The Western Conference playoff race is heating up. The Oklahoma City Thunder went into Portland and picked up a big win in overtime last night to pull into sole possession of third place in the conference. OKC is now 40-25 on the year, which puts them a half-game ahead of the Rockets and a full game up on Portland.
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It’s going to be fun to see these 3 teams duke it out, but they’re not really alone. The Jazz are just 2.5 games behind the Thunder, while the Spurs and Clippers are 3.5 games back. I doubt it happens, but there is a very real chance Oklahoma City tumbles to the bottom of the standings if they slip up over the next few weeks.
OKC will face a tough back-to-back test tonight in downtown Los Angeles, where they’ll meet the plucky Clippers. The Clippers looked like a team punting on the playoffs at the trade deadline for the second season in a row, but their play since losing Tobias Harris to the 76ers indicates that they’re not ready to pack it up and go on vacation quite yet.
The following odds are courtesy of our live odds feed:
2019 ATS Home
2019 ATS Away
2019 O/U Home
2019 O/U Away
It’s no secret that the Clippers’ brass has their eyes on the summer ahead. The franchise is optimistic about their chances of landing a superstar free agent like Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant in free agency, but the players already on the roster aren’t thinking about that right now. The Clipper players are concerned with getting into the playoffs.
So far, so good. The Clips are sitting at 37-29 on the season entering play Friday, which has them in the No. 8 position in the west. They have a nice 4-game cushion on the Kings, whose playoff hopes seem to be fading a bit. The Clippers have won each of their last 3 games and 6 of their last 8 overall, and the argument can be made that they’re playing their best basketball of the season at the right time.
The Clippers are probably the only team in the league whose 2 best players both happen to come off the bench. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are both in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation for their exploits so far this season, and the tandem has proven to be an awful lot to handle for quite a few teams in recent weeks. Williams is the most unheralded individual scorer in all of basketball.
Williams took the reins of the team’s offense after Harris left last month, and he hasn’t let up. The 2-time Sixth Man winner averaged 24.5 points per game last month along with a team-leading 6 assists. The Thunder have done a fine job against him defensively in their 2 previous meetings on the season, as Williams is averaging just 17 points on 34.8 percent shooting from the field thus far against Oklahoma City.
The Clippers are 1-2 on the season against the Thunder, but it’s been a while since they met. The teams split their 2 meetings way back in October, while the Thunder beat the Clippers sans Williams in their most recent meeting on December 15.
As mentioned above, the Thunder eked out a win last night in Portland behind a strong effort from MVP candidate Paul George. George tormented the Blazers, as he’s been doing all season. PG-13 finished with 32 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals in 43 indefatigable minutes in helping OKC to a 4-game season sweep over Portland. Russell Westbrook didn’t pile up the ancillary stats as he normally does, but he did lead the Thunder with 37 points of his own.
George and Westbrook carrying the Thunder is nothing new. It’s been happening all season long. So far, it’s resulted in plenty of success. GM Sam Presti has done a fine job in filling out the rest of the roster with quality complementary pieces like Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, Dennis Schroder and Markieff Morris.
Oklahoma City has the reputation of a strong defensive team. While they do have plenty of excellent individual defenders, the team plays at such a breakneck pace that their defense tends to struggle at times.
The Thunder have played at the third-fastest pace in the league this season, and they’re first in pace since the calendar flipped to 2019. The Clippers, meanwhile, rank ninth. OKC is fifth in team defensive rating on the season, but they’re just 13th in the same category since the start of February.
I liked the Thunder as an underdog last night, and I like them again tonight. The back-to-back (plus overtime) is a bit tricky, but Westbrook and George are guys that haven’t struggled with fatigue in the past, anyway. Any time you can get a team of OKC’s caliber at plus odds, it’s hard not to have plenty of interest.
Betting on the Thunder to win the game outright tonight at +115 carries plenty of appeal. The Clippers tend to struggle defensively with versatile forwards, and no versatile forward is playing better offensively these days than Paul George. OKC should also be able to use their strength on the glass against the Clippers’ lack of rebounding to their advantage.
I just think this matchup bodes well for the Thunder. I’ll be betting on OKC to win the game at +115 on the moneyline.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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