As winners of 11 of their last 13 contests prior to the All-Star break, the Oklahoma City Thunder are 37-20 with 25 games remaining in the 2018-19 campaign. The record has OKC firmly in third place in the Western Conference — leading fourth place Portland by three games, and trailing second place Denver by two.
Here’s a look at the current top 10 in the West:
Though there have been definite roadblocks — the 0-4 start, losing six of seven in mid-January — for the most part, this Thunder team has stayed relatively hot. That will need to continue if they intend on securing home court advantage in the playoffs, as opponents from this point forward have a combined winning percentage of 57 percent on the season. According to Tankathon, that’s the most difficult closing stretch in the NBA.
Below is a look at the road ahead broken down by month. All records and playoff seeds are via ESPN and current as of the All-Star break.
- Games: 4 (3 Home, 1 Away)
- vs Playoff Opponents: 3 — Jazz, @ Nuggets, 76ers
- vs Non-Playoff Opponents: 1 — Kings
- Opponent W/L: 140-91 (60.6%)
- Back-to-Backs: 1
The schedule takes no time warming up after the All-Star break, as the Thunder’s four remaining opponents this month are either currently in the playoffs or just outside the postseason picture.
You’ve got sixth place Utah in OKC this Friday, followed by ninth place Sacramento (currently one game out of 8th in the West) on Saturday. It’s on the road against second place Denver next Tuesday — a game OKC must win to keep the season series alive (Nuggets lead 2-0). The month is then capped by a visit from Joel Embiid and the Sixers next Thursday — the fifth place team in the Eastern Conference with a record of 37-21.
W/L Prediction: 2-2
(Losses to Jazz, 76ers)
- Games: 16 (8 Home, 8 Away)
- vs Playoff Opponents: 11 — @ Spurs, @ Blazers, @ Clippers, @ Jazz, Nets, Pacers (2x), Warriors, Raptors (2x), Nuggets
- vs Non-Playoff Opponents: 5 — Grizzlies (2x), @ Timberwolves, Heat, Mavericks
- Opponent W/L: 528-399 (57%)
- Back-to-Backs: 3
Though OKC gets Memphis twice in March, there’s not many others you can easily identify as definite wins. In a grueling 16-game slate, 11 of those contests come against teams currently holding a playoff spot. Among the five games against non-playoff opponents (outside of the Grizzlies), OKC gets a road trip to Minnesota and home showdowns with the Heat and Mavericks — games that certainly aren’t gimmes.
March will be interesting — a home-and-home spaced one day apart with Toronto is strange, and you also have home tilts against the first place Warriors and second place Nuggets. However, the grit of this Thunder team will be put to the test in a four-game road trip starting on March 5 in Minnesota. OKC gets the Timberwolves, the Blazers in Portland two days later, a visit to the Clippers the night after that, before wrapping up the trip three days later in Utah. Important, yet very difficult, stretch that will hold playoff seeding implications.
W/L Prediction: 11-5
(Losses @ Spurs, @ Portland, @ Pacers, Warriors, @ Raptors)
- Games: 5 (3 Home, 2 Away)
- vs Playoff Opponents: 3– Pistons, Rockets, @ Bucks
- vs Non-Playoff Opponents: 2– Lakers, @ Timberwolves
- Opponent W/L: 157-127 (55.3%)
- Back-to-Backs: 1
The regular season concludes with five games in April, three of which will come against teams currently in position to make the postseason — the Pistons, Rockets, and the East-leading Bucks. You’ve also got LeBron James and a Lakers team that figures to be playing for its playoff lives, and a difficult road trip to Minnesota as well. Outside of getting the Pistons at home, every other game should be tightly contested.
W/L Prediction: 3-2
(Losses to Lakers, Rockets)
- Games: 25 (14 Home, 11 Away)
- vs Playoff Opponents: 17
- vs Non-Playoff Opponents: 8
- Opponent W/L: 825-617 (57%)
- Back-to-Backs: 5
I’m predicting the Thunder to finish the final 25 games with a 16-9 record — which would give them a final regular season record of 53-29. FiveThirtyEight also predicts OKC will finish at 53-29, cementing the third-seed in the Western Conference behind Golden State and Denver. A 53-win season would be fourth-best in Thunder franchise history, and certainly acceptable given the parity around the league.
Of course, as with any prediction, anything can happen once the ball is tipped. The Thunder are currently on track to complete a solid season and earn home court advantage for the second straight year. That being said, the team will have to finish strong — over quality opponents — in order to make it happen.