All the talk this week has been about the MVP race between Miami's LeBron James and Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant. Some believed that LeBron took the unofficial lead with his career-high 61 points in Monday's game at Charlotte. However, Durant followed that with 42 points in Tuesday's win over pathetic Philadelphia. The two superstars are both in action Thursday night with tough road tests in what could be potential postseason previews.
Heat at Spurs
No surprise in that Miami is again featured on the TNT national television doubleheader, this time in the opener against San Antonio in an NBA Finals rematch -- and certainly could be a preview of this June's Finals as well. The Heat are -130 favorites to win the East at BetOnline and the Spurs are +450 second-favorites behind Oklahoma City (+120) to win the West.
Somewhat predictably, James had a bit of a letdown game following his 61-point explosion against the Bobcats. LeBron took a whopping 33 shots and played 41 minutes in that one and admitted he was exhausted Tuesday. The Heat (27-29-2 ATS, 34-24 O/U at sportsbooks) also had to travel to Houston and they lost 106-103 that night to end an eight-game winning streak. James was held to 22 points and missed a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer. He was 0-for-3 from long range after going 8-for-10 against Charlotte. James, who was accidentally hit in the mask protecting his broken nose but is fine, and Dwyane Wade (24 points) are the only two starters who did squat against Houston as the other three starters were 3-for-16 for 10 points. Against the Spurs, Miami will be looking to avoid consecutive losses for the first time since mid-January.
San Antonio (29-31 ATS, 36-23-1 O/U) has won four straight and seven of eight. Tony Parker returned from a six-game injured stint for the past two and the Spurs put up 112 points against Dallas and 122 in Cleveland on Tuesday in a 21-point blowout. Parker was great against the Mavericks with 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting but only 3-for-11 against Cleveland. Yet the deep Spurs still managed a season-high 39 assists (five by Parker) on their 43 field goals. Neither Parker nor Tim Duncan played the fourth quarter against Cleveland.
This is Miami's first trip to San Antonio since Game 5 of last year's Finals, which the Spurs won 114-104 to take a 3-2 series lead back to south Florida. The Heat won 88-86 in San Antonio last regular season when Chris Bosh hit the winning 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left. The Heat sat LeBron, Wade and Mario Chalmers, some believe as retribution for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich resting his stars when San Antonio visited Miami earlier in the season.
When these teams met Jan. 26 in Miami the Heat were 3.5-point favorites for sports bettors and won 113-101. Bosh was the best of Miami's Big 3 in that one with 24 points on 9-for-10 shooting. Miami never trailed and was up 29 at one point. The Spurs played without injured starters Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, all now healthy. Only two of the teams' last eight regular-season meetings have been decided by less than 12 points.
NBA free picks: Miami +3 and over 206 on NBA odds. This feels like a rare statement game for the Heat, just like two Thursdays ago when they went to Oklahoma City and routed the Thunder. Miami has covered four straight after an ATS loss, while San Antonio has covered only once in its past eight home games against a team with a winning road record. The over is 5-1 in each team's past six against teams with a winning mark.
Thunder at Suns
Oklahoma City (34-26-1 ATS, 32-29 O/U at sportsbooks) appeared out of sync when Russell Westbrook returned to the lineup on Feb. 20 as the Thunder's blowout home loss to Miami started a three-game skid. However, OKC has won three straight since then and is averaging 118 points in that stretch, all at home. While Durant was typically great with his 42 in Tuesday's 125-92 win against the Sixers, Durant's 10th 40-point game this year, the Thunder had to be thrilled with how well Westbrook played. He had a triple-double (14 assists, 13 points, 10 rebounds) in just 21 minutes of action. No player has had a triple-double in fewer minutes played in 59 years. It was the biggest margin of victory this year for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City remains without two starters, guard Thabo Sefolosha and center Kendrick Perkins, for perhaps the rest of the regular season. Neither does much offensively but both are good on the defensive end. Sefolosha usually guards the opposing team's best wing player. Caron Butler made his OKC debut Tuesday after being bought out by Milwaukee. He had two points in five rebounds in 26 minutes.
The Suns (38-21-1 ATS, 32-27-1 O/U) lost 104-96 at home on Tuesday against the Clippers -- we recommended L.A. -3 in that one on our Tuesday NBA picks -- to end a two-game winning streak. Phoenix was up 11 at the half but outscored 37-18 in the third. The Suns played without starting center Miles Plumlee due to a sprained knee and reserve guard Leandro Barbosa, who just got back from injury, was lost early to a broken hand. He could miss the rest of the regular season. Plumlee could return Thursday. Rookie Alex Len mad his first start Tuesday in place of him.
Somehow these conference rivals have played only once and that was back on Nov. 3 in Oklahoma City when everyone still thought Phoenix was one of the worst teams in the NBA. The Thunder were 12.5-point favorites for sports bettors and won 103-96. Durant had 33 points and 10 rebounds in the Thunder's 11th straight win against Phoenix. Currently injured Eric Bledsoe had 26 points and 14 assists for the Suns.
NBA free picks: Oklahoma City -5 and over 217 on NBA odds. OKC has covered six of the past seven meetings. The Suns have covered only two of their past seven against teams with a winning record. The over is 8-3 in the Suns' past 11 against teams with a winning record. The over is 4-1 in the Thunder's past five overall.