Thunder

Optimistic OKC Ready for Orlando

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On August 1st, NBA basketball will return for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

They will open their run of eight seeding games against the Utah Jazz. The game that was meant to take place on March 11th– over 125 days ago. The game, that some might say, indirectly suspended the NBA season. Four months later, the league is ready to resume. Let’s take a look at each game on the Thunder’s schedule.

1. Utah Jazz

Utah is by no means an easy opening game, but they are potentially the best the Thunder could have asked for. It is no secret that the Jazz have chemistry issues following Rudy Gobert’s rash behavior that led to the NBA hiatus. The tarnished relationship between the ‘Stifle Tower’ and All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell could potentially impact chemistry on the floor as well as in the locker room. Combine this with the fact that Bojan Bogdanovic is out for the season with a wrist injury, and Oklahoma City should like their chances against a team they beat convincingly the last time they met.

 

Denver Nuggets

Denver is always a tough team to face off against. Nikola Jokic lost a lot of weight during quarantine. Who knows how much more dominant the big man could become? That being said, it is a huge unknown if his slimmer frame could prove to be a challenge, especially when facing an extremely physical center like Steven Adams. The divisional rivals have split the season series so far. This game should be just as competitive, and could go either way.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are arguably the best team in the league. It is difficult to look past the juggernaut duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but the Lakers have lost some defensive depth with Avery Bradley sitting out the restart and Rajon Rondo recently inuring his hand. They did, however, add both Dion Waiters and JR Smith just before and during the hiatus respectively. Whilst neither addition has their feet wet for the Lakers yet, they have both looked impressive during scrimmages and in Game 1.

If the Thunder want to pick up a win here, they are going to have to try something different, as they have dropped all three meetings to the Lakers this year. OKC can certainly use their depth at the guard position to exploit the defensive hole that Avery Bradley will leave, but they’ll still have their hands full regardless.

Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis has earned their way to the eighth seed so far, but they still have work to do to affirm their status. That being said, this Grizzlies team lacks experience and this is something the veteran Thunder will look to exploit. Having already lost their first Bubble game to the Blazers on Friday, the Grizzlies will be that much more motivated as we progress through the seeding games.

Taylor Jenkins will look to his young core of Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr., but will be without key defender Justise Winslow and possibly Tyus Jones as well, who is week-to-week with a knee ailment.

The Grizzlies allow a barrage of points off turnovers — over 18 per game — so Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should look to capitalize on defense and get out in transition.

Washington Wizards

No disrespect to the Wizards, but many people are questioning if they should even be here. Without the trio of Bradley Beal, John Wall and sharp-shooter Davis Bertans, they stand little chance at even forcing a play-in game, let alone making the playoffs. They rank dead last in defensive rating and allow the most points per game. One player that will look to use this opportunity to show what he is capable of will be Japanese rookie Rui Hachimura. Without the main stars to carry the offensive load, this will be a chance for the young rookie to show people why the Wizards should be all-in on him long term.

As long as OKC doesn’t get complacent here, they should walk away with a clean win.

Phoenix Suns

Similar to the Wizards, the Suns will need some a miracle to make a playoff push. They will be coming off a tough game against the Heat the night before. Phoenix has an impressive young core of Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton, but OKC has too much depth for them.

One thing to note is that OKC sixth man Dennis Schroder plans to depart the bubble in early August for the birth of his child, so they could potentially be without him for this game which slightly reduces their overall production. The Thunder have already taken care of business against the Suns twice this season, however, and the result shouldn’t be any different this time– even if they have to find some extra scoring from others.

Miami Heat

The previous game against Miami was a bit of a blip for the Thunder. OKC is one of the best teams at guarding the three-point line, but they let Miami drain 6 of 7 in the first quarter. Miami acquired Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder since their last matchup, the latter of which will be looking to spot up for threes. Crowder has been shooting well since he arrived in Miami — almost 40% from behind the arc — so it is important that the likes of Luguentz Dort and Andre Roberson hound him and the rest of Miami’s three-point snipers.

Los Angeles Clippers

Chris Paul and the Thunder will be relishing this game against the Clippers. What better way to sign off the regular season than with a win against Paul George, one year after he requested a trade? The Clippers might be one of the best teams in the league, but the Thunder can exploit them in the paint.

LA’s rim protection isn’t great, but they did sign veteran center Joakim Noah for the remainder of the season in an attempt to fortify that position that only has one true center in Ivica Zubac. Sixth man of the year candidates Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell both missed Thursday’s opener. Williams is serving mandatory quarantine after violating an excused absence, but he is due back for LA’s third seeding game. Harrell, however, is dealing with personal matter and does not have a timetable for return to the Bubble.

Go Time

OKC fans should definitely be excited heading into the bubble. They have a real chance at picking up some good wins and ending the season on a high. It is difficult to predict where they will finish due to how tight the standings are, but staying in the middle appears to be the highest-probable scenario. With no home-court advantage in the playoffs, they will like their chances in any first round series.

Follow us on Twitter @ThunderLead for the latest Thunder news and insight.

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About Eshan Arya

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