With a healthy Kevin Durant back in the saddle riding alongside Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder feel as if they are capable of anything on the NBA hardwood.
And rookie coach Billy Donovan figures to be tested right out of the gate during the 2015-16 season, opening at home against the Western Conference powerhouse San Antonio Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Oct. 28. OKC Thunder tickets are already going at a rapid pace according to TotallyTickets.com, with fans anticipating a return to prominence for the franchise after missing the postseason a year ago thanks to significant injuries.
Two nights later, the Thunder will embark on a road odyssey NBAsavant.com estimates will have them travel some 48,232 miles during the season, when they travel to Florida to take on the upstart Orlando Magic.
The month of November might provide the Thunder with their best opportunity to put some distance between themselves and all their stiff Western Conference competition, as they’ll enter a stretch that will see OKC play seven of nine games at home, including hosting the Brooklyn Nets a day before Thanksgiving.
Prior to that and over a two-week period commencing on Nov. 13, the Thunder host seven games, including tilts opposite the New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics. During the month of November, the Thunder will also tough it out through four sets of back-to-back games.
On Christmas Day, Durant and Westbrook go head-to-head at home against the Chicago Bulls and former league MVP Derrick Rose in a huge nationally televised showdown. In all, the Thunder compete before a national audience 33 times this season, including 10 games on ESPN and nine on TNT. The Thunder host the defending champion Golden State Warriors for the only time this season on Feb. 27.
All the upcoming national attention registers as a testament to just how exciting and explosive the tandem of Durant and Westbrook can be when they are healthy and in form. Westbrook (28 points, nine assists, seven rebounds) and Durant (25 points, seven rebounds, four assists) missed a combined 70 games last season, and OKC’s slip was evident, as they finished ninth in the conference and on the outside looking in come playoff time, despite possessing one of the most talented rosters in all of basketball.
Just how far they truly travel in 2015-16 could be tied to how soon the team is able to adapt to the aggressive style of Donovan. After 19 seasons and two NCAA titles at Florida, the 50-year-old head coach will be calling the shots on the NBA level for the first time in his career. Based on the potential he showed leading the Gators, Donovan might be the missing piece that garners the Thunder that elusive NBA championship.