Grant Belcher, News9.com
OKLAHOMA CITY – With a tentative agreement in place and a 66-game season scheduled to start on Christmas, one of the biggest challenges for the league is creating a shortened schedule that makes sense and is fair.
But the bottom line is, while the schedule will be properly organized and make sense, there is no way it will be fair for all teams.
Broken down below is the league's plans on how to handle a shortened schedule, which should be released sometime next week, as well as whether each aspects of it helps or hurts the Thunder.
Pace of Games
Though there are fewer games to play this year, those games will be crammed into a much smaller timeframe. The new schedule will actually end only about 10 days later than last year's schedule, despite missing nearly two months of the beginning of the season to the lockout.
Last year, each team played 82 games in a span of 169 days, an average of 14.56 games per month.
This year, each team will play 66 games in a span of 119 days, an average of about 16.5 games per month.
The result is that teams will be playing on back-to-back nights much more often. And some teams might even be forced to play three straight nights on rare occasions.
Also, playoff series will likely see some back-to-back games this year, whereas in the past no team would play two playoff games in two days.
Good or bad for the Thunder? Good. Even though this new format will be exhausting for all involved, OKC remains one of the youngest and healthiest teams in the league. The Thunder have shown time and time again that they avoid injuries and don't get fatigued as much as some of the older teams in the league. Imagine guys like Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook playing on three straight nights, then imagine vets like Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan having to play three straight nights. Which players are going to be fresher coming out of it?
West vs. West
Last year, each team in each conference played 52 games against conference opponents. The Thunder, for example, played division opponents four times each. They played six other conference teams (randomly selected) four times each. And they played the remaining conference opponents three times each.
This year, OKC will still play division opponents four times each. It will play two non-division opponents (randomly selected) four times each. It will play all remaining Western Conference teams three times each.
Good or bad for the Thunder? Neutral. This setup is very similar to last season's setup. The only difference here is the loss of four non-Northwest Division games. Those games lost could have potentially been San Antonio, Dallas, etc. or it could have been low-profile teams such as the Kings, Clippers and Suns. Only when the schedule is released will this category turn into an ever-so-slight advantage or disadvantage.
West vs. East
Because of the shortened schedule, there will be fewer games against teams from the opposing conference.
Last year, each West team played each East team twice – once at home and once on the road.
This year, Each West team will only get 18 total games against the East. That means the Thunder will play three of the 15 East teams both at home and on the road. The other 12 teams they will play only once.
This could be good or bad. For example, the Thunder could host the Heat without having to travel to Miami. Or they could have to travel to Miami just once without getting to host the Heat at all. The three Eastern Conference opponents they will face twice will also be a huge key. It could be the Heat, Bulls and Magic. On the flip side, it could be the Bobcats, Bucks and Pacers.
Last year, 52 of the Thunder's 80 games were against Western Conference opponents, or 65 percent.
This year, 48 of the Thunder's 66 games are going to be against West opponents, or 72.7 percent.
This means that a higher percentage of overall games will be played within each conference than last season.
Good or bad for the Thunder? Bad. Last year, the Eastern Conference put up its worst collective record since 2004-05. The Western Conference has been the superior conference for many years now. This means that each West team will get fewer games to beat up on the weak East teams, and will have a higher percentage of games to beat up on each other instead. The only good news in this for OKC is that every other West team is in the same boat on this one.