The evil NBA lockout is over. The preseason tease is over. Now Oklahoma City fans are sitting around like kids staring at packages under the Christmas tree waiting for the December 25th home opener at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
It’s a perfect storm for anticipation. The Thunder is coming off the trip to the Western Conference Finals last year. The NBA lockout stretched out the wait. Now, two preseason wins over the NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks have the Thunder fans primed to get this season started.
Here’s the top 10 OKC home games on the schedule in chronological order:
1) December 25th vs. Orlando: The Thunder’s position as a marquee team in the NBA is solidified with opening night prime-time ESPN game against the Orlando Magic. Some of the luster of this game was at risk in recent weeks with the Magic attempting to trade all-world center Dwight Howard. Now he appears to be starting the season on the Magic roster, so Thunder fans get to watch one of the most entertaining players in the NBA to start the season. With Howard, the Magic are a contender in the Eastern Conference. It should be an early statement game with the entire country watching.
2) December 29 vs. Dallas: The defending NBA champs back in OKC to set the tone for who will be contenders for the #1 seed in the West. The Mavs won the war last year, but so far OKC has won the battles this year with the two preseason wins. Now Dirk will be back playing, Kidd won’t be sitting on the bench and the Thunder will have to prove the preseason wasn’t a fluke. Dallas lost Tyson Chandler and that pesky JJ Barea in the offseason. They added Khloe and Lamar Odom and some E! TV cameras. Odom looked like he brought his LA attitude to Dallas in the preseason games. When the games count this rivalry might spark to new levels. The biggest question of the night will be if since it’s the TNT primetime game, if Charles Barkley will make his appearance in OKC with the crew. If so, someone arrange a horse and buggy to pick him up at the airport please.
3) January 8 vs. San Antonio: The Spurs were one of the top four teams in the West last season, but that isn’t what makes this game one to watch. Thanks to the crammed schedule this is will be the Thunder’s third game in three nights. The stretch starts with a home game against Houston, then the Thunder fly to Houston the next night, then fly back home to take on the Spurs the next night. Not only three games in three nights, but two flights included. That should help the aging Spurs against the young Thunder legs. Interesting the Thunder’s only other home game against the Spurs is the night following a road game at Denver. The schedule makers made the Spurs games as tough as possible for OKC.
4) January 14 vs. New York: The only OKC appearance of the New York Knicks since trading for Carmelo Anthony. In Denver, Anthony got a lot of credit from the national press for winning his matchups with Kevin Durant. The only appearance ‘Melo has made in OKC since the trade was for KD’s charity game during the lockout. Now with the Thunder as contenders and the Knicks looking solid in the East, the two young superstars will battle it out again for bragging rights.
5) February 3 vs. Memphis: The Grizzlies gave the Thunder a severe test in the opening round of the NBA playoffs last year. Both teams are young and loaded. Both brought all their key players back. Both are set to contend in the West again. This late in the season the Thunder will have already played twice in Memphis, but now the home crowd in The ‘Peake gets its chance to see the two fight it out. It’s the ONLY home game for OKC from January 26 through February 13th stuck between eight road games. The players should be elated to be home and the crowd should be starved for NBA basketball.
6) February 23 vs. Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers only appearance in OKC this season, compared to two Thunder trips to LA. By this time of the year the aging Lakers will either be walking dead or killing teams like basketball zombies. With Kobe, Gasol and Bynum still around the Lakers are still the Lakers. By this time of the year, they might have traded for Dwight Howard for all we know. Thunder fans would prefer they just be showing their age and take a beat-down. The NBA scheduled a break for the Lakers here too, giving OKC a home game against the Celtics the night before and the last of four home games in five nights.
7) March 21 vs. Los Angeles Clippers: Finally the best team in LA makes a trip to OKC. Besides Blake Griffin returning home, it’s now a dual homecoming with Chris Paul returning to OKC where he played for the Hornets. The Clippers superstars once owned OKC when they played in the metro area. Now they will get some fans and some applause, but it’s KD’s town. This might be the hottest ticket of the season actually with Blake/CP3 back in OKC. It could be an important game in the West too. The Clips look to be contenders this year. This game starts off the most important stretch of the schedule for the Thunder. In the eight games, the Thunder has the Clippers, Twolves, Heat, Blazers, Lakers, Bulls, Grizzlies and Heat again. Put up a winning record through that stretch and the Thunder are playoff favorites.
8 ) March 25 vs. Miami: The only two games with the Heat are in this 8-game stretch. The one time the Heat play in OKC for the season is a Sunday night national ESPN game. Right now it’s the two teams most experts are picking to play in the NBA Finals. It’s the best of the West against the best of the East.
9) April 1 vs. Chicago: Another game in the defining stretch, the Bulls make their only appearance in OKC for the regular season. MVP Derrick Rose in OKC for April Fools Day. This was last year’s marquee season opener for the Thunder. Now it’s Russell Westbrook vs. Rose for a Sunday noon ABC national audience.
10) April 11 vs. Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers second meeting in OKC. OKC fans would probably rather see Blake/CP3 than even the Heat. This game versus the Clippers is the last big home test, followed by road games against the Clippers and Lakers. The Thunder’s late season schedule should set up some wins with three games against Sacramento in the last two weeks of the season for example. Maybe the last home game against Denver jumps up, but that has more potential to be a rest game than an important game for playoff seeds.
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