It doesn’t seem that long ago that LeBron James took over Game 7 of the NBA Finals and captured his second title of his career. Now that LeBron has answered to the many critics, players such as Carmelo Anthony and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, are now at the top of the list of players in which their careers are in need of a championship. Of course, Carmelo seems to be more in need of an answer right now as he has had numerous years of first round exits in the playoffs and fallouts with coaches. The New York Knicks must win now. Same goes for the young core in Oklahoma City.
Just two years ago, they were considered the one threat that could dethrone the Miami Heat and ruin title hopes of LeBron. Move to the present day, we have seen nothing but the opposite. The Miami Heat have one back-to-back titles, OKC has lost sixth men’s James Harden and Kevin Martin in consecutive years, and seen Russell Westbrook go down due to an injury for the first time since maybe he was an infant. The Thunder have the talent now to win.
Kevin Durant can’t afford to have another postseason such as he had in the 2013 campaign. Most feel as if he got a pass for not stepping up to the challenge when it very well was his chance to take his game to another level and show that he could lead with the team on his back. In other words, the critics would be down LeBron James neck whether he has Dwayne Wade on the floor or not. With or without Westbrook, this is a big season for KD. Additionally, with KD and James being well known to workout together in the summer, I know Durant has to feel that competitive itch to add a title to his resume as well and would love to do it against his “friend”.
It is now mid-August and the season is approaching at a rapid pace. Predictions are already being made upon the upcoming season as well. According to the ESPN Summer Forecast series, the Thunder are predicted to be the number one see in the West with a 58-24 season. This is a big prediction seeing that the Thunder have pieces that still have young pieces such as Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb who have major roles coming into the new season. The offseason was one in which OKC did not get particularly better. They had a positive summer within the organization as their summer league squad proved to be one of the top teams. They lost Kevin Martin as well.
On the other hand, the predication is one that looks solely at the fact that the Thunder have Westbrook, Durant, and Serge Ibaka in their lineup. These three alone are enough to sit a top the West. Let’s look at some of the key games this season that the Thunder will have in route to fulfill their predicted record or even better.
October 31st- Oklahoma City Thunder @ Utah Jazz
-This is opening night for the Thunder. They matchup against a young Jazz team that they should be able to handle easily. Utah does have a loyal fan base and it is opening night. Players and fans all over the league will be pumped to see the start of NBA basketball.
November 3rd- Oklahoma City Thunder vs Phoenix Suns
-The home opener against the Suns will be an electric environment in OKC. This is a big night for Loud City!
November 13-Oklahoma City Thunder @ L.A. Clippers
November 14- Oklahoma City Thunder @ Golden State Warriors
-Back-to-back games. The Warriors and Clippers are two of the top teams in the West. This will be the first real tests for the Thunder in the early half of the season. (All games against playoffs teams from the previous year and Western conference foes are notable games)
December 11- Oklahoma City Thunder @ Memphis Grizzlies
-This will be the first meeting between the two teams since the Grizzlies knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs last year. With Westbrook back in the lineup, I could see the Thunder wanting a lot of revenge in this matchup.
December 25- Oklahoma City Thunder @ New York Knicks
-Christmas Day Game. Everyone will be watching for the stars to shine. KD vs Melo. Last two scoring champions going head to head. Offenses could explode in Madison Square with this matchup.
December 29- Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets
-James Harden will be in his second year with the Rockets. To add salt to the wound, Russell Westbrook will have the opportunity to release some steam from his injury involving Patrick Beverley. Let’s not forget Dwight Howard will also make things interesting as he will suit up in the center position for the Rockets.
April 3- Oklahoma City Thunder vs San Antonio Spurs
April 9- Oklahoma City Thunder @ LA Clippers
-There are a lot of important games from the Houston game until this one but this game with the Spurs could turn out to be an even bigger game for the Thunder. The Spurs will definitely be in the thick of things at the top of the West and this could pan out to determine seedings. The Clippers game could also play a large role in the playoff seedings with Doc Rivers now as the captain.