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Thunder need to capitalize on soft schedule after All Star break

Feb 15, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) and forward Andre Roberson (21) react after a play against the New York Knicks during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Following a exhilarating victory Wednesday night against the New York Knicks, one in which they trailed by as many as 17 points before storming back to win 116-105, the Oklahoma City Thunder head into the All Star break ready to decompress after what has been a very up-and-down season to this point.

Heading into the much needed break, Oklahoma City is sitting seventh in the Western Conference with a record of 32-25.  While sitting in the seventh spot may seem borderline, the Thunder are actually pretty comfortable when it comes to the playoff race.

OKC currently holds a 6½ game lead over the eighth seeded Denver Nuggets, and are only three and a half games behind the fourth seeded Los Angeles Clippers. The fourth through seventh seeds in the western conference playoff race are very compacted heading into the All Star break, making for what should be a very exciting finish to the regular season.

As the Thunder set their sights on what lies ahead of them after the break, optimism should be very high for the ball club.

OKC’s first seven games after the break are as follows: Lakers, Pelicans, Jazz,  at Trailblazers,  at Suns,  at Mavericks, Trailblazers. The six teams that the Thunder will face immediately after the All Star break have a combined record of 140-201, further illustrating how important this stretch will be for the team.

Take away the Utah Jazz’s 35-22 record, and the rest of the teams have a combined 105-179 record. While Utah is far and away the best team the Thunder will face during this stretch, one would have to look no further than January 23rd to realize that OKC has proven they can take down the Jazz, as they did that night 97-95 in Salt Lake City.

With only 25 games remaining on the schedule, this stretch could prove to be crucial for OKC as it pertains to playoff seeding. When analyzing the schedule for the rest of the season, it’s clear there’s not a better stretch for the Thunder to possibly make up ground on the teams ahead of them then now.

Another aspect to consider, and more reason for optimism heading forward, is the eventual return of Enes Kanter. Kanter is excepted to be reevaluated this upcoming week, and is still on schedule to return within 6-to-8 weeks of his injury. The Thunder’s second unit, which has had it’s share of struggles during the Turkish-center’s absence, will be sure to benefit from Kanter’s return, whenever that is.

Moving forward, things are peaking in the right direction for the Thunder. With a much needed break, a relatively soft schedule awaiting them after the All Star break, and the eventual return of Kanter, Oklahoma City has a chance to finish the regular season on a very positive note heading into the Playoffs.

Where that will take them, we don’t know. One thing is for certain, however: momentum come playoff time for this team is something no opposing ball club wants to take on.

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