Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to April 7 inclusive:
The Oklahoma City Thunder probably weren’t going to win the Western Conference anyway. But when they beat the San Antonio Spurs (+4 away) 106-94 last week to snap San Antonio’s 19-game winning streak, there was a glimmer of hope. A brief glimmer that’s pretty much gone now that the Thunder have lost back-to-back games to fall 4.5 behind the Spurs with six left to go.
Oklahoma City’s primary task from here to the playoffs is to stay healthy. After that, it’s to give the veteran role players the minutes they need to be prepared for the postseason. That means the Thunder could be worth fading down the stretch, especially against a young team that hasn’t totally packed it in yet. Maybe the Sacramento Kings can be that team; Tuesday’s NBA odds have the Kings getting eight points at home with a total of 203.5.
Fight the Youth
If you’re looking ahead to the playoffs, the win over San Antonio was a good omen – even if the Spurs did rest Manu Ginobili in that one. And the Thunder are obviously looking ahead, given the way they handed out the minutes during these past two games. On Thursday, one day after scoring 27 points against the Spurs, Russell Westbrook (24.2 PER) got his standard maintenance day in a 111-107 loss to the Houston Rockets (–2.5 at home). Nothing unusual there. On Saturday, Westbrook returned to face the Phoenix Suns, and he had another monster night with 33 points in 33 minutes. But it wasn’t enough; the Suns prevailed 122-115 as 2.5-point home dogs.
It’s the Phoenix game that we really need to pay attention to. This was the second game back for Kendrick Perkins (6.0 PER), who also sat out the Houston loss after making his return against the Spurs. Rookie Steven Adams (10.9 PER) went back to his customary reserve role against San Antonio, but he didn’t get any minutes against Phoenix. Also, rookie shooting guard Andre Roberson (8.3 PER) played just five minutes before Derek Fisher (10.4 PER) took things over.
These moves seem designed with the playoffs in mind. But are they temporary? And if not, will they make Oklahoma City better or worse in the short term? Adams and Roberson are two of the better defenders on the Thunder; however, they haven’t been productive on the offensive end, and you’ll find them near the bottom of the team’s plus-minus Simple Rating chart over at 82games:
Yikes. Fisher, by contrast, offers very little on defense other than steals (1.8 per 36 minutes), but he does hit enough 3-pointers (39.6 percent) to make him nearly a break-even player at minus-0.4. And it appears Caron Butler (9.7 PER, minus-4.1) and Reggie Jackson (15.3 PER, plus-1.0) are going to absorb Adams’ minutes going forward. Interesting. A little more small ball from OKC.
As it turns out, it might not matter whether or not Oklahoma City plans on going large or small against the Kings. Rudy Gay (19.9 PER) has been given permission to leave the team at any moment and fly to Memphis to be with his wife, who at press time is due to give birth to their first child. The Kings are already missing Isaiah Thomas (20.8 PER) to a bruised quad, so if Gay is out as well, that should have much more of an impact on the result than which Thunder role players are getting which minutes.
NBA Pick: Take the Thunder –8 (–107) at Matchbook