Earlier today, the NBA announced the full 82-game schedules for all 30 NBA teams. While we already knew the matchups for both Christmas Day and opening night, we did not know the schedule for the remainder of the season. After appearing in both opening night as well as Christmas Day last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder will not appear in either of these slate of games in the 2019-20 season.
Without appearing on those prime days of NBA basketball, there are still several games on the schedule that immediately stand out as more intriguing than the rest.
As noted by ESPN’s Royce Young, the Oklahoma City Thunder will only appear in three nationally televised games in the 2019-20 season.
When it comes to league-wide scheduling, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, back-to-backs will once again be reduced in effort to keep players fresh. The Thunder in specific will appear in 13 back-to-backs. This will be important in preserving Chris Paul who has a fairly documented history of injuries.
Overall, the upcoming season for the Oklahoma City Thunder will be very unlike the past several. With everything in mind, which games on the calendar are set to be the most interesting?
Houston Rockets – 1/9/2020
The return of Russell Westbrook to Oklahoma City will be one of the most watched games in Thunder history. Although it was partially Westbrook’s request to be traded, he is still the most popular player in Thunder history after eleven straight years with the organization. Expect fans all across the arena to be wearing their old Russell Westbrook jerseys in honor of his return. There is no doubt that the Thunder will play Westbrook a tribute video before the game. It will be an odd, emotional game for fans watching him in a different uniform than he has ever worn.
Los Angeles Clippers – 12/22/19
Paul George’s return to Oklahoma City will not be like Westbrook’s in any way. Although George was great for the Thunder in his two seasons with the team, it appears he may have left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans. His request to be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers to play alongside Kawhi Leonard was ultimately what resulted in the departure of Russell Westbrook. We all expected at least two more years of Westbrook and George making a run in the postseason with them both being under contract, but that was not the case. What will the reaction from fans be when Paul George plays in Oklahoma City for the first time since the trade?
Portland Trail Blazers – 10/30/19
Although the Thunder look much different than their 2018-19 post season roster, this will still be one of the biggest games of the season. After getting knocked out of the playoffs in just five games last year by the Portland Trail Blazers, Thunder fans will want to get their revenge for the first time back in Oklahoma City. They will getting that chance very early in the 2019-20 season. The visualization of Damian Lillard waving goodbye to the Thunder after hitting a deep dagger three to seal Oklahoma City’s fate is engrained in many NBA fans’ heads.
Los Angeles Lakers – 11/22/19
LeBron James and Anthony Davis make their way to Oklahoma City twice next season. While the Los Angeles Lakers will presumably be in a higher tier than the Thunder when it comes to talent level, this first game in Chesapeake Energy Arena will certainly be one of the biggest of the year for fans. Although there is no true rivalry or bad blood between these teams, don’t be surprised if this game has extremely steep ticket prices on the third party market due to star power coming to town.
New Orleans Pelicans – 11/2/19
Another game that isn’t a big game because of the teams playing, but rather because of the star power. Everyone is going to want to get a chance to see rookie Zion Williamson in person this upcoming season. When he comes to Oklahoma City to play the Thunder, he will single-handedly make the price of tickets sky-rocket. Coming to watch the New Orleans Pelicans play the Thunder in their first matchup could end up being a night filled with highlight reel dunks by the high-flying, NBA Rookie of the Year favorite Zion Williamson.
Just like in previous seasons, Oklahoma City’s schedule will be among the toughest in the league. Below is the breakdown of how NBA schedules are made:
- Four games against the other four division opponents (16 games)
- Four games against six of the other non-division Western Conference teams (24 games)
- Three games against the remaining four non-division Western Conference teams (12 games)
- Two games against each team in the Eastern Conference (20 games)
The 16 games against division opponents will all be extremely difficult games. These 16 games make up nearly 20 percent of the Thunder’s schedule.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the Northwest Division of the NBA’s Western Conference. This Northwest Division includes the Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, and Minnesota Timberwolves. Among the five teams in the division, the Minnesota Timberwolves were the only team who did not make the NBA Playoffs last season.
For the second straight season, the Northwest Division boasted four playoff teams. In the 2018-19 season, all four of their representatives were in the top six seeds of the Western Conference, proving it is arguably the toughest division in basketball. A combined record of 242-168 was produced by the five teams in the Northwest Division last season. This was by far the best overall record by any division.
With uncertainty on the direction of the franchise, the Oklahoma City Thunder are currently set to try to compete for a playoff spot behind the lead of Chris Paul. All 82 games will be extremely crucial for Oklahoma City in their pursuit of postseason contention. However, Thunder fans will be most intrigued by the above games.
Expect tickets for those premier games to be extremely high. Russell Westbrook’s return to Oklahoma City will be a moment Thunder fans will never forget and should the most expensive tickets of the entire season.