The Cleveland Cavaliers have won eight games in a row, but they’re small road dogs on Thursday’s NBA odds board against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have won three straight with KD in the lineup.
Jason’s record as of Dec. 9: 15-14 ATS, 0-3 Totals
This could still turn out to be a preview of the 2015 NBA Finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers (13-7 SU, 9-11 ATS) have shrugged off their slow start and won eight straight games at 5-3 ATS; they’re heavily favored at 5-7 to win the Eastern Conference. But the Oklahoma City Thunder (8-13 SU, 10-10-1 ATS) have dug themselves a deeper hole in the West. They’re 13-2 on the NBA odds list, but to win their conference, the Thunder have to make the playoffs first.
They’re on their way. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both back in the lineup, and the replenished Thunder have won three in a row (albeit at 1-2 ATS) with the Cavaliers coming to town on Thursday (8:00 p.m. ET, TNT). It’s pretty much anybody’s game to win – the basketball odds at press time have OKC laying 2.5 points, down from three at the open, with a total of 203.5.
It’ll be nice to see Cleveland get some competition for a change. Their eight-game winning streak came at the expense of Eastern teams – the toughest games were against the Toronto Raptors, minus DeMar DeRozan. The Cavs just barely beat the New York Knicks (+7.5 at home) last week. Same with the Milwaukee Bucks (+10.5 away), although the Bucks are looking pretty good these days.
Still, there’s no question Cleveland is playing better basketball now. It helps to have Matthew Dellavedova (10.7 PER last year) back in action; he turned up the defense against the Raptors on Tuesday and helped the Cavs (–6 at home) come from way behind to win 105-101. Tristan Thompson (17.1 PER) also had another strong game off the bench against his hometown team.
Miller Time Is Over
Despite Dellavedova’s return, depth remains an issue for the Cavs. They lost Mike Miller (45.9 percent from downtown last year) to a concussion during the Knicks game; his status is unclear as we go to press. James Jones (51.9 3P% last year) is soaking up some of those minutes, but for the most part, the Cavaliers are only going eight-deep into their bench.
This isn’t good for LeBron James (24.6 PER). He’s playing 38 minutes per game after four straight years of going to the NBA Finals with the Miami Heat. That kind of workload might be okay for Kyrie Irving (21.9 PER), but it’s part of the reason why James isn’t putting up his usual MVP-quality numbers (27.7 career PER).
Old St. Nick
The Thunder don’t have to lean on their superstars quite as much. They went 10-deep against the Bucks on Tuesday, winning 114-101 as 10-point home faves; Westbrook (31.4 PER) was the busiest player at 32 minutes, dropping 28 points and seven assists on Milwaukee. Durant (25.8 PER) was good for 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in just 29 minutes of action for the Zombie Sonics.
Westbrook and Durant aren’t the only players who’ve come off the OKC injured list. All hands are back on deck, including Perry Jones (9.6 PER), who played 22 minutes against the Bucks after missing most of the past month with a knee contusion. It’s such an embarrassment of riches that the Thunder were finally able to give Nick Collison (plus-1.4 DBPM) his first day off this year.
It’s challenging to handicap this game when both teams are trending sharply upwards. But if we cheat by comparing the 2010-11 Heat (plus-6.76 SRS) – that’s LeBron’s first year in Miami – to the 2013-14 Thunder (plus-6.66 SRS), we can envision how close of a matchup Thursday’s game should be. We’ll go with the deeper and more established team in this case.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Thunder at Pinnacle