludes in Los Angeles against the Clippers on April 9.
Fifty of the Thunder's games have a day in between, while another 14 games offer a two-day breather.
The Thunder has five three-game road trips, eight two-game trips and six one-game trips. In other words, 22 of the Thunder's 41 road games are either one- or two-game trips.
As if the schedule-maker wasn't kind enough to Oklahoma City, the Thunder will again be featured prominently in marquee matchups in prime time spots.
OKC received 24 national television games on ESPN (10), TNT (10) and ABC (four). Another six are scheduled for NBA TV. The Thunder's 30, if you count NBA TV games as nationally televised, ranks OKC third behind Chicago and New York (33 apiece) for the league's most national appearances this year.
None will be bigger for OKC than the Thunder's trip to New York to take on the Knicks on Christmas Day. Tip-off is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Central. The Thunder is 2-1 in Christmas Day games, winning at home in 2010 against Denver and in 2011 against Orlando before falling at Miami last year.
For the sixth straight season, the Thunder also will host a New Year's Eve game. This year's contest will be against Portland at 7 p.m. OKC is 5-0 in New Year's Eve games.
Other home games of note include San Antonio on Wednesday, Nov. 27, and Thursday, April 3; Houston on Sunday, Dec. 29, and Tuesday, March 11; Chicago making its lone visit on Dec. 19; Miami on Thursday, Feb. 20; and Brooklyn on Jan. 2.
The Thunder also will host both Los Angeles teams two times apiece this season. The Clippers will play inside Chesapeake Energy Arena on Thursday, Nov. 21, and Sunday, Feb. 23. The Lakers come to town Friday, Dec. 13, and Thursday, March 13.
Oklahoma City's regular-season finale will be played at home on Wednesday, April 16, against the Detroit Pistons.
Single-game tickets for the entire regular season will go on sale at a later date.