It’s almost time for the Thunder take the court for another exciting season. They have been picked to win it all this year, finally giving the team a much anticipated championship. However, before they even think about that they’ll have to get past a few teams that always seem to get in their way. Let’s take a look at the Thunder’s biggest rivals for the upcoming 2014-15 season.
1. San Antonio Spurs
Key Matchup: Kevin Durant vs. Kawhi Leonard
2013-14 Record Against: 6-4
The Thunder have always seemed to be the “little brother” to the Spurs. The Spurs are the older and more experienced team who know exactly what it takes to win a championship. There comes a point in almost every season where the two meet up deep in the playoffs, with the winner eventually moving on to the Finals. Over the last few years it seems that the Spurs have gotten the better of the Thunder in these matchups. However, you could argue that the only time the Thunder had a completely healthy roster against them they beat them. That’s was back in the 2012 WCF. Look for this season to be no different. The Spurs maintained their same experienced core of players and will likely make yet another run to the playoffs. I just don’t know if they could beat this Thunder roster when it’s completely healthy.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
Key Matchup: Serge Ibaka vs. Blake Griffin
2013-14 Record Against: 6-4
These are two of the most promising up and coming teams in the league. Last year they played a playoff series that won’t soon be forgotten by either teams fans. The Clippers felt that they were cheated and that the series should have been theirs. If this season comes down to another playoff matchup between these two teams then you are definitely in for a show. The teams seem to dislike each other. They always play each other very physically. This is evident if you watch Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin go at it. The Thunder have always been a few steps ahead of the Clips in recent years. LA will be looking to change that this year. Be sure to always have a TV present when these two are on.
3. Houston Rockets
Key Matchup: Russell Westbrook vs. Patrick Beverley
2013-14 Record Against: 3-1
This matchup always has drama written all over it. Let’s start with the obvious. James Harden had a choice to remain with the Thunder, but decided he wanted to be a super star on his own team instead. That team ended up being the Rockets. Now to add even more drama to the matchup, let’s not forget Patrick Beverley. Thunder fans everywhere still hate this guy for his obvious dirty play against Westbrook in the first round back in the 2012-13 season. The play ended up ending Westbrook’s season and the Thunder’s chance at a title. Now, whenever these two teams take the court there’s always some bad blood. Especially between the two point guards. Now I don’t see the Rockets having the talent to upset a healthy Thunder team in a playoff series, but the Thunder would get a very chippy series from them.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Key Matchup: Steven Adams vs. Zach Randolph
2013-14 Record Against: 7-4
The Grizzlies were arguable the Thunder’s first real rival. The two teams have been meeting in the playoffs ever since the Thunder started getting their every season. Now Memphis has always been a less talented group than the Thunder, when healthy. However, the Grizzlies never seem to think that. Memphis has always played the Thunder more physically than any other team, with success. Last season the Thunder were pushed to a Game 7 with Memphis. This brings me to my Key Matchup. In Game 6 of last season’s series, Zach Randolph landed a punch on Thunder Center, Steven Adams. The punch also landed Randolph a suspension for Game 7. Now I’m not saying that the Thunder would’ve lost with Randolph in the line-up, but it would’ve been a much closer game. It’ll be interesting to see if the two maintain that physical play style against each other, and if Adams and Randolph have any unfinished business.