- Chris Paul expected to return for OKC after missing Monday’s game for personal reasons
- Richaun Holmes, Marvin Bagley still sidelined for Sacramento
- Kings beat the Thunder 94-93 in Oklahoma City in December
|Thunder||-3 (-110)||-150||Over 221.5 (-110)|
|Kings||+3 (-110)||+130||Under 221.5 (-110)|
The NBA schedule continues on as players and teams mourn the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant. 6 games populate the schedule on Wednesday night, including a late-night clash between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sacramento Kings in Northern California.
Chris Paul, who missed the Thunder’s game on Monday because of the Bryant news, is expected to suit up tonight for OKC. Paul and Bryant engaged in a number of head-to-head battles over the years on the court, but they also teamed up to win a pair of gold medals at the Olympics with Team USA. Obviously, Kobe’s death hit CP3 hard.
The Thunder, who lost to the Mavericks without Paul the other night, enter Wednesday’s game as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoff picture. Remarkably, OKC is just 2 games behind the Rockets for the fifth seed in the conference and a game-and-a-half behind the Mavs for the sixth spot. Oklahoma City owns a sizable 7-game cushion over the Spurs, who sit ninth. So, despite entering the season with minimal expectations, the Thunder suddenly look like a near-lock to make the playoffs.
The same can’t be said of the Kings, who are disappointingly 13th in the conference in Luke Walton’s first season at the helm. Sacramento has been beset by injuries all year long, and they’re currently thin in the frontcourt with Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley both sidelined. The Kings are 5.5 games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies, so it’s hard to imagine the team making up the necessary ground over the last few months of the season.
The Thunder are listed as 3-point favorites in a game with a 221.5 over/under at BetOnline.
Fox Leading Sacramento
While the Kings have endured a rough season to this point, they did accomplish a remarkable feat in their last game. Sacramento was able to erase a 17-point deficit with less than 3 minutes to play on Monday night in Minneapolis, and they went on to win 133-129 in overtime. ESPN says that NBA teams had a record of 0-8,378 in games in which they trailed by 17 or more with less than 3 minutes to go since the 1996-97 season.
De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield were the catalysts. Hield, who wears jersey No. 24 in honor of Kobe Bryant, poured in a career-high 42 points off the bench. The Kings trailed by as many as 27 points in the game at one point. Fox finished with 22 points in the game, 15 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Fox went to the free throw line for a pair of shots with the Kings down 3 with under 5 seconds to play. Fox made the first shot, and then intentionally fired the ball off the rim on the second attempt. The ball bounced right back to Fox, who was able to easily lay it in and tie the game, sending it to overtime. Sacramento outscored Minnesota 14-10 in the extra session.
Fox has been limited to just 28 games so far this season due to injury, but the Kings have played a bit better since his return. The third-year guard is averaging a career-high 19.3 points along with 7.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. The season hasn’t gone quite according to plan for Sacramento for the most part, but Fox’s continued development has been one of the few bright spots.
Many believed the Thunder were waving the white flag on title contention when the team decided to trade Russell Westbrook and Paul George over the summer. While that still may be the case in the long run, the Thunder have turned what looked like a lost year into an interesting one. In addition to a potential young cornerstone in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a boatload of future draft picks, OKC also landed capable veterans like Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari in the trades.
CP3 and Gallo have combined with Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder to turn the Thunder into a winning basketball team. Oklahoma City got off to a ragged 5-10 start, but they have quietly been one of the hottest teams in the league over the past month or so. They have gone 23-10 since the aforementioned 5-10 start to essentially punch their ticket to the postseason.
The 3-headed monster in the backcourt has been the primary reason for the team’s success. Paul has played better than expected this season, which has quieted some questions about how much the 34-year-old had left in the tank. He has proven to be the perfect leader for the likes of Gilgeous-Alexander and Schroder in the backcourt. Schroder, a castoff from the Hawks, has led OKC in scoring in 3 of the team’s last 4 games overall. SGA is the team’s leading scorer on the season, averaging better than 19 points per game.
The Thunder have ranked in the top-11 in both offensive and defensive efficiency over the last 15 games. The Kings, who spent much of the season as the slowest-paced team in the league, are up to 13th in pace in the same span.
The betting public and sharp bettors seem to be divided on this game. 83 percent of all bets have come in on Oklahoma City to cover the 3-point spread, but 57 percent of the money wagered has come in on the Kings’ side. For what it’s worth, the Thunder have gone 32-16 against the spread so far this season, which is easily the best mark in the NBA. Sacramento has gone 22-23-1 ATS.
I’ll side with the public on this one. The Thunder are 3 games north of the .500 mark away from home, while Sacramento is 5 games south of .500 on their home floor. The Kings being so shorthanded up front means Nemanja Bjelica is playing a lot of center minutes. While he obviously able to hold his own offensively, I have serious doubts about whether he can handle Adams inside.
I’ll take Oklahoma City to cover the 3-point spread on the road.