Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to March 24 inclusive:
It’s Crazy Time again in the NBA. With just 10 games or so left in the regular season, teams have to carefully balance their needs – should they gun for a higher playoff seed, or should they take it easy on their tired, their poor, their injured point guards yearning to breathe free?
If you’re the Oklahoma City Thunder, you’ve got considerably more leeway with your decision. The Thunder (52-18 SU, 38-31-1 ATS) have just about sewn up a playoff spot in the Western Conference, and will almost certainly finish first in the Northwest Division. Things are much dicier for the Dallas Mavericks (42-29 SU, 39-32 ATS); they’re tied with the Phoenix Suns for the No. 8 seed, but Phoenix has the tiebreaker. What to do, what to do. Naturally, the NBA lines for Tuesday’s matchup (8:00 p.m. ET, TNT) are on hold until they’ve figured it out.
Again, Oklahoma City is likely to be a lot more cautious when it comes to Russell Westbrook (24.0 PER). He sat out Monday’s 117-96 win over the Denver Nuggets (+11 away) after tweaking his surgically repaired knee on Friday. However, an MRI on the knee revealed nothing of concern, and Westbrook will reportedly suit up on Tuesday against the Mavs. OKC has been avoiding using Westbrook on both ends of back-to-back games anyway. And Denver wasn’t expected to mount much of a challenge.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, are still not sure what to do with Jose Calderon (15.4 PER). He got elbowed in the mush in the first minute of Sunday’s 107-104 overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets – thanks for ruining my pick, Mason Plumlee. Mercer says hi. Anyway, Calderon remains questionable to play on Tuesday, although head coach Rick Carlisle told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he didn’t think the injury was too serious.
You can understand why the NBA odds are on hold as we go to press. When these two teams met on March 16, Westbrook was on the sidelines while Dallas (+7.5 away) cruised to a 109-86 victory. The Thunder are already missing Thabo Sefolosha (11.0 PER) and Kendrick Perkins (6.1 PER), so any additional injury just compounds things. The Mavs are relatively healthy; Gal Mekel (5.4 PER) is out indefinitely after having surgery on his right knee, but if Calderon can’t go, there’s still Devin Harris (15.3 PER) and Shane Larkin (8.0 PER) to handle the 1-spot.
If we assume both Westbrook and Calderon will play Tuesday, then the Thunder might be the right pick this time. They’ve won all four of their games since the Dallas loss at 2-2 ATS, while the Mavs have split their four games at 1-3 ATS, all at home. They’re just 16-19 ATS at the ADD compared to 23-13 ATS away. Oklahoma City is hanging in there at 18-16 ATS on the road, and when it comes to playing on zero days of rest, the Thunder are 7-4 ATS this year.
On top of all that, Caron Butler (8.0 PER) might be finding his groove in his new surroundings. Butler was a defensive black hole in his first few games for OKC, and he was a minus-16 the last time these teams met. It’s been a mixed bag for Butler during this four-game winning streak, but on Monday, he exploded for 23 points on 10-for-19 shooting against the Nuggets. We may never see that again, but it still portends well for Tuesday. Let’s see how the Chalk Supreme tastes.
NBA Pick: Take the Thunder