The Lakers and their struggles have been the dominant storyline of 2012 so far, and it is an admittedly compelling storyline that will get even more interesting with the likely return of Steve Nash. If people haven’t been talking Lakers collapse they’ve been talking Knicks, who own the best record in the East at 18-7 after last night’s sound beating of the city-rival Brooklyn Nets.
The team that has been getting overlooked in all this drama and intrigue is the team that is the clear-cut best team in the NBA right now, the Oklahoma City Thunder. They beat the Spurs by 14 points Monday night and followed it up with a road win in Atlanta last night to push their record to a league-best 21-4. They are on pace to win 68 games, and Kevin Durant is playing even better than he did the last three season (in which he led the league in scoring in all of them). He dropped 41 on the Spurs in a not-so-subtle “if we meet again this season in the playoffs, you guys know what is going to happen” message.
The Thunder will try to build upon the league’s best record tonight with a tricky road game in Minnesota. Let’s dig inside some stats and get tonight’s winning edge.
Oklahoma City Thunder -4 at Minnesota Timberwolves (Total: 198.5)
The wolves have looked much better lately, winning four of their last five before dropping their last two and it is no coincidence that their improved play coincides with the healthy return of Ricky Rubio, and the back in healthy game-shape (even if somewhat disgruntled) Kevin Love.
However, they lose the “freshness” advantage they might have had playing the Thunder on the back end of a back-to-back, as they are also playing their third game in four days. The first two have both been losses on the road; one quality in Miami, the other a little less-so in Orlando. Tonight they try to bounce back against the… best team in the NBA. It won’t be easy.
The edge tonight lies in the point guard matchup. I expect Russell Westbrook to make Ricky Rubio’s recent return seem a little hasty. He is a defensive blanket. Expect him to smother Rubio and force him to shoot jumpers, which is not his strength.
Minnesota also isn’t strong defensively as a team. They have allowed over 100 points in each of their last two games. Tonight they face the most potent offensive team in the NBA.
I like the Thunder to keep on rolling, even on the road in a tricky scheduling spot. Four points isn’t a big price to pay to back the Thunder tonight.
Free Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder -4