Thunder

There’s Plenty to Be Excited About in OKC

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After NBA commissioner Adam Silver suspended league activities indefinitely on March 11th, uncertainty has been reigning around the league.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shocked the whole sports world, and the NBA was no exception. Numerous players and league personnel have tested positive.

Through all this uncertainty, the NBA has some options. There is a possibility that the season is directly voided. Skipping to the playoffs or pushing back the remaining schedule are two options as well. Postponing the regular season would likely mean playing the Finals around August and starting the 2020-21 season on Christmas Day.

 

The Oklahoma City Thunder shouldn’t be worried at all whether basketball returns or not. This Thunder team has completely exceeded expectations and should be very proud of their success this year. No one wants the NBA to fully cancel the season, however. Every player, coach or employee is using this break — with a lot of free time inside their homes due to quarantine — to figure out the next step once the NBA finally makes their decision on continuing the season or not. OKC won’t be the exception.

This 2019-20 season has been absolutely sensational for OKC. At 40-24, they currently occupy the 5th seed in the Western Conference and have been one of the teams to watch. With Chris Paul playing like an MVP on a nightly basis, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander dropping 20 points a night, and Dennis Schröder having a strong case for Sixth Man of the Year, everyone has been performing well in Oklahoma City. They have surely switched gears from the rebuilding status that was attributed to the franchise at the beginning of the season.

What’s left?

Let’s say the NBA decides not to fully cancel the season. We have two possible scenarios: playing the remaining of the schedule as planned during the next months or skipping the last regular season games and going straight to the playoffs. The Thunder have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league. They have the Lakers, Nuggets (twice), Heat and Jazz, to name a few. It is very possible that the Thunder drop some of those games. That playoff spot, though, doesn’t seem to be at risk.

However, it’s very likely that the Thunder would lose that 5th seed to either the Rockets (also 40-24) or the Mavericks (40-27). OKC has lost some big games against contenders recently, losing by 47 against the Milwaukee Bucks and by 15 against the Los Angeles Clippers. The team would have to play as close as possible to perfection to avoid both Texas teams passing them.

After that, the Thunder would have to face either the Clippers (currently the 2nd seed) or the Nuggets (currently 3rd) in the first round of the playoffs. No one has fully seen how the Nuggets and Thunder match up together since they haven’t played more than once this season. But Denver’s defense and Nikola Jokic, one of the best (if not the best) centers in the league, would surely be a problem for the Thunder. Conversely, the Clippers are a powerhouse, and OKC has struggled offensively against them this season.

Knowing what this Thunder team has accomplished this season, an upset could always occur, but these two teams would be incredibly difficult first-round matchups.

A straight ticket to the playoffs?

Let’s go now to the strangest scenario of them all– the NBA decides not to play any remaining regular season games and jump straight to the playoffs. In this scenario, the Thunder would have to face the Utah Jazz in the first round.

Now, this isn’t the 2018 playoffs. Utah may look very similar with Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell as their franchise cornerstones, but they have new contributors in Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. Meanwhile, the Thunder look different. Very different.

Without Russell Westbrook, the ball movement has been really smooth between CP3-SGA-Dennis. They like to share the basketball and make plays for each other. Not having Paul George or Andre Roberson is a big blow defensively, for sure. This team, however, has been pretty good on that side of the floor as a collective unit. Additionally, the interior defense with Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel should be enough to counter Gobert. A series result could be very different from two years ago, when the Jazz defeated the Thunder in six games.

We’ll continue to wait and see what the NBA ultimately decides for this season’s fate. Regardless, the Oklahoma City Thunder have plenty of reasons to be excited with what’s to come. Their future is bright, and GM Sam Presti has been piling up draft picks from past trades. Meanwhile, the Thunder are still on a competitive level amidst the playoff race in the wild Western Conference. This break will be useful to recharge the batteries and be ready for either the playoffs or the resumption of the regular season.

Where are the Thunder now? Ready to fight and compete in any scenario that is handed to them.

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About Santiago Núñez

From Argentina. NBA lover. Journalist (in the process).

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