Kobe Bryant is back. Let’s hope he likes playing point guard, because the Los Angeles Lakers are fresh out for Saturday’s matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and OKC is laying a big 11.5 points on the NBA odds board.
Jason’s record on his final NBA picks for 2013, up to December 11 inclusive:
Well, that just about tears it. The Los Angeles Lakers (10-11 SU, 12-8-1 ATS) have stopped cashing in now that Kobe Bryant is back in the lineup, and things could get even worse now that the Lakers don’t have any point guards left on the active roster. Steve Blake joined the ranks of the infirm on Thursday when the team announced he’d miss the next six weeks or so with a torn UCL in his right elbow.
Oh, and the Lakers get to play the Oklahoma City Thunder (17-4 SU, 12-9 ATS) on Friday. Good luck with that. The NBA odds at press time have the Thunder favored by 11.5 points at Chesapeake Energy Arena, up from nine points at the open, and the total sits at 208.5 points as we go to press.
You may have seen Bryant in his season debut this past Sunday versus the Toronto Raptors – who were playing shorthanded after the Rudy Gay trade, but played with freedom and alacrity in a 106-94 victory as 6-point road dogs. Bryant looked a little bigger than usual, which is understandable given the long layoff, and he committed eight turnovers in 28 minutes while hitting just two of his nine field-goal attempts. Baby steps.
Game Two was a much better performance, as Bryant turned the ball over three times while scoring 20 points in 29 minutes. But it wasn’t enough to get the Lakers past the Phoenix Suns (+3), who won 114-108 at Staples Center. Bryant still has some work to do to get himself into game shape, but there’s the larger issue of him developing chemistry with his teammates, and the even larger issue of the NBA betting market overvaluing Kobe’s contributions.
Also: Who’s going to play point guard on Friday? Steve Blake (13.3 PER) has his warts, but he’s a veteran player who can dish the ball and hit 3-pointers. Kind of like Steve Nash. The Lakers were particularly awful earlier this season when both Blake and Nash (6.7 PER) were out there slowing things down. Jordan Farmar (17.8 PER) was doing excellent work with L.A.’s dynamic second unit, but he’s out with a torn hamstring and not expected back until the New Year.
Looks like it’ll be up to swingmen Nick Young (15.8 PER) and Xavier Henry (13.6 PER) to man the 1-spot on Friday, although Bryant will have the ball in his hands quite a lot. That wonderful Lakers bench will be rather less wonderful without either Young or Henry. And it just so happens that Oklahoma City is very well represented at point guard.
The Straw that Stirs the Drink
You won’t find many better pivots than Russell Westbrook (20.6 PER), the former UCLA product whom the Lakers would love to see wearing Purple and Gold in a couple of years. But from a basketball betting perspective, let’s focus instead on his back-up, Reggie Jackson (17.2 PER). This has been a tremendous third season in the NBA for Jackson, who has steadily improved from the get-go, and is now performing at roughly the same level as Toronto’s Kyle Lowry (17.4 PER) and Detroit’s Brandon Jennings (17.2 PER).
Given that Oklahoma City has two quality point guards, and Los Angeles has none, I’d be inclined to bet on the Thunder in this matchup. I’m not a big fan of the chalk, but there’s nothing about the total that catches my eye, so chalk it is.NBA Pick: Take the Thunder –11.5 at Ladbrokes