February 21, 2016 (10:55 AM ET)
Take OKC Thunder at -2 spread (buy half a point) against Cleveland Cavaliers for 3% of bankroll.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are an elite team. They are not getting anywhere near the hype or media attention that they have become accustomed to in recent years however and that suits them just fine. That's because despite an impressive 40-15 record, they're flying under the radar due to the incredible season that Golden State and San Antonio are having. Those two clubs are getting the recognition that they deserve but the Thunder aren't. And yet make no mistake about it; this is a squad that presents matchup problems for each and every lineup they come across and is one that every other playoff team would like to avoid. The Thunder may be sitting 3rd in the West at the moment but they are a legitimate contender and one that has a chance to win any playoff series due to the incredible amount of talent on their team.
Kevin Durant and Westbrook can be downright dominant and win games on their own but what makes Billy Donovan's side a dangerous one is that the contributions of Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter and the much improved Steven Adams are often overlooked by the media. Despite having two of the very best players in NBA, this is not a 2-man team. Tristan Thompson does a great job on the boards for Cleveland but might be outnumbered by Oklahoma City's great rebounders as they certainly don't lack size or athleticism in their bigs. Mozgov and Love must have strong games on the glass or the Thunder could have a definite edge in the battle of the boards.
The Cavs made twelve 3-pointers in the prior meeting between these two sides back on Dec. 17 and needed every single one of them despite playing at home in what was a very narrow victory! Circumstances have changed for both sides since but we don't expect the Thunder to allow such efficient shooting from beyond the arc at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Cleveland may suffer a similar fate themselves however given that they could be without their top perimeter defender in Iman Shumpert. The former Knick missed practice and is day-to-day with a shoulder injury. Even if he does take the court, he's clearly not 100% and may do more harm than good. It's also worth noting that OKC is 54-29 when seeking revenge over the last 3 seasons! The Thunder have all the offensive weapons that a fanbase could dream of, at their disposal, given that they can penetrate the lane and drive to the basket, hit mid-range jumpers or do damage from outside and connect on 3-pointers. The acquisition of veteran guard Randy Foye provides them with another solid shooter from long range and while we don't expect him to play a big role in his debut, Dion Waiters does need to have a better showing than he did in the previous meeting between these two franchises and as a former Cavalier, he's no doubt motivated to do so. Anthony Morrow's shooting off the bench could also be a factor.
Something that only experts take notice of is the 'accumulated rust' that is inevitable in certain scheduling spots for teams and puts them at a disadvantage. The All-Star break was a lenghty layoff for both squads and the sooner they can back into game shape and find their rhythm, the better their chances of walking out with a W. The issue for Ty Lue's side however are two-folds in this particular situation. The first is that after not playing for 7 days, they hosted the depleted Bulls in a game that was not competitive and one that saw them cruise to a double-digit victory. That means their bodies haven't been involved in a intense NBA game that does down the wire for a long time while the Thunder played precisely that type of game against the Pacers last time out. The arguably even bigger issue however is that the game against Chicago came on Thursday which means they've since had another 2 days of rest before heading to Oklahoma when they would have preferred just one if they were being honest. that's because too much 'rest' leads to 'rust' and given that they had had an ample break before the previous game, they would have preferred to be on a normal schedule where they play every other day, something they are more used to. That is evident by the fact that Cavs are just 2-8 ATS (against-the-spread) when having last played 3 days ago! The Thunder were involved in an intensive battle on Friday on the other hand and will be in better game shape tonight. Look for them to have better rhythm in their shots and ball movement.
All of the aforementioned intangibles as well as the great home court advantage that KD and company enjoy will prove to be the difference in this matchup. Let's not forget that the Thunder have been nothing short of dominant at home going 25-6 in Oklahoma City this season! They rarely drop games in this venue, let alone two in a row. They are the more desperate squad in this contest and that urgency and intensity should see them come out on top. That's because unlike Cleveland, they're not riding a 4-game winning streak or sitting atop the conference with a healthy lead. They not only have Friday's home loss to bounce back from but they no doubt want to avenge the previous loss to the Cavaliers! This is the second and final meeting between these two contenders which means Westbrook and teammates will be extremely motivated to settle the score and even up the series. This marquee matchup is the perfect way for OKC to make a statement to the watching world. Look for them to win this game and cover the short spread in the process as they're not only the hungrier side but the one that has numerous other advantages.
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