The Association offers up a possible NBA Finals series preview – and rematch - Thursday night when LeBron and his Heat take on KD and his Thunder at the Thunderdome in OKC (8 pm ET, TNT). Miami had beaten Oklahoma City six times in row, but the Thunder beat the Heat on their home court three weeks ago. How might we bet Thursday's game?
The Betting Line
Most books we consulted opened this game with OKC favored by 3.5 points, the total proffered at 206. Most shops then dropped the hook on the Thunder, down to -3, and bumped the total to 207.
Those who think Miami might win this game outright can get a price of +135 on the money line at various shops.
Miami, at 38-14, sits in second place in the Eastern Conference, two games behind conference-leading Indiana. The Heat won five of their last six games heading into the All-Star break, then won their first game post-break Tuesday night, beating the Mavs in Dallas 117-106.
Basically, Miami is right on track as it shoots for a championship three-peat. Come playoff time the Heat will be one of the top two seeds in a weak Eastern Conference, which seems likely to come down to a best-of-seven conference championship series between themselves and the Pacers.
Oklahoma City, at 43-12, leads the Western Conference by three games over second-place San Antonio. They also won five of their last six games heading into the break; Thursday night will be their first game post-break.
Three years ago OKC made it to the Western Conference finals; two years ago they made it to the NBA Finals, losing to the Heat in five games; but last year the Thunder, as the No. 1 seed in the West, got knocked out in the conference semis by Memphis. Obviously, Oklahoma City's goal is to return to the championship series; holding on to the top seed in the West would help in that pursuit.
Heat-Thunder By the Numbers
Miami leads the league in FG shooting at a shade under 51 percent as a team, which is fantastic. The Heat also rank 10th in 3-point shooting at 37 percent and 16th in free-throw shooting at 76 percent.
However, at the other end of the court Miami ranks 20th in FG defense, allowing foes to shoot 46 percent from the floor, and they're the third-worst rebounding team, stats-wise, in the league, at -3.9 per game. Some of that, though, might have to do with the Heat's own offensive efficiency; fewer missed shots means fewer offensive rebounds available.
Oklahoma City ranks third in FG shooting at 47.5 percent, 14th from long range at 36 percent and second from the line at 80 percent. Those free-throws come in handy when it comes to covering pointspreads.
The Thunder also rank second in FG defense, holding opponents to just 43 percent shooting, and they lead the league in rebounding at +4.9 per game.
Heat-Thunder Recent History
Miami had beaten Oklahoma City six times in a row, stretching back to the last four games of the 2012 Finals series. Last year the Heat swept two games from the Thunder.
And in the first meeting of this season between these two teams three weeks ago in Miami the Heat jumped out to an early 18-point lead.
But OKC finally said 'enough is enough' and rallied back, going ahead for good just before halftime and later leading by as much as 25 points on its way to a 112-95 victory.
The Thunder shot 51 percent from the floor that night, made 16 of 27 three-point shots and forced 21 Miami turnovers in winning straight-up as four-point road dogs.
That game also slipped OVER its total of 203.
Heat-Thunder Betting Trends
Miami is 23-28 ATS this season, but 15-12 ATS on the road.
Oklahoma City is 32-23 ATS this season, 15-11 ATS at home.
The Heat are 31-21 on the OVER/UNDERS, as their games have averaged 204 points.
The Thunder are 28-27 on the totals, as their games have averaged 203 points.
Oklahoma City has been playing without G Russell Westbrook (21 points/six rebounds/seven assists per game this season) since he suffered a knee injury back in late December. But Westbrook has healed, apparently to the point where there's a good chance he'll return to the court Thursday night.
The Thunder are 22-4 SU and 16-10 ATS with Westbrook this season, 21-8 SU, 16-13 ATS without him.
Free NBA Pick
This should be a close, tough game, but a couple of things point us in the direction of the home team. Oklahoma City is doing a better job of defending, a better job on the boards and it's shooting 80 percent from the line. In a close game that could be decided in the final minute we love a team that makes 80 percent of its free-throws.
We're not sure how to handicap Westbrook's possible return; he could provide a boost in both production and energy, and then again his re-insertion could cause some disarray, at least temporarily. And there's still a chance he might not even play tonight.
Regardless, we like the Thunder's chances. So we'll go with OKC at the -2.5 points offered at The Greek for our free NBA pick for Thursday.