It’s going to be a tough road for the Oklahoma City Thunder with the reigning league MVP out for the first month of the season. The NBA odds are moving the other way for their game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Jason’s record in 2013-14: 112-99-3 ATS, 26-23-1 Totals, 3-1 Series
Profit: plus-4.09 units
It’s title or bust for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Their championship window is in danger of closing in 2016 when Kevin Durant becomes an unrestricted free agent. The front office has shown no signs of being willing to spend the money to build around Durant – you might recall the trade that sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets, for instance. So it’s up to Durant and the rest of the Zombie Sonics to fulfill their own destiny.
Destiny will have to wait. Durant (plus-6.42 RPM last year) will not be on the floor Wednesday night when the Thunder visit the Portland Trail Blazers; he’s out until at least late November with a Jones fracture in his Most Valuable right foot. And Durant isn’t the only Thunder player who’s on the shelf. Early bettors have taken advantage by driving OKC’s basketball odds from +6.5 at the open to +8 as we go to press.
We walk you through this matchup and offer up our free NBA picks so that you can cash in as both of these teams hit the court for the first time this season.
No KD for Dinner
Durant might not have “deserved” the MVP award last year ahead of LeBron James (plus-9.08 RPM), but let’s not split hairs here – KD is one of the very best basketball players of this generation. He makes up for his average defense with top-level shooting, scoring and passing. In Durant’s place Wednesday night (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will be swingman Andre Roberson (minus-1.22 RPM), a decent defender who brings almost no offense to the table.
If we look at the RPM difference between Durant and Roberson in a vacuum, we would expect the Blazers to score nearly eight points extra per 100 possessions with Roberson on the floor. And Oklahoma City ran about 98 possessions per game last year, as did Portland. Let’s say Roberson plays about 36 minutes and call it six points. The last time the Thunder visited the former Rose Garden with Durant in tow, they were 1-point underdogs. So the NBA odds appear to have made the proper adjustment for Wednesday’s matchup.
Except we also have to take into account the other injuries that Oklahoma has to deal with. Back-up point guard Reggie Jackson (plus-1.70 RPM) was a big reason the Thunder did as well as they did last year (59-23 SU, 43-37-2 ATS), but he’ll miss the first two games of the 2014-15 season with a sprained ankle. SG Jeremy Lamb (minus-1.30 RPM) is also out at least two games with a bad back. And their only offseason addition of note, SG Anthony Morrow (minus-1.47 RPM), could miss up to six weeks with a sprained MCL. This is bad news all around for a team that has very little margin for error if it wants to win a championship.
LMA > OKC
Depth was also a problem for the Trail Blazers (54-28 SU, 44-38 ATS) last year, but they got away with it by keeping their starting five largely intact. This year, Portland has added some bench strength with a pair of ex-L.A. Lakers, center Chris Kaman (plus-0.16 RPM) and point guard Steve Blake (minus-1.66 RPM). They’ll add some scoring to a team that relies heavily on offense to get the job done.
But it’s still up to LaMarcus Aldridge (plus-5.12 RPM) and Damian Lillard (plus-2.79 RPM) to get Portland over the hump this year. Aldridge is the key here, a superb two-way player who, like Durant, starred in college with the Texas Longhorns. This is an important opportunity for Aldridge and the Blazers to hang an “L” on the Thunder and set the tone early for a winning season. It won’t get any easier when Durant returns.
The Five Stars
Market Bias: POR
Betting Line Value: OKC
Verdict: 2-star pick on POR
Free NBA Pick: Bet 3.5 units on the Trail Blazers –8 (–108) at Pinnacle