The OKC Thunder have a steep hill to climb to get back into playoff contention, but Westbrook's back & rumor has it that Durant will be returning soon. They are a 2-point favorite at New Orleans on NBA odds.
Westbrook Back .... Durant On Deck
Those placing NBA picks on Oklahoma City are rejoicing, as the Thunder welcomed back Russell Westbrook from his broken hand Friday night and Westbrook was nothing short of sensational as they (5-12) destroyed the visiting New York Knicks 105-78. All Westbrook did was score 32 points (making 12 of 17 shots) with eight assists and seven rebounds in 23 minutes of action in his first game since Oct. 30. Westbrook thus created 49 points while the Knicks had only 36 while he was on the court. He was the first player in the shot-clock era with 32 points and eight assists in 24 or fewer minutes. In Westbrook's two-plus games this year, the Thunder are plus-17 with him on the court and minus-55 while he's not on the floor. OKC scored 17 fast-break points against the Knicks after entering the game averaging a league-worst 6.1 on the break.
Serge Ibaka added 14 points and Jeremy Lamb 13 as the Thunder won their second straight for the first time all year. They hadn't won by more than 15 points in any of their other four wins. The playoffs are still a long shot as the Thunder would have to win 43 of their final 65 games just to get to 48 victories and that might not be enough in the West. Last year Phoenix won 48 and missed out.
So now that Westbrook is back, when does reigning NBA MVP and four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant return? It could be Tuesday night, and all reports are it will be this week at some point. It has been six weeks since Durant underwent surgery to repair a fracture in his right foot and the original timetable for his return was 6-8 weeks. OKC is next in action on Friday in Philadelphia and then Sunday in Detroit.
The Thunder remain without forward Perry Jones, who had played really well in Durant's spot, albeit briefly, before Jones got hurt. Jones hasn't played since Nov. 4 due to a knee injury and there's no timetable for his return.
Oklahoma City is 9-7-1 against the spread at sportsbooks and 4-13 'over/under.'
Pelicans Miss Gordon
I thought New Orleans (7-8) had a shot at becoming a playoff team this season with the trade for center Omer Asik and return to health of guys like Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon. However, Gordon is hurt again with a torn labrum and won't be back anytime soon if at all this season. His replacement, former Top-10 pick Austin Rivers, hasn't been good.
The Pelicans are still way too reliant on Anthony Davis. For example, in Saturday's 83-80 loss at Washington, Davis had 30 of those 83 points. Davis was 11 of 18 from the field while the rest were 19-for-63. Davis had 13 of the team's 42 rebounds. The loss was New Orleans' third straight, the Pelicans haven't scored more than 91 points in any of them and have shot a combined 39.7 percent from the field. New Orleans had a season-low 12 assists vs. Washington and just one fast-break point. That's almost hard to do.
It's not a coincidence this slide has coincided with Gordon's injury. In the five games before his injury, in which New Orleans was 3-2, Gordon was averaging 12 points a game and making 57.1 percent of his field-goal attempts and 58.8 percent of his 3-pointers. Rivers (two starts) and Darius Miller (one start) are a combined 1-for-16 from the field in the past three games. Miller was somewhat surprisingly waived on Sunday.
New Orleans is 7-8 against the spread on NBA odds and 9-6 'over/under.'
The Thunder won two of three meetings. New Orleans won the last one, 101-89, to end a 10-game losing streak in the series. Tyreke Evans had a career-high 41 points in that one. Westbrook didn't play. He averaged 24.5 points and 5.5 assists in the other two games vs. the Pelicans. Davis didn't play in any of the matchups a season ago. Since the team relocated from Seattle to Oklahoma City, New Orleans is 7-14 against the Thunder.
NBA Free Picks: Thunder -2 on NBA odds -- especially if Durant plays -- and 'under' 195 points. OKC has covered seven of the past eight meetings at sportsbooks in New Orleans. The 'under' has hit in five of the past six meetings overall.