NBA Picks: Rockets vs. Thunder

Jason Lake

Sunday, December 29, 2013 12:47 PM GMT

Another day, another major injury in the NBA. Can the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the basketball lines and the Houston Rockets on Sunday without Russell Westbrook?

Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013, up to December 28 inclusive:

31-29 ATS

8-5 Totals

Well, here we go again. Another one of the NBA’s top players has been knocked out of action for an extended period of time. Russell Westbrook, the outstanding point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder (24-5 SU, 16-13 ATS), had his right knee scoped on Friday and isn’t expected to return until after the All-Star break. Not to be a total complaint whore, but the news came down after I had already made my overnight pick for Saturday’s matchup between the Thunder and the Charlotte Bobcats. Stupid space-time continuum.

Good thing it helped my cause this time – I had UNDER 199 in what turned out to be an 89-85 victory for Oklahoma City (–7 away). Next up for the O-Shizzy: a Sunday night date with the Houston Rockets, who are coming off Saturday’s 107-98 win over the New Orleans Pelicans (+9 away). The early NBA betting lines have the Thunder favored by 4.5 points at home with a total of 207.

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Point Break

This isn’t the first time Westbrook (21.4 PER) has been injured this year, so you’re probably already up to speed with his understudy, Reggie Jackson (16.4 PER). He’s having a damn fine season, but Jackson’s production levels, impressive as they may be, are still significantly lower than Westbrook’s:

Westbrook: 23.3 points, 7.6 assists, 6.5 rebounds, 1.9 steals per 36 minutes

Jackson: 17.9 points, 4.9 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals per 36 minutes

Jackson stepped into the starting five against Charlotte and let it fly like Westbrook, but only hit four of his 19 attempts to finish with 10 points on the night. Further down the depth chart, Derek Fisher (6.9 PER) played 18 minutes and had as many points (three) as personal fouls. Nothing but respect for Fisher’s body of work on and off the court; however, it must be said that he’s a third-string point guard for a reason.

Texas Tea

Here’s some good news for Fisher: The Rockets (21-11 SU, 17-13-2 ATS) are also down a man at point guard. Patrick Beverley (12.0 PER) broke his right hand last week and isn’t due back for another month or so. That’s not a good PER, but Beverley’s strength is his defense, which doesn’t measure well with this or any other metric. Yet.

Houston’s other two point guards have also been dealing with injuries. Jeremy Lin (17.4 PER) has a sore back and has already missed nine games this year, and Aaron Brooks (13.7 PER) tweaked his ankle last Thursday. Lin and Brooks both played against the Pelicans and didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard, combining for 19 points on 6-of-20 shooting. They’ll be thankful not to be facing Westbrook on Sunday (7:00 p.m. ET, NBA-TV).

Those Canaan Days

Did I say “other two point guards”? Isaiah Canaan, Houston’s second-round draft pick (No. 34 overall) this summer, was recalled from the D-League on Monday. Canaan filled his trophy case in four years at Murray State, including back-to-back OVC Player of the Year awards, but has yet to post any stats at the NBA level. Given the way players are being shuffled in and out of the lineup these days, Canaan could very well be playing meaningful minutes for Houston at some point soon.

On top of that, center Dwight Howard (22.5 PER) had his back seize up last week, and committed eight turnovers against the Pellies to go with his 24 points and 18 rebounds. Omer Asik (10.6 PER) is glued to the bench these days, presumably with a thigh injury, but also because he doesn’t mesh well with Howard and wants to be traded. These multiplying issues are enough for me to recommend the Thunder in this particular matchup.

NBA Pick: Take the Thunder –4.5 at William Hill