Thunder 2020-21 Schedule: Top Games, Championship Odds and Record Predictions

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistDecember 4, 2020

Oklahoma City Thunder's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander reacts to a shot during the third quarter of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets', Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

After safeguarding their long-term future in the summer of 2019 by acquiring a slew of draft picks in trades for Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the Oklahoma City Thunder are hoping the 2020-21 season brings the same kind of success as last year. 

The Thunder made the playoffs last season with a 44-28 record but lost in the first round in seven games to the Houston Rockets. Head coach Billy Donovan, who was with the organization for five years, wasn't brought back when his contract expired at the end of the season. 

Chris Paul, who was frequently the subject of trade rumors and speculation at the conclusion of Oklahoma City's season, got traded to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Kelly Oubre Jr., Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and a 2022 first-round pick.

Oubre has since been traded to the Golden State Warriors. Rubio, as well as the No. 25 and 28 picks in the 2020 NBA draft, were sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 17th overall pick that was used for Aleksej Pokusevski.

The team will move into its rebuilding effort with Mark Daigneault as head coach. The 35-year-old spent last season as an assistant on Donovan's staff. 

Here is the most important information to know about the first half of the Thunder's 2020-21 campaign. 

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2020-21 Thunder Schedule Details

Season Opener: Wednesday, Dec. 23 at 8 p.m. ET vs. the Houston Rockets (away)

Championship Odds: 130-1 (via FanDuel)

First-Half Schedule: NBA.com

     

Top Matchups

Houston Rockets

The first meeting of the regular season after a tense playoff battle the previous year is an easy pick for a game to watch. 

In the case of the first Thunder-Rockets game, though, things are very different for both teams since they last saw each other on Sept. 2. Both clubs have a new head coach, with Stephen Silas taking over in Houston after Mike D'Antoni decided to move on after four seasons. 

But these are also two teams that appear to be heading in completely opposite directions, even after the Rockets traded Westbrook to the Washington Wizards for John Wall and a conditional 2023 first-round pick. The Rockets are still playoff contenders. The Thunder... are probably not.

On the other side of the equation, the Rockets are seemingly headed for a fall sooner than later because they have gone all-in over the past three years trying to win a title. Wall and James Harden are still great players, but both are on the other side of 30 and signed to lucrative deals. 

The Rockets will still be a playoff team in the Western Conference, but their window is rapidly closing with a long rebuild coming. 

      

New Orleans Pelicans (First Game: Thursday, Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. ET)

On paper, the Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans are two model examples of how an NBA team can rebuild in a way that is fun, exciting and doesn't necessarily require a long fallow period. 

We still have yet to see what shape Oklahoma City's rebuild is going to take. We may not even see the full impact of those trades from last year until 2026 if the organization keeps all of its draft picks from the Rockets and Clippers:

The Pelicans have a lot of their long-term young talent already in place. Zion Williamson often looked like a superstar when he played as a rookie, but he was limited to 24 games because of injuries. Brandon Ingram made his first All-Star team last year after averaging 23.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. 

In addition to Williamson and Ingram, New Orleans also have Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker as 25-years-old or younger players to build around. 

Even though the best version of that Pelicans roster has yet to make their presence felt, there's no doubt that the talent is there for this franchise to be a major player in the Western Conference. 

The Thunder have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort as two potential building blocks, but the fruits of their rebuilding effort will be felt over the next few years. 

Oklahoma City and New Orleans may not be the sexiest matchup this season, but keep an eye on how the young talent for both sides plays because this has the makings of a great rivalry in the future. 

      

Season Forecast

Even though the Thunder have a strong foundation in place, led by Presti in the general manager's chair, they seem likely to take a step back this season. 

So much of their success in 2019-20 was predicated on being a historically great team in clutch and late-game situations. That's hardly a recipe for sustained success. 

It also seems difficult to envision the Thunder repeating what they did last season because Paul and Danilo Gallinari are with new teams. That duo combined to average 36.3 points, 14.3 rebounds and nine assists per game. 

Things will start to get worse for the Thunder, but their future is going to be bright. 

   

Record prediction: 28-44

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