The season records do not reflect it, but this is no ordinary January Sunday affair. These are two highly regarded teams and NBA basketball handicappers are very aware this is a statement game.
Oklahoma City (22-21, 20-22-1 ATS) has been working on achieving chemistry with many of their components in and out of the lineup. Cleveland (24-20, 18-26 ATS) is just beginning to understand what they are capable of and those making NBA picks versus the betting odds have to like what they are seeing from both squads.
Here are various elements to understand about this nationally televised matinee.
Remade Roster Has Cleveland Players Believing and Thriving
News out of Cleveland in the past couple of days substantiates what many has thought all along. The original roster General Manager David Griffin had put together was flawed and even he knew it after awhile of watching the Cavaliers play.
The unfamiliarity with one another and players not understanding what their real roles were caused a conundrum not only on offense but defense as well. The lack of scoring and cohesiveness carried over to the other side of the floor, where even the most basic of defensive rotations were not occurring and frustrations began to mount.
With LeBron James taking a self-imposed break, Griffin used the opportunity to reboot the roster by trading for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov in early January. Success did not come immediately and Cleveland in the interim was play against material versus the NBA odds.
However, in James second game back, something clicked in the win over the Lakers and Cleveland has now won and covered five in a row.
"I think our confidence has definitely gone up and guys now believe that we are a team that can get stops," center Tristan Thompson said. After being relatively quiet most of the season Kevin Love also chimed in.
"We are trusting each other in a big way," Love said. "We have each other's back so if somebody gets beat, the other guy is stepping up. If (an opponent) makes a pass, somebody is stepping up and taking that guy."
Let’s see if Cleveland can shine against a top notch opponent.
Oklahoma City Improving But Has Ways to Go
The Thunder were making noise and on a nice little roll at 4-0 SU and ATS and basketball analyst Mark Jackson was calling Oklahoma City “the most dangerous team in either conference” and a “a championship-caliber team.”
Oklahoma City was in Atlanta on Friday to find how far along they were as a team since climbing over .500. The Thunder learned they are not at the level they want to be as a more complete Hawks squad handled them with relative ease 103-93 as four-point favorites.
It was another example that in spite of the brilliance of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, you still need complete contributions from all your teammates. The same will be true today.
Betting Odds and Head to Head
Sportsbooks released Cleveland as 2.5-point favorites with a total of 212.5 and by this morning, the Cavaliers were up a point to -3.5 and the total sunk a digit to 211.5.
Oklahoma City won the earlier matchup 103-94 back on Dec. 11 as seven-point favorites.
The next couple of contests should not be too taxing on the Thunder, playing Minnesota tomorrow and being in the Big Apple on Wednesday. Saturday will present a greater challenge being at Memphis. Oklahoma City is .500 (12-14 ATS) with a day between contests.
Cleveland will really be tested this week and the layoff LeBron took will be tested as the Cavaliers will play four games in five days starting Tuesday. What makes this quite difficult is it will be in three cities. It starts in Detroit; the Cavs are home Wednesday and Friday versus Portland and Sacramento before a trip to Minnesota the next night. The opposition is not necessarily impossible just the fatigue factor. For this matinee, Cleveland is 11-13 and 9-15 ATS with one day off.
Normally when it comes to doing sports picks, I would side with Cleveland, since LeBron was in Miami, when his teams were hot against the spread, you played them and when they were not, you played against them.
Ultimately that still might the right choice, but I’ve found home teams like the Cavs in a game involving two teams averaging 98-102 points a game past the midpoint of the season, after leading in their previous game by 20 or more points at the half, are 5-27 ATS in their next outing.
NBA Basketball Free Pick – Oklahoma City +3.5 at 5Dimes