Last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder enjoyed another stellar regular season only to come up short again in the playoffs as they attempt to win their first NBA title. The Thunder won 60 games and their third straight Northwest Division title, but Russell Westbrook’s torn meniscus in the first round destroyed any chance the Thunder had of winning a championship.
Heading into this season, the Thunder have truly reached championship or bust status. Neither the team nor the owners nor the fans will be satisfied with anything less than the sight of Kevin Durant & Co. raising the Larry O’Brien trophy.
It is for that reason that the regular season loses some importance to the Thunder, as it is little more than a means to an end. They are likely going to take a step back in the regular season this year, but that doesn’t mean that their chances of winning a title are going to be worsened. Westbrook is going to miss the first month or so, and Kevin Martin signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves this offseason. In their place, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb are going to need some time to develop.
There is going to be heavy pressure on Durant, especially early in the season. The Thunder badly need Serge Ibaka to take a huge step forward offensively, which was something they were banking on when they made their ill-fated decision to trade James Harden to the Houston Rockets. The Thunder will probably get off to a slow start, but don’t buy into any panic that sets in if they do.
I am predicting the Thunder to finish 53-29, and they will be right in the mix at the top of the Western Conference. Seven wins less than last year may seem like a lot, but when you factor in Westbrook’s injury, Martin’s departure and the general improvement of the West, such a drop wouldn’t be at all surprising.
That being said, the Thunder are going to be fine. They should still win the Northwest and secure a top 4 seed, which is really all they want to do. Rotations shorten in the playoffs and Jackson and Lamb should be much better at the end of the season than the beginning, setting the Thunder up to make a run at a title.
Everything revolves around winning a championship in OKC, so even though they likely won’t be as strong in the regular season, they remain on the shortlist of title contenders.