NBA Picks & Predictions for Clippers vs. Thunder

Jason Lake

Saturday, February 22, 2014 6:25 PM GMT

Russell Westbrook has only been back for one game, and people are already saying he makes the Oklahoma City Thunder worse. That only makes sense if you’re talking about the NBA lines.

Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to February 20 inclusive:

64-53-1 ATS

18-13 Totals

We’ve heard it all before. Russell Westbrook is one of the best point guards in the NBA, but he has been known to take some bad shots and commit some turnovers. Witness his first game back from an extended absence: On Thursday, Westbrook shot 4-of-12 and coughed up the ball four times as the Oklahoma City Thunder lost 103-81 to the Miami Heat (+3 away). Oh well. He hadn’t played in nearly two months, and we are talking about the defending champions here.

Don’t expect any sympathy from the peanut gallery. People are already saying Oklahoma City was better off without Westbrook – which is ridiculous. But maybe not so ridiculous when it comes to beating the NBA odds. This might be a good time to fade the Thunder (43-13 SU, 32-24 ATS) while Westbrook tries to shake off the rust. They’ve got a big matchup at home on Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers (37-20 SU, 31-26 ATS), who are coming off Friday’s hard-fought 102-96 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies (+2 at home).

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Two Scopes

First of all, we have to put Westbrook’s return into perspective. Before he had his knee scoped at the end of December, the three-time All-Star was third among all point guards with a 21.6 PER. Westbrook’s replacement in the starting lineup, Reggie Jackson, is No. 25 on that list as we go to press with a 15.6 PER. That’s better than the league average of 15, but hardly the stuff of legends. The Thunder were 23-5 SU and 16-12 ATS before Westbrook hurt his knee. They were 20-7 SU and 16-11 ATS while he was gone. Case closed.

So why all this whining? Two reasons: One, the Thunder lost to the Heat, and people just hate it when the heels win. Two, while Westbrook was gone, Kevin Durant (30.7 PER) went into God Mode and became the league’s next MVP, scoring 35.9 points per game in January. Against Miami, Durant “only” scored 28 points, which for him is sub-standard. People want him to score 40. Someone’s got to take the blame when he doesn’t.

Having said that, yes, Westbrook had a rough go of it on Thursday. He played just 24 minutes and had some good bursts here and there, but was clearly still trying to find his sea legs. It was a lot like earlier in the season, when Westbrook was coming off an earlier arthroscopic surgery on his knee and the Thunder went 4-1 SU and 2-3 ATS in his first five games. Perhaps this is another window of opportunity to fade the Thunder. Don’t forget, we just saw something similar with the Boston Celtics and Rajon Rondo.

Born to Assist

Then again, maybe we have to extend the same argument to the Clippers and Chris Paul (26.8 PER). He missed over a month with a shoulder injury, and while he’s still racking up assists and steals at a remarkable rate, Paul’s scoring output hasn’t quite caught up yet. With the loss to the Grizzlies, Los Angeles is 2-2 SU and 1-3 ATS in Paul’s four games since his return.

On top of all that, Paul appeared to hurt his arm near the end of Friday’s game – might not be a big deal, but he was wincing in pain after taking a swipe at the ball in the final minutes. We’ve got plenty of time to sort all this out before Sunday’s matinee tip-off (1:00 p.m. ET, ABC), so keep an eye on the injury wire and the NBA lines as things develop. In the meantime, Paul has had more time than Westbrook to get back into game shape, so I’ll pick the Clippers on faith.

NBA Pick: Take the Clippers