OKC Thunder: 22 team format effect on closing schedule

Billy Donovan of the OKC Thunder coaching against the Miami Heat (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Billy Donovan of the OKC Thunder coaching against the Miami Heat (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

In a 22 game format, how will the OKC Thunder regular-season games play a factor?

The OKC Thunder and peers await confirmation from the league on the format that will be utilized when play resumes. The predominant belief is 22 teams will participate in Orlando at Walt Disney World.

The semantics of this format is it will include some regular-season games with a specific total in mind, followed by a play-in tournament for the bottom seeds to determine the 16 playoff teams.  When teams hit the suspension they had between 15 and 19 games left to reach the 82 game schedule. The General Managers survey only offered two voting options of 72 or 76 games.

Therefore it’s likely the league would only look at one of those two options. If that’s the case that equates to five to nine games to reach the 72 game total, or nine to 13 games to reach the 76 game total. Although teams stated they want to play as many games before the playoffs as possible it doesn’t mean Adam Silver will automatically go with the larger tally. That’s because the 22 team option will still feature a play-in tournament.

Alternatively, while the bottom tier seeds compete in the play-in tournament the upper seeds could be playing each other in games that count toward the schedule. To make that work the league would need to schedule the upper seeds to play each other while the tournament happened. The only tricky part of that is whether the play-in would include the seventh seed. This because the Mavericks could pass teams in front of them.

Otherwise, you’ll have several teams sitting idle other than practice while the play-in tournament completes. Perhaps the league will keep the schedule fluid, but this also points to the fact the semantics will require some tweaking as the return format is defined.

What could the OKC Thunder schedule look like and how would it affect them?

For the OKC Thunder, the hope would be they get to play the game which was postponed against the Utah Jazz.  With 64 games in the books, the club had 18 games left to reach the typical 82 season total. The teams on that itinerary were:

  • Utah Jazz (x two)
  • Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Washington Wizards
  • Memphis Grizzlies
  • Atlanta Hawks
  • Denver Nuggets (x two)
  • Miami Heat
  • Charlotte Hornets
  • Golden State Warriors
  • Phoenix Suns
  • LA Clippers
  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Brooklyn Nets
  • New York Knicks
  • Memphis Grizzlies
  • Dallas Mavericks

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Since the expected format wouldn’t include eight teams the Thunder will miss out on playing the Wolves, Hawks, Hornets, Warriors, and Knicks. Let’s be frank — that sucks because that’s five easy wins left on the table.

Conversely, the other 13 teams OKC were slated to play will be in Orlando and conceivably could be precisely who the Thunder play. And, while it’s not ideal OKC won’t get those easy opportunities all the other teams will also have the same limitations.

To that end, of the expected nine Eastern Teams who’ll be in Orlando, the Thunder had completed the typical two-game season series against all but three clubs ( Wizards, Heat, Nets).

There are some key questions to answer. Would the revamped schedule try to stick as closely to the original itinerary? If not, would the revision try to incorporate a close proximity to the number of lower versus higher-seeds each team had remaining? And, would teams be allowed to give input on the schedule?

The other question to be answered is whether the playoff seeds will be determined by league or conference seeding. The presumption is after each team amasses the 72 (or 76) game total then the play-in portion will occur.

Again, it’s presumption but the expectation is the bottom two seeds (seventh and eighth) will play the bubble teams from their own conference. The league could then seed based on the league rank but TI previously noted that isn’t something with much chance of carrying forward next season so why rock the boat this year with too many changes.

That said if teams are seeded 1-16 the Thunder could play an Eastern team in the first round. That team as of today would be the Miami Heat.

Even as we await the final format confirmation it’s not a given all the dynamics have been worked out. It might be weeks before the schedule for each team is provided. Nor is it definitive the teams will play to 72 or 76 games. Despite teams requesting to play as many games prior to the playoffs as possible, the reality is the threshold is 70 games. That’s the typical number necessary to meet regional television contract deals.

In terms of what would be best for the OKC Thunder, the hope would be they get to play as many lower seeds as possible and still get the Jazz in the first round.

For the moment, we’ll await the news from the league then dive into the schedule once it’s released.

Next. Dissecting 16 playoff seeds and 4 WC team records. dark