The Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t need Kevin Durant on Christmas Day. They might not need the reigning league MVP to beat the basketball odds Friday night when they host the Charlotte Hornets.
Jason’s record as of Dec. 25: 20-19-1 ATS, 1-3 Totals
No Kevin Durant? No problem. The Oklahoma City Thunder were missing their MVP on Christmas Day against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, but that’s okay – Oklahoma City has another MVP-quality player in Russell Westbrook, who dumped 34 points and 11 assists on the Spurs (–6 at home) in a 114-106 victory. Piece of cake.
Not much time for holiday cheer before the Thunder (14-16 SU, 15-14-1 ATS) head back home to face the Charlotte Hornets (10-19 SU, 13-14-2 ATS), who are on a nice 4-0 SU and ATS mini-streak after an incredibly slow start to the 2014-15 campaign. Can the Hornets get the jump on OKC this Friday night? The NBA odds are pending as we go to press, thanks to Durant’s sprained ankle, but we’ll break it down for you anyway.
Long Distance Runaround
As well as the Thunder played on Christmas Day without KD, we can’t necessarily expect them to keep it up. They hit nine of their 15 trey attempts; for the season, Oklahoma City is No. 29 in the league in 3-point shooting at 31.8 percent. Only the Philadelphia 76ers (30.2 percent) are worse. And things don’t usually improve when Durant (40.5 percent) is out of the lineup.
Which is the scenario we expect on Friday (8:00 p.m. ET, NBA-TV). Durant told reporters on Thursday that his sprained ankle was bad enough that he couldn’t run, jump or cut. This being the new NBA, Durant is being listed as day-to-day rather than give the opposition (or handicappers) any concrete information about his status. But it appears Durant has some time to go yet before he’s sufficiently healed.
Otherwise, Oklahoma City is at close to 100 percent health, which has been rare this season. Westbrook (32.7 PER) is playing like an MVP, with an incredible 32.1 points, 8.1 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 steals per 36 minutes. Surrounding Westbrook are several quality role players with defensive intensity to burn – the Thunder are sixth in the league in defensive efficiency this year at 100.2 points allowed per 100 possessions. If they happen to get hot from outside, like they did against the Spurs, the Thunder can win without Durant.
Lock and Load
The Hornets, meanwhile, are allowing opponents to hit 37.1 percent from long range, which ranks No. 24 in the league. It’s a surprisingly poor showing for a team with three allegedly lockdown defenders on the perimeter: Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. But Kidd-Gilchrist (plus-0.7 DBPM) missed 14 of Charlotte’s 29 games this year; things are better now that he’s back at small forward.
Stephenson (plus-1.1 DBPM), on the other hand, has missed these last four games for Charlotte with a sprained pelvis, and is not going to be in the lineup on Friday. This could be a good thing for the Hornets. Stephenson has been a disappointment since signing as a free agent during the offseaon; Charlotte even put him on the trading block earlier this month, although that talk has died down recently.
You Die by the Lance
Aside from his reputation as a disruptive player in the dressing room, Stephenson has failed to blend in with his new teammates on the court. His poor shooting (38.6 percent on all field-goal attempts) has made Stephenson (10.3 PER) a bad fit alongside Walker (18.0 PER) and Al Jefferson (20.7 PER). Gerald Henderson (11.7 PER) isn’t nearly as gifted as Stephenson, but at least he’s shooting 48.2 percent from the floor.
Charlotte’s winning streak without Stephenson makes us think the Hornets would be a good NBA pick Friday night, in a “buy low, sell high” fashion. Also, the Hornets have been idle since Tuesday, so rest is certainly on their side. Keep an eye on Durant’s status, of course, but we’ll recommend Charlotte in the meantime.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Hornets