The Western Conference is so fun, and the bottom of the East is so dreadful, it becomes easy to dismiss the entire conference as the JV with the caveat that “LeBron will carry the Cavs by Playoff time” and “IF D-Rose gets/stays healthy.” Perhaps we have all been selling the Toronto Raptors deserve a little more respect. Their hot start was treated with a lot of “wait and see” tepidness, and once DeRozan got hurt, then surely the Raps would taper off…
But not so fast. Last night they went into the Clippers home arena and won by double digits to push their record to 23-7, tops in the Eastern Conference. The win snapped the Clippers eight-game winning streak and helped the Raps bounce back after a loss to the Bulls snapped their own six game run. They are now 10-4 without DeRozan and get an opportunity to consolidate yesterday’s break with a backend tonight at Denver. Toronto is 8-0 on front ends of back to backs, but just 4-3 on the concluding end.
Meanwhile, we are on a little three day slide after a nice 7-2 ATS run heading into the Holiday, so it’s time to get things rolling again in the NBA. Let’s dive in.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks -2.5
There are a couple of good games to choose from out West today; Houston at San Antonio, Toronto at Denver; but let’s focus on a really interesting matchup between the Durant-less Thunder and the Rondo-ful Mavericks in Dallas. It feels like the Thunder are OK without Durant as long as Westbrook is in the lineup, and for stretches that feeling is accurate. But statistically, they are just OK. They are 3-2 over the last five without KD despite Westbrook looking like the best player on the planet, apologies to Anthony Davis and LeBron James but neither has imposed their relentless will over the entire game like Westbrook in this stretch.
It will be interesting to see how Dallas defends him. Certainly Rondo has the length and physicality to give him a much different look than they could have several weeks ago with Jameer Nelson and Monta Ellis. Tonight will be the first true glimpse if the Mavs have really elevated themselves in the West with Rondo’s acquisition. I think they have, and I think it will be impressively evident tonight.
So assuming Rondo can keep Westbrook under control (not “shut down” but “under control”) that leaves the Mavericks league-best efficient offense as a huge advantage. I like Dallas in this game a lot tonight. I think a team that can score a TON of points is the worst possible matchup for the Thunder while they await the return of Durant. Look for Dallas to tally close to 110 and for OKC to be unable to keep up.