After playing 21 of its first 40 games at home, the Oklahoma City Thunder are about to face its toughest test this season when they start their six-game road trip on Friday in Minnesota, and eight of its next nine games on the road.
Heading into Friday night's game, the Oklahoma City Thunder are 24-16, sixth-best record in the Western Conference, and have arguably the toughest schedule in the month of January in the entire NBA.
As the Thunder get ready for its longest road stand of the season, they begin their daunting road trip facing the young and inexperienced Minnesota Timberwolves.
Granted, the Timberwolves (13-26) are one of the worst teams in the NBA this season. But the Thunder cannot take the Timberwolves lightly -- especially with its young core unit of Karl Anthony-Towns, Zach Lavine, and Andrew Wiggins.
The Timberwolves are arguably considered the most disappointing team this season after having so much optimism heading into this season with new head coach Tom Thibodeau. But even with this team struggling, their core unit of Anthony-Towns, Lavine and Wiggins can score at ease, meaning the Thunder will have to lock down on those three players.
After Minnesota, the Thunder will travel to California to begin a three-game road stand against the Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors.
Once again, Sacramento (16-22) is another team that has underperformed in the first half of the season. However, with the recent surge from center DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings are 5-5 in its last 10 games and only a 1/2 game behind Portland for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
As for the Los Angeles Clippers (27-14), they have struggled as of late dealing with multiple injuries to star players Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. After starting the season off as one of the hottest teams in the NBA, the Clippers have dropped to fourth in the Western Conference.
With Blake Griffin out, look for Thunder head coach Billy Donovan to draw up plays for Enes Kanter and Domantas Sabonis down low in the post -- especially when Donovan plays Kanter with Steven Adams, having Clippers center DeAndre Jordan guarding Adams.
Then to end the California road trip the Thunder will once again head to Oracle Arena to play former Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant. The Warriors (33-6) got the best of the Thunder at the beginning of the season when they won 122-96, but that was a different Thunder team.
MVP candidate Russell Westbrook has gotten a better feel for his teammates on the floor now 40 games into the season, and the bench has been a lot better as of late with the addition of Cameron Payne back from injury and the production out of Kanter.
Even though the Warriors are the best team in the NBA, the one knock on this team is their fourth quarter efficiency, blowing a 24-point lead to the Memphis Grizzlies and a 12-point lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas.
If the Thunder end up trailing the Warriors heading into the fourth quarter, if they can keep it to single digits the Thunder will have a shot at beating the Warriors.
Then to wrap up the road trip the Thunder will head to Utah to take on the Jazz and travel to New Orleans to face the Pelicans.
Utah (24-16) is having its best season since 2011, the last time they made the playoffs, according to basketball-reference.com.
Led by forward Gordon Hayward, Utah is fifth in the Western Conference and have finally lived up to the high expectations people put on them the last few seasons. Utah also beat the Thunder back in December, winning 109-89.
As for the Pelicans (16-24) they have arguably the best center in the entire league in Anthony Davis. The Pelicans have struggled all season with injuries. But after getting Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans back, the Pelicans have managed to make a run for the eighth spot in the Western Conference, trailing by 1 1/2 games.
This is not an easy road trip for the Thunder. Even though teams like the Timberwolves, Kings and Pelicans have records under .500, they all have players with upside who can take over a game at any moment.
If the Thunder can rally four wins on this road trip, it will be a successful road stand for this team heading into the second half of the season.