After an eventful first half of the season and a really entertaining All-Star Game, the NBA is back for a 30-game stretch run before the “second season” starts in earnest. There are a ton of questions in both conferences that will be exciting to watch unfold.
In the East, the obvious question is “can anyone touch Miami?” The answer, if Lebron James continues to play as he has the last three weeks and everyone stays healthy is a comfortable “no”, but that doesn’t stop more than a handful of other teams from thinking about an Eastern Conference matchup against them… and then who knows. Does Boston have one more run left in them? They’re 9-2 without Rondo and KG and Pierce have been playing inspired basketball. Can Carmelo finally lead a team on a Playoff run, or were the Knicks simply some first-half entertainment? How does Indiana play when former All-Star Danny Granger makes his season debut? Will it hinder or help the development of budding superstar Paul George? If it does the latter, is Indiana an actual outside threat to the Heat???
In the West the questions always seem to revolve around the Lakers dwindling playoff chances, but there are some great questions awaiting answer in the West as well. For example, can Oklahoma City, despite the loss of James Harden return to the Finals and finish the job this time? Is San Antonio’s amazing regular season just another example of a soon-to-be disappointment, or is this year’s team different?? And how about the Clippers? With Chris Paul healthy, do they really have enough to so what seems daunting; beat both San Antonio in OKC in back-to-back series, which they would likely have to as the presumptive three seed to reach the Finals?
One thing is certain; it’s going to be a great stretch run and we’ll be here nearly every day with some free picks. Enjoy!
Oklahoma City Thunder -3 at Houston Rockets (Total: 219)
Wipe the indelible image of Lebron James wiping the Thunder off their home court last week out of your mind (for now….) and let’s focus on the immediate. This is arguably the most talented team in the NBA, and despite San Antonio’s slightly better record, I’d say the best team in the West. They’ve had five days to rest and stew on their embarrassing defeat. Now they travel to a team that doesn’t play much defense who they’ve beaten by 52 points combined in two meetings this season.
Houston also has significant matchup problems. Chandler Parsons at the 3?? That leaves him on… Durant? Ugly. Look for KD to tally close to 40 and for Westbrook to abuse defensively-adequate (being nice) Jeremy Lin. Those looking for the “Hardin motivation” factor need only look at the last two results. It wasn’t enough to make a remote difference and now it has grown old and stale with two previous iterations.
I like OKC to go on the road and handle their business tonight and open the second half with an impressive road win.
Free Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder -3