Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to February 27 inclusive:
Can’t blame this one on Russell Westbrook, folks. In his third game back from an extended injury layoff, Westbrook scored 24 points on 8-for-17 shooting against the Cleveland Cavaliers, hitting three of his six trey attempts and dishing out nine assists. Nice. But his Oklahoma City Thunder still lost 114-104 as giant 15-point home favorites. Consternation and uproar~!
The last time the Thunder lost three in a row at home was 2008-09, their inaugural season after blowing up the Seattle SuperSonics and moving their remains to Oklahoma. And on Friday, they’ll try to end that streak against another transplant from the Pacific Northwest, the Memphis Grizzlies (32-24 SU, 25-30-1 ATS). The basketball lines opened with OKC favored by 5.5 points and a total of 192.5.
Now that Westbrook appears to have recovered from his latest knee surgery, Oklahoma City fans have to find someone else to blame for the team’s recent struggles. And it looks like they’ve already figured it out: team defense. The Thunder gave up 42 points to the Cavaliers in the fourth quarter, three days after allowing the Los Angeles Clippers (+5.5) to score 44 points in the second quarter of a 125-117 final. “We’ve got to get our defensive mindset back,” Westbrook admitted after getting steamrolled by the Cavs.
We know the Thunder are capable of playing good defense. On the season, they’re fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency at 100.0 points allowed per 100 possessions. But this isn’t the first time they’ve fallen into a hole. In their first 10 games after Westbrook left the lineup on Dec. 27 to have his knee scoped, the Thunder went a bit off-kilter at 5-5 SU at 4-6 ATS. Then they won their next 10 games at 9-1 ATS. Key personnel changes like this can take time to figure out.
Come As You Are
Speaking of changes, Oklahoma City is also without Kendrick Perkins (6.1 PER) for at least the next six weeks because of a strained groin. Perkins is a black hole on offense, but he’s still worth 9.1 rebounds (and 5.3 fouls) per 36 minutes, and his absence puts pressure on rookie Steven Adams (11.3 PER) and veteran Nick Collison (12.4 PER) to perform. It’s either that or Hasheem Thabeet (10.9 PER lifetime).
Despite these recent struggles, the Thunder decided to stand pat at the trade deadline – although there was talk about acquiring Iman Shumpert from the New York Knicks. And Oklahoma City has yet to sign any of the free agents floating around out there – although Metta World Peace and Caron Butler have been rumored to be interested. The one change the Thunder did make was to call up Andre Roberson (11.4 PER) from the D-League. He played a grand total of two minutes during the past three games. Welcome back to the big club, kid. Now go buy some doughnuts for everyone.
Do the Evolution
The Grizzlies (32-24 SU, 25-30-1 ATS) can’t afford to stand pat. They’re in ninth place in the Western Conference standings as we approach the three-quarter pole. So the Grizz decided to add another veteran when they claimed Beno Urdih (12.5 PER) off waivers from the Knicks. He’ll add a modicum of support to a backcourt that has also welcomed Tony Allen (16.8 PER) back from injury. All of this on a very deep Memphis bench that already includes James Johnson (19.2 PER), Kosta Koufos (16.5 PER) and Mike Miller (11.9 PER, 42.2 3P%).
It’s hard to say how long it’s going to take Oklahoma City to pull out of this slump, but it’s only a matter of time. Until then, it makes sense to keep fading them – except the Grizz are overvalued right now at 6-2 SU and 2-6 ATS in their past eight. I’ll have to go with the OVER instead. Another 40-point quarter or two against the Thunder would be most welcome.
NBA Pick: Take OVER 192 (–109) at Pinnacle