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OKC Thunder expected to improve this year

AP / Sue Ogrocki
Can three All-Stars—Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and Carmelo Anthony—help the Thunder reach the NBA summit this year?
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The NBA season begins October 17, eight days earlier than last year, and the Oklahoma City Thunder will tip off their season on Thursday (7 p.m. TNT) by hosting the New York Knicks at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wanted an earlier start this year to avoid back-to-back games. OKC will play 13 games on consecutive days, down from 14 on last year’s schedule.

With the off-season acquisition of All-Stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, and Russell Westbrook’s five-year extension ($205 million), the local guys are expected to improve this season. OKC finished with a 47-35 mark last season for sixth place in the Western Conference standings. Houston bounced the Thunder out of the opening round of the playoffs.

So, where do the prognosticators think Oklahoma City fares this year? ESPN analyst and former NBA star Paul Pierce picked the Thunder to win it all.

“…you got three All-Stars,” Pierce said recently. “You need minimum three All-Stars to win a championship. What other team outside of OKC, Golden State, and maybe Cleveland can produce three All-Stars? So they have the criteria that you need to win a championship.”

Other experts aren’t going that far out on the limb, but some believe Oklahoma City will go deep into the playoffs. Five writers at theringer.com think the Thunder make it all the way to the Western Conference final to meet the Warriors. All 11 of The Ringer staff members pick Golden State to win the West and the NBA Championship.

Ben Golliver at SI.com has OKC finishing fourth in the West behind the Warriors, Rockets, and Spurs.

“Easily the NBA’s leader in chips on shoulders,” Golliver opined. “Russell Westbrook must prove he can share center stage for a winner, Paul George must prove he’s all in after griping his way out of Indiana amid rumors of L.A. interest, Carmelo Anthony must prove he’s still a star-level difference-maker, and Billy Donovan must prove he’s not the guy that Kevin Durant’s Twitter account says he is. Even if the three stars gel, Oklahoma City needs much more from its shaky supporting cast to be taken seriously.”

All SI writers pick Golden State to beat Cleveland in the NBA Finals. Nearly every online pick is a repeat of the last three NBA Finals—Warriors vs. Cavaliers.

Oklahoma City is fourth overall in ESPN’s power rankings and predicted to go 52-30 this year. Golden State, Cleveland, and Houston are picked above the Thunder, which means OKC won’t make it to the Western Conference final.

CBS Sports picks the Thunder to place fourth in the West with a projected record of 49 wins, and behind Golden State, Houston, and San Antonio.

“What happens when you give MVP Russell Westbrook a new All-Star teammate? The win projection goes up by nearly seven wins. Paul George will give OKC a whole new dimension, and the addition of Patrick Patterson fills a hole for a team that can now make some serious noise come playoff time.”

John Schuhmann at NBA.com has Oklahoma City at No. 6 in his power ranking. Golden State, Houston, San Antonio, Cleveland, and Boston round out in the top five.

“In the three preseason games they all played together, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony both averaged more shots and points per 36 minutes than Russell Westbrook, who took 371 more shots and scored 202 more points than any other player in the league last season.,” Schuhmann scribed. “Also worth noting from the preseason is that Anthony attempted as many 3-pointers (23) as mid-range shots (23), having never done anything close to that in his regular-season career. He has the highest scoring average among active players against two teams: the Magic (26.2) and the Knicks (29.9). For the first time in almost seven years, he'll face New York on Thursday.”

Oddsshark.com, an online handicap site, has set the Thunder’s winning number at 50.5, which also is fourth behind the Warriors, Rockets, and Spurs.

Fivethirtyeight.com has OKC third in the West behind Golden State and Houston. The website predicts the Thunder will have a 55-27 record with a 93% chance of making the playoffs. Their chance of making the NBA Finals is 13%, and 8% to win the whole ball of wax. The warriors and Cavaliers are the picks to go to the Finals, and Golden State is 39% choice to win a second straight title, and third in four years.

OKC is a 16 to 1 choice to win the NBA Championship, according to VegasInsider.com. The Warriors are the favorite at 5 to 8, followed by Cleveland at 7 to 2, Boston at 8 to 1. Houston and San Antonio are both pegged at 12 to 1.

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Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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