Death schedule, also known as January for the Thunder

Dec 9, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after a play against the Houston Rockets during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Following the month of December in which the Thunder finished with a record of 9-5, they will now embark on a crucial part of their schedule. The month of January will be a very telling month for this Thunder squad, and could play a major role in what seed they end up with come playoff time.

December proved to be a very successful month for the Thunder considering the circumstances. Victor Oladipo missed nine games due to a wrist injury he suffered on December 11th against the Celtics. Oklahoma City won five out of the nine games that Oladipo missed.

The Thunder sit at 21-14 entering their upcoming gauntlet that is their January schedule. They’re perched at the sixth spot in the Western Conference, and currently own a comfortable six-game lead over the eighth place Sacramento Kings.

If anyone is questioning to this point in the season whether the Thunder can succeed on the road, January will provide the answer. Oklahoma City has ten games remaining this month, and eight of them will be away from the friendly confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena. Out of those ten remaining games, the Thunder will face a current playoff team six times, including high profile games against the Rockets, Clippers, and Jazz.

Out of the eight remaining road games Oklahoma City has on the schedule, six of them are clumped together in what will be one of, if not the toughest road trip the Thunder will endure all season. During the six-game swing, Oklahoma City will play in five different time zones, including three straight games on the west coast against the Kings, Clippers, and Jazz, all of whom are currently making the playoffs.

While the month as a whole is challenging, specifically in regards to the amount of road games, there are a few games that one could definitely categorize as “must wins” for Oklahoma City. The Thunder have upcoming games against the Nuggets, Wolves, Pelicans, and Mavericks, all of which are currently on the outside-looking-in for the Playoffs.

One aspect that is sure to aid the Thunder will this January schedule is the return of Cameron Payne, who is set to return from a broken foot on January 7th against the Denver Nuggets. Payne is sure to help shoulder some of the load from MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, who finished the month of December averaging 30.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 9.9 assists per game. Payne’s ability to score off the bench will boost a bench unit that improved exponentially in the month of December.

In order for the Thunder to possibly crawl out of the seventh seed in the Western Conference Playoffs, this upcoming ten-game stretch will be paramount. It all starts Wednesday night in Charlotte when they take on the Hornets. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m CST

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