Just when you think it’s safe to fade the Denver Nuggets again, they start beating the NBA odds. At this rate, they could make the Western Conference playoffs – instead of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Jason’s record as of Jan. 14: 23-23-2 ATS, 2-4 Totals
And they say football is a high-variance sport. Look at what’s happened to our safe and secure Western Conference: bad teams are beating the NBA odds, and title contenders are playing like they’re next in line for a lottery pick at the 2015 draft. What’s next – the Minnesota Timberwolves breaking their 15-game losing streak? Whoops, too late. We’ll try to make sense of all this in our latest look toward the West.
Here we go again. The Denver Nuggets (18-20 SU, 16-20-2 ATS) have come out of nowhere to put together five straight wins at 4-1 ATS. The last time we saw the Nuggets doing this well, it was back in November, when they had another five-game winning streak at 4-0-1 ATS. Then they lost eight of their next 11. That’s the Denver Nuggets for you.
Will the same thing happen again this time around? Maybe not, now that rookie center Jusuf Nurkic (19.6 PER) has arrived on the scene. Nurkic started playing regular reserve minutes in mid-December, and played so well that the Nuggets were able to trade starting center Timofey Mozgov (13.9 PER) to the Cleveland Cavaliers last week in exchange for draft picks. On Wednesday, Nurkic had an efficient seven points, nine rebounds, two blocks and two assists in 25 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks, helping Denver (+5 at home) to a 114-107 victory. Very nice indeed.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (18-19 SU, 16-19-2 ATS) are not so nice. Since rattling off seven straight wins last month, the Thunder have gone 6-6 SU and 2-9-1 ATS. Some of that was due to Kevin Durant (29.0 PER) missing another six games to injury, but even since his return, Oklahoma City is just 3-2 SU and 0-4-1 ATS. This is not good.
Will a dose of Dion Waiters (12.2 PER) help Oklahoma City beat the basketball odds? We’re skeptical. Waiters was part of the big three-team trade involving the Cavaliers and the New York Knicks; the Thunder sent a first-rounder to Cleveland and Lance Thomas (6.7 PER) to New York, so it would appear on the surface that Waiters would be a short-term upgrade.
Reviews are mixed thus far. Waiters made his OKC debut on Jan. 7 against the Sacramento Kings (+7.5 at home), and shot just 1-of-9 in a 104-83 drubbing. But Waiters was much better last Friday against the Utah Jazz (+11.5 away), shooting 7-of-14 for 15 points in 27 minutes off the bench, and adding four steals in the process. It still wasn’t enough for Oklahoma City to beat the spread in a 99-94 victory. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
Good news for the Timberwolves (6-31 SU, 14-22-1 ATS): They’re no longer in last place in the overall NBA standings. That honor goes to the Knicks, after Minnesota pulled off a 110-101 win over the Indiana Pacers (–11 at home) on Tuesday. Mo Williams (15.6 PER) had possibly the quietest 50-point game in league history, dumping a career-high 52 points on the Pacers in his fourth game as the Wolves starting point guard.
Williams probably won’t be scoring 50 points every night for Minnesota, although he is playing his best basketball in about five years. He’s certainly a big improvement over Zach LaVine (8.9 PER), and any day now, Ricky Rubio (15.9 PER) will be returning to active duty, giving the Wolves plenty of depth at point guard. Nikola Pekovic (15.9 PER) and Kevin Martin (21.9 PER) are due back at some point this month, as well. If making smart NBA picks is all about buying low and selling high, then there’s never been a better time to buy for Wolves supporters.