5 stretches of the 2021-22 Thunder schedule to circle

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With the schedule release on Friday, the 2021-22 Oklahoma City Thunder season is officially right around the corner.

The Thunder begin their season on Oct. 10 against the Utah Jazz.

That’s just one notable game on their schedule. Russell Westbrook returns to Oklahoma City in a new jersey — and this time he’s with LeBron James — and the Thunder will get visits from other former OKC stars including Kevin Durant and James Harden.

With a naturally optimistic outlook at the beginning of every season, let’s take a look at five of the most important parts of the schedule. Some are single games; others are stretches against several good teams in a row.

See the full schedule here.

Oct. 24-Nov. 4: Russ' return

The first Thunder home game of the season comes against an Eastern Conference team hoping to be a contender, one who may or may not have their star point guard on the roster when the season begins. It doesn't get any easier from there. The Thunder play the Philadelphia 76ers once, the Golden State Warriors twice, the Los Angeles Lakers twice and the Los Angeles Clippers once during this brutal six-game stretch right near the beginning of the season. And let's not bury the lede: Russell Westbrook is in a Lakers uniform. The Thunder will host Westbrook on Oct. 27, the fifth game of the season. Good luck getting a ticket to see Westbrook return to Oklahoma City, this time with LeBron James and Anthony Davis by his side. If you're unable to get a ticket, the Lakers will visit OKC again on Dec. 10, a Friday night.

Nov. 14: Nets visit OKC

  • Nov. 14: vs. Brooklyn Nets

Speaking of homecomings, the Thunder won't have to wait long for another. Oklahoma City will host the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 14, a night in which both Kevin Durant and James Harden will be set to play against their first NBA team. It's safe to assume this will be a less friendly environment than the ovation Westbrook will receive. This will be the Thunder's only home game against the Nets this season. The two teams will face off again on Jan. 13 in Brooklyn.

Nov. 29-Dec. 1: Houston, Rockets

  • Nov. 29: at Houston Rockets

  • Dec. 1: vs. Houston Rockets

This isn't the Houston Rockets team of old now that Harden and Westbrook are gone from both teams, but we're still just a year removed from Houston taking down Oklahoma City in the playoffs. It's time to kickstart this rivalry with different faces. The Thunder have their cornerstone in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who they maxed out with a five-year extension this offseason, and the Rockets are hoping they too found their star of the future in Jalen Green. Houston will host the Thunder on Nov. 29, and the two teams will face off again two nights later in Oklahoma City. Two of the worst teams in the league last season will show up with some new faces and new intensity.

April 1: Cade is back

  • April 1 vs. Detroit Pistons

By this time, Cade Cunningham will have nearly a full season under his belt. The former Oklahoma State star will be welcomed back as his rookie season is drawing to a close. The Thunder will play Cunningham and the Pistons earlier in the season in a Dec. 6 matchup in Detroit. They'll be able to compare Cunningham from early-season to end in this battle. Who knows, it's possible this April game will be a battle for lottery odds once again.

April 3-10: Final Five

April 3: vs. Phoenix Suns April 5: vs. Portland Trail Blazers April 6: at Utah Jazz April 8: at Los Angeles Lakers April 10: at Los Angeles Clippers All five of these teams may be jockeying for playoff position, which will create interesting scenarios for the Thunder. There may be battles for home-court advantage. There may be teams trying to avoid the play-in tournament. Heck, perhaps the Clippers will be trying to lose on the final night like last year when they did just that to the Thunder. If the Thunder end up tanking this season -- which is likely, given how young and inexperienced the roster is -- this could be a five-game sweep to help them secure a better spot. Or perhaps that 2021 finale could unfold the same way once again. Either way, they'll get the defending Western Conference Champions and four other teams with their eyes on that target as the season wraps.