In just under a month, the Thunder will take part in one of the most bizarre situations we’ve ever seen in sports. Considering there will be a lack of crowds, a crammed schedule, and a layoff longer than any non-lockout offseason, nobody can truly say for sure what the actual basketball will look like at Disney World.
However, if you take a look at the numbers and trends from the Thunder in 2019-20, you can get a decent idea of how this team will operate in the (hopefully) sterile confines of the bubble.
One of the most important factors to consider in the new bubble system is the relentlessly packed nature of the schedule. OKC is just one of six teams tipping off on Day 3, meaning that all 8 seeding games will be played in under two weeks.
So, how will the Thunder handle playing a game every other day, plus one back to back? Judging by their regular season performance, they’ll be just fine.
Oklahoma City’s best two months of the season came in December and January, during a stretch where they only played three games on more than one night’s rest. In those two months, they went 23-9, including a 37-day run without an extended break. Compare that run to October and November where the schedule featured a combined seven games with extended rest, more than the other three and a half months combined.
Of course, there are many reasons why the Thunder have thrived since their 6-11 Thanksgiving record. The newly assembled team needed time to get to know each other, build chemistry, and figure out how to play together. That being said, playing a lot of games in a short time frame is something that the Thunder certainly have not struggled with.
This situation is a double-edged sword, however. While the Thunder performs well in an uptempo schedule, they seem to be shaky after a long break. Immediately following a four-day break to start February, the Thunder needed a late run to put away the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers in the final minute. OKC then lost two of their next three, including a home blowout at the hands of a mediocre San Antonio team. The second-longest (non-All Star) break resulted in a 110-97 beatdown from the young Memphis Grizzlies, which to be fair, looks better in hindsight.
Once the Playoffs come, the Thunder will be missing one of their greatest advantages: the fabled Playoff home-court advantage they enjoy inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. However, when you look at it overall, this actually plays into Oklahoma City’s hands quite nicely.
Not to say the 18,203 screaming fans in oversized blue/white shirts don’t help. However, this edition of the Thunder is one that thrives off of ball movement and methodical play rather than pure energy and triple-digit decibels. Removing the crowd factor doesn’t hurt Oklahoma City as much as many other teams in the league.
Besides, the Thunder actually has performed better on the road (20-11) than have at home (20-13). Sorry to bust that myth, Loud City. I still love ya.
So, what can we expect in Orlando?
Best case scenario, the team comes out hot and is able to ride that moment to Playoff success. Worst case scenario, the Thunder never regains their regular-season rhythm, slip to 7th, get whacked by the Clippers, and promptly ride off into the sunset with Denver’s pick. Not a terrible consolation prize, right?