The 2017-18 NBA schedule is out. Here are the 10 Oklahoma City Thunder games you can’t miss, ranked from worst to best:
10. L.A. Clippers at Thunder (March 16) — Former University of Oklahoma standout Blake Griffin doesn’t carry quite the same star power as he did a few years ago. But now, Chris Paul is gone to the Houston Rockets. And for the first time since his rookie season, Griffin has his own team.
9. San Antonio Spurs at Thunder (March 10) and Spurs vs. Thunder (March 29) — The Spurs quietly lost important pieces this offseason, watching role players Jonathon Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon sign elsewhere after losing star point guard Tony Parker to an Achilles injury. Yet, it’s difficult to imagine how the most consistent organization of the past two decades could fail to win 50 games.
8. Brooklyn Nets vs. Thunder (Dec. 7) — The Nets are the worst team on this list — even if they are bound for more wins than they earned last season. But consider culture behind this game, not the competitors themselves.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves at/vs. Thunder (Oct. 22, Oct. 27, Dec. 1, Jan. 10) — Both the Thunder and Wolves have top-four aspirations inside the conference. The four times these two play will matter more than it ever has.
6. Houston Rockets at Thunder (Dec. 25) — Christmas is a basketball holiday now. And the Thunder are sitting in prime time, a 7 p.m. start against the reloaded Rockets.
This isn’t just a matchup of possible top-five teams, either. It’s also a playoff rematch. The Rockets ousted the Thunder from the playoffs in a close, five-game series this past April. OKC will certainly want to exact some revenge for that.
5. Golden State Warriors vs. Thunder (Feb. 6) — The Warriors probably don’t have a true rival on the court — and if they did, it would be the Cleveland Cavaliers — but rivalries aren’t strictly about what happens on the hardwood. There’s a fan element. Heck, that may be the most important part.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers at Thunder (Feb. 13) — LeBron James remains the best player in the world. Never has anyone posted 14 consecutive seasons like this. If you have a chance to see him in person, you make that happen. Who knows if there will ever be anyone else like him?
3. Indiana Pacers vs. Thunder (Dec. 13) — The Pacers are closer to the Nets' level than they are to many others on this list. They likely won’t compete — though it’s impossible to say that for sure given the current state of the Eastern Conference. But this game will be less about basketball and more about emotions.
The Thunder got rocked in Kevin Durant’s return to Oklahoma last year, but that’s not what people remember. This night, big enough that ESPN is broadcasting it, will be Paul George’s equivalent, even if it’s hard to imagine a comparable environment to what Durant experienced in February.
2. New York Knicks at Thunder (Oct. 19) — The Knicks won’t be exciting for those who live outside of New York or don’t find reality TV all too interesting. And who knows whether Carmelo Anthony will be a Knick or a Rocket or elsewhere by the time this game comes around? But this isn’t about the Knicks. This is far more.
1. Golden State Warriors at Thunder (Nov. 22) — Thunder fans missed out on a second opportunity to see Durant play when the reigning Finals MVP didn’t suit up for a late-March game after suffering a leg injury. So, all that remains in Thunder consciousness in regards to a Durant return is that first cupcake game. He’ll finally come back for No. 2 on Nov. 22.
The second Durant return probably won’t be much like the first. The crowd environment from that evening can’t be topped. And the game could end up more competitive, considering the Thunder will present a more formidable roster after getting laid out all four times against the Warriors last year.
The Warriors are the clear and obvious favorites to win the title once again in 2018. But last year’s Durant return was anticipated because of personal reasons. This year’s could be exciting because of basketball ones.