4 min read

Thursday Bolts: 8.9.18

The Thunder released its opening day/Christmas schedule: “The Oklahoma City Thunder is set to begin its 11th season with an Oct. 16 meeting on the road against the Golden State Warriors and for a ninth consecutive season, Oklahoma City will play on Christmas as the Thunder will travel to Houston to face the Rockets on Dec. 25, the NBA announced earlier today. The Thunder’s game against the Warriors on Oct. 16 at 9:30 p.m. CT will be televised nationally on TNT as Oklahoma City will look to win on opening night for a fourth consecutive season. The Thunder’s 2 p.m. CT meeting against the Rockets on Dec. 25 will be nationally televised on ABC. After this announcement, Oklahoma City will become one of two teams (Los Angeles Lakers) to appear on Christmas in each of the last nine seasons. The Thunder owns a 6-2 record when playing on Christmas. Oklahoma City’s entire 2018-19 schedule is expected to be announced later this week.”

ESPN NBA Insiders discuss the best of Week 1, Christmas, and MLK Day games: “It’s hard not to be wildly intrigued by LeBron’s Lakers against the Warriors on Christmas — seriously, those ratings will set a record — but the Warriors getting their rings (again) on opening night in front of Russell Westbrook seems like a prime setup for some furious drama and tension.”

Haley O’Shaugnessy (Ringer) with thoughts on the 2018-19 marquee matchups: “With Paul George back, Carmelo Anthony gone, and Dennis Schröder in as Westbrook’s new backup, the Thunder may finally have the right mix to threaten the Western Conference hierarchy. The reshuffled lineup’s potential likely won’t be realized by opening night against the Warriors. A potentially elite defense depends on Andre Roberson, who ruptured the patellar tendon in his left knee in January, being healthy (he is currently expected to participate in training camp); and the fiery personalities of Schröder and Westbrook might take some time to sync up. But the matchup against Houston on Christmas is far enough into the season that it may just give us a more accurate look at whether or not OKC can snatch the first-runner-up crown away from the Rockets, who lost enough valuable pieces to possibly lose their spot in line. (And Rockets, should you lose, there’s no re-gifting Carmelo.”

Tim Bontemps (WaPo) on the NBA botching this year’s Christmas games: “What should the schedule have been? The one matchup the league nailed, the Sixers facing the Celtics, should have led the slate, followed by the NBA Finals rematch that the NBA has placed in the second slot each of the past four years — though replacing the Cleveland Cavaliers should have been the Houston Rockets, who pushed Golden State to the brink in the Western Conference finals. Next up would be the Oklahoma City Thunder visiting the Lakers, where Paul George and Westbrook — the Southern California natives who both chose to sign long-term to remain in Oklahoma City over the past 12 months — would face the revitalized Lakers with James at the helm, followed by the Raptors traveling to face the Spurs for Leonard’s return to San Antonio. Capping off the night would be Mitchell and the Jazz hosting Anthony Davis — the man who may be the NBA’s most valuable player this coming season — and the New Orleans Pelicans, who happened to sweep the Blazers from the playoffs last spring.”

The Thunder will be road underdogs on Christmas in Houston:

Ryan Inchaustegui (NESN) picks the Thunder as the biggest threat to Golden State in the West: “OKC getting its best defender, Andre Roberson, back healthy for next season can only improve their chances of beating Golden State. Offseason pickups Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schröder also provide a massive upgrade to a bench unit that struggled during the 2018-19 campaign, evidenced by its 30th-ranked scoring average at 25.9 points per game. In fact, Schröder posted a career-high 19.4 points per contest last season. And did we forget to mention Anthony left? That likely will prove to be addition by subtraction. The Thunder have a tremendous starting five, an improved bench and a good head coach in Billy Donovan. If they meet the Warriors in the playoffs, we could be in store for a long, thrilling series.”

Adam Fromal (B/R) picks Russell Westbrook as one of the 11 current players that should be considered Top 50 all-time: “Throughout all of NBA history, only two players not named Russell Westbrook have averaged at least 23 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds during a qualified season: Oscar Robertson (four times), James Harden. That’s it. Westbrook has hit those marks during each of the last three campaigns, earning himself an assist crown and a scoring title in the process. He’s also held the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, racked up 1.325 MVP Award Shares (No. 36 on the all-time leaderboard) and established himself as a superstar capable of producing athletic and statistical feats like no one else. All the while, he’s created an increasing sense of division among basketball fans and analysts. ”

Westbrook and Darren Collison had a competitive open run:

Just Push Start with screenshots from the upcoming release of NBA Live 19: “The Community Engagement Strategist for NBA Live 19, Donnie G, posted several new screenshots of the game via his official Twitter account today. The players shared include Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder), Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors) and DeMar DeRozan (San Antonio Spurs). Aside from DeMar DeRozan, all of the other NBA stars that have had screenshots today have been on the cover of an EA Sports video game. Joel Embiid is the cover star for this year’s video game while Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were the cover stars for previous games in the series. Kevin Durant was also on the cover for NBA 2K a few years ago back when he was playing in the Oklahoma City Thunder. All in all, the screenshots released today look highly realistic. EA Sports has truly made the graphics far better than in NBA Live 14. NBA Live 14 had very poor graphics so it’s nice to know EA Sports is wanting to improve its character models.”

Around the League: The NCAA has blindsided the NBA with a proposed set of new rules…. Predicting which teams will have the biggest turnaround…. Kawhi Leonard released a farewell to San Antonio…. LeBron’s first trip back to Cleveland is on November 21…. Jaylen Brown is confident the Celtics will make the Finals…. The Knicks still want to rid themselves of Joakim Noah…. Don’t be surprised if Melo has a bounce-back season…. Last season’s Iron-Men and how to survive the NBA.