It may just be a win, but still a road win nonetheless, over the undermanned Indiana Pacers, but it might still be time to reintroduce the Los Angeles Clippers to the overcrowded discussion for NBA Title Contender. The Clips were my favorite value preseason but they fell off the collective national radar after a subpar and sluggish start. However, like the vaunted Spurs, at the quarter-season mark, take a quick glance at the standings and the top is starting to include the teams we thought it would.
The Clippers eight-game run has lifted them to 16-5, a half-game better than San Antonio and just a game behind second place Memphis. I’d be cautious going against the Clippers, as they are not only on an 8-0 run but they are 7-2 ATS over their last nine games, so they aren’t just winning on the court but also as the Vegas wagering window.
Tonight is a limited slate of games with just the TNT national games on the schedule, but I do have one game I much prefer over the other. So let’s dive into a little breakdown in today’s free pick.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Cleveland Cavaliers at Oklahoma City Thunder -2.5 (Total: 205)
Forget the records. Forget the sluggish and either sloppy or injury-riddled starts to the season. This is the marquee matchup in the current NBA. LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love vs. Russell Westbrook and … and perhaps that is the problem with the Thunder when the playoffs roll around. As brilliant as the dynamic duo is, can you really say OKC’s roster is better than Golden State, San Antonio or the Clippers? I suppose Serge Ibaka is option three, and he is a capable scorer in spots and an excellent defender, but I fear the Thunder’s window may have closed while no one was looking.
Alas, that’s another story for another day. In the immediacy, the Thunder, high off the return of KD and Westbrook, but with a few games back already under their belt, get to have a nationally-televised welcome back party. And I think they and the home crowd will respond with vigor and enthusiasm.
I like Westbrook to exploit Kyrie Irving’s defensive deficiencies, and Kevin Love will have a tough night with the athletic Serge Ibaka willing to chase him both inside and outside the paint. He will be quick enough to get a hand up on perimeter shots and agile enough feet to not get blown past – and of course can still send a few shots back at the rim.
LeBron and Durant will be the highlight of the show. But I expect their 30 point nights to cancel each other out virtually. I’ll take the supporting cast of the Thunder at home. It’s a slim two and a half points. Swallow them and take the home team.