The Oklahoma City Thunder have made their move are now in 8th place in the West on the strength of a 6-game win streak. But is an NBA Championship Futures Bet on OKC really worth it with injuries and the path this team would likely have to take?
With less than two months now left in the Regular Season, as many expected, the Oklahoma City Thunder are currently making a nice little run at a playoff spot in the NBA’s Western Conference and are now sitting in 8th place in the Western Division with a 31-25 record after winning and covering their 6th straight game after disposing of the Denver Nuggets (3000/1 to win NBA Championship, bet365), 110-103 on Sunday night as NBA All-Star Game MVP Russell Westbrook continued his hot play, scoring 33 points and dishing out 10 assists in the victory in the friendly home confines of the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. The Thunder now have a 2-game lead for that last playoff spot in the conference over the 9th-place Phoenix Suns (29-27, 250/1, Bwin), who have lost 4 straight games and may be in jeopardy of falling out of the playoff picture if Head Coach Jeff Hornacek can’t right the ship soon in the Valley of the Sun.
So, Head Coach Scott Brooks has the Thunder (10/1, bet365) playing some good basketball at the right time and The NBA Team Formerly Known As The Seattle SuperSonics looks like they will again make the postseason and could potentially make life hell for the #1 seed—which right now, and all season, has looked like it will be the Golden State Warriors (43-10, +450, Ladbrokes)—but can Oklahoma City (8-3 L11) actually make a run at the NBA Championship this year? Probably not. Let’s examine why.
The State of Kevin Durant’s Health
All teams in sports are usually only as good as their top player and leading scorer, and although PG Russell Westbrook (26.2 ppg, 7.7 spg) is as good as a No. 2 guy to a team’s main star in professional sports, as Kevin Durant (25.4 ppg) goes, so have gone, and so will go the Oklahoma City Thunder. If opposing teams don’t have to worry about the thin, laser-eyed gunner from the University of Texas, then they can focus on throwing much of their defensive energy and game plan(s) on trying to shut down the Über-athletic Westbrook. And the impact to this Northwest Divisional team—who are closer to the South—from the loss of James Harden (to the Houston Rockets) continues to loom over this franchise, still to this very day. On Sunday, news came out that SF Durant underwent a minor procedure to try to alleviate some more of the pain in his surgically-repaired right foot which had a screw in the Fifth Metatarsal rubbing up against a bone, causing some pain to the Oklahoma City star. So, even though it’s a “minor” procedure, Durant will still miss time at a point in the season when the Thunder have been making a nice move and have some momentum.
"Most important to note here is the initial injury is progressing as anticipated and now what we're waiting to see is how the soreness is able to be accommodated," Thunder General Manager Sam Presti said of Durant’s current condition. "We do anticipate him being able to play during the regular season and then move forward."
In October, Durant underwent a procedure on that right foot, and, after missing only 16 games in the first 7 years of his NBA career, the 26-year-old stalwart has now missed 28 games this season and will be on the shelf for at least the immediate time being (Durant’s expected back March 1). In short, it’s really hard to win a championship with your best player in Street Clothes so much, and, without Durant—who has also averaged 6.6 Rebounds per game and 4.1 Assists in the 27 games he has played this season—Oklahoma City becomes too predictable despite it’s talented roster and improvements this 2014/2015 in other areas of its game. With Durant now missing more games (28) than he has played (27), he just can’t be counted on physically and no matter how much other teammates rally to pick up The KD Slack, it’s impossible to replace his almost effortless scoring in a league which seems to have evolved into A Shootout League, with the top 8 teams in the Western Conference now all averaging over 100 ppg. A new screw in the old foot is nice but a constant presence on the Hardwood is much more important right now at this crucial point in the season.
No Proven Ability to Win on the Road
Yeah, the Western Conference is tough and all that, but great teams in all levels of sports find a way to win on the Road. It’s that simple. Right now (Sunday, Feb. 22), all 7 teams in the Western Conference ahead of the Thunder in the standings—the Golden State Warriors (19-8 Road), Memphis Grizzlies (23-5, 14/1, BetVictor), Houston Rockets (19-8, 18/1, Coral) , Portland Trail Blazers (13-13, 33/1, BetVictor), Los Angeles Clippers (14-12, 20/1, Paddy Power), Dallas Mavericks (19-11, 18/1, bet365) and the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs (14-14, 7/1, BetVictor)—are all .500 or better on the Road while Oklahoma City is just 13-17 away from home, despite winning its last 3 in a row on the Road.
To become champions, you have to win on the Road. And, when trying to survive potential 7-game Playoff series’ where you won’t ever have that valuable Homecourt Advantage, chances of winning 4 straight series against the likes of this NBA field this season are almost slim and none. And you can scratch the almost, brother.
Lack of Experience, Confidence, Expectations, James Harden
It ain’t all Physical in sports and the Mental part matters more than many handicappers often think about. This Thunder team has no experience winning an NBA championship and has only gotten to that Promised Land one time, losing to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals (4-1)...the last season the Oklahoma City Thunder still had one aforementioned James Edward Harden (NBA-leading 27.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.7 apg). With Westbrook and Harden, this team and coach Brooks would be much better equipped to potentially make a decent run in the coming NBA Playoffs—the Regular Season ends April 15—but, with just Westbrook theoretically having to carry more of the scoring load with Durant now sidelined again, the terrific third-tier scoring (and rebounding and assist) load Harden could have brought to this team would have probably been enough to have OKC maybe two spots higher in the standings than it currently is. Granted, Serge Ibaka (13.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.1 bpg), Westbrook (6.3 rpg), Durant (6.6 rpg), C Steven Adams (7.0 rpg) and the Thunder have been absolutely incredible rebounding the basketball this season, and lead the NBA averaging 47.0 Rebounds per game. But not really expecting to make a playoff run—with Durant’s foot and it’s former spot in the Western Conference standings—and then trying to suddenly expect to, without KD, is way too choppy a groove and doesn’t exactly lead to a confident locker room. Winning six straight is sweet, but finding out that your Big Toe is hurt once again and that you’ll have to limp through the rest of February and March and maybe April leads to Doubt and Doubt don’t win squat, Bubba. Doubt is where the offseason and the couch and the Maple Bacon-flavored potato chips and the Rocky Road ice cream begins.
Kevin Durant isn’t the only starting Thunder player sidelined right now. Center Steven Adams (50 games, 7.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg) has been on the shelf since February 3 letting his surgically-repaired right hand heal, leaving Oklahoma City to use the aforementioned Collison, Mitch McGary and the recently-signed Enes Kanter to fill the big void in the middle. Obviously, the thought right now in Thunderville is to let Adams—who has been wearing a splint—and Durant heal in time for the final playoff push and potentially the postseason, Poppa. And then hope they both play as good as the team needs them to play to make that theoretical run at the team’s first championship. But even when both return, the affected body parts can’t be even near 100% and run the risk of being injured once again down the stretch. And not being entirely healthy in the rugged Western Conference this freaky season where the defending league champs are 7th in this Shark Tank is downright dangerous. And, it’s probably best not to be too gimpy swimming with the sharks. Ask Captain Quint.
The Rest of the West
The Potential Path (using the current NBA Playoff Picture) the Thunder would have to go through to get to the NBA Playoffs (begin Saturday, April 18) and then somehow Win It All is enough to be down on the Thunder’s chances of bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to the Sooner State, but even trying to get to that #8 spot will still be a pressure-filled endeavor for Oklahoma City (31-25) with the Warriors (43-10), Grizzlies (40-14), Rockets (37-18), Trail Blazers (36-19), Clippers (37-19), Mavericks (38-20) and Spurs (34-21) all double-digit games above .500, and the 9th-place Suns (29-27) and 10th-place New Orleans Pelicans (28-27) still in the hunt and fixing to make it hard for the Thunder—although the re-aggravation to a right shoulder injury to Pelicans star Anthony Davis on Saturday in against the Miami Heat has the young forward sidelined again and could be good news for Oklahoma City.
Then, should the Thunder finish 8th in the Wild, Wild West—Oklahoma City can still catch the Spurs, it’s currently 3½ games back of San Antonio, but will probably finish 8th if it makes it—it would likely have to dance with the #1 seed Warriors and the dynamic shooting duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the First Round; the winner of the #4/#5 opening round series, either the hungry and due Trail Blazers or the high-scoring Clippers in the Second Round; then the winner of the other West Semifinal—either the Grizzlies/Spurs, Rockets/Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals. All without the precious and call-beneficial Homecourt advantage. Should all that upsetting occur in the western Conference, then this Thunder team would have to beat someone like the Cleveland Cavaliers (35-22, 4/1, bet365) and LeBron James, maybe the upstart Atlanta Hawks (44-12, 7/1, bet365) or maybe some other red-hot and healthy team coming out of the Eastern Conference. By that time, Oklahoma City would probably be too beat up to even board the plane to attend the actual NBA Finals. Word.
In the end, it comes down to Oklahoma City being able to count on their Main Man Kevin Durant to be present and be healthy. And presently, The Thin Man is neither present nor healthy. We’ll see what’s up with his expected return on March 1. For now, Kyle Singler and Nick Collison will try to fill the SF position on the court played by Durant, but, like Michael Jordan and that round red thing in the grocery store and gardens near you—The Tomato—KD doesn’t really fit into any real defined Guard or Forward (Fruit or Vegetable?) position and is strangely a wonderful food served both Hot and Cold, or Sliced or Smashed. But, a dish that really needs The Tomato that doesn’t have The Tomato will always be a dish that could and should have been much. much better with The Tomato’s constant presence. Don’t nobody want no pizza sauce made out of rutabagas or celery, man.
So, despite the thought this team could knock off a top-seeded Western Conference Golden State Warriors side in Round 1 with Durant and Davis back, healthy and producing at semi-max potential, the 10/1 odds up now at sportsbooks for the Thunder to win the NBA Championship in this NBA Futures marketplace—Boylesports is showing the highest odds right now on Oddschecker for the Thunder at 12/1—still just aren’t appetizing enough and it’s a theoretical Dream Run built on a bad right foot and a basketball team which, in February, still hasn’t proved it can win consistently on the Road. Not good. Maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder and General Manager Sam Presti can somehow make a Deal with The Devil to somehow get Harden back in The Future. Right.
Current NBA Odds to Win Championship: Thunder 10/1 (bet365)