By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
The Thunder are hoping they can be road warriors this month without becoming too road weary.
Most of you are probably aware by now of the Thunder’s January schedule which features just three home games and 12 on the road. Five of the first seven games are away from home beginning tonight against the Bucks in Milwaukee.
Four of those first seven opponents would be in the playoffs if they began today. The second half of the month is by far the most brutal with seven of eight on the road including games at Golden State, Cleveland, Utah and San Antonio.
Only two of the eight teams OKC will finish January playing are currently out of the playoff picture.
So that makes 10 playoff teams out of 15 opponents and nine of those games against playoff teams will be on the road.
It is by far the NBA’s toughest schedule over the next month.
The good thing is the Thunder are about to become fully healthy for the first time this season. Victor Oladipo has returned from his sprained wrist and backup point guard Cameron Payne appears to be working toward a January 7th season debut when the Thunder host the Nuggets.
Payne has missed all of the regular season after fracturing a bone in his foot during the Blue-White scrimmage the first week of training camp.
He’s been gradually increasing his workload in practice and has now been assigned to the Oklahoma City Blue of the NBA D-League presumably to play in the Blue’s games this week at Salt Lake City tomorrow night and Reno Thursday night.
Payne tweeted the other day that January 7th would be “lit” perhaps indicating he will make his Thunder season debut that night.
Billy Donovan has said there can be advantages to being on the road, fewer distractions, more chances to work on team chemistry those sorts of things.
But there will also likely be less time for quality practices and in the games themselves there will be very little margin for error when you’re playing 10 playoff teams, three of them elite teams at that.
And the fact is most teams don't play as well on the road as they do at home. OKC is 8-7 on the road, 13-6 at home.
Tonight the Thunder open their January journeys in Milwaukee where the Bucks have been both very good and very bad at times.
They're 10-7 at home and 6-9 on the road but they’re coming off a 116-96 blowout win over the Bulls in Chicago.
The game before that they were the victims of a 116-99 blowout at Minnesota.
OKC is coming off a blowout win too but the Clippers were without stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin so they weren’t able to offer much resistance.
The game should be fun to watch if just to see Russell Westbrook and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Westbrook cranked out a first half triple-double against the Clips and Antetokounmpo came close to a rare quadruple-double against Chicago with 35 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks. He’s now averaging career highs in all four of those categories.
After tonight the Thunder have a back-to-back beginning in Charlotte on Wednesday and ending in Houston on Thursday before coming home for that Saturday night date with Denver.
Tonight’s game tips off at 6:10 on Fox Sports Oklahoma.