Finally, no Lakers, Heat or Knicks in the TNT preview this week – only because I chose not to pick Miami again, with the Heat playing in the nightcap. This week it should be a very entertaining, up-and-down game between the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who recently welcomed Ricky Rubio back to the lineup. The Spanish sensation is still limited to 18-20 minutes a game off his major knee surgery and in fact won’t be playing the second of a back-to-back for a while. He sat out Tuesday’s loss in Miami after playing Monday in Orlando.
OKC played Wednesday in Atlanta and had another statement win Monday, a 107-93 thumping of the San Antonio Spurs. Serge Ibaka had one of his best games as a pro with 25 points (career high) and 17 rebounds. When he plays like that, the Thunder simply aren’t going to lose if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are healthy. Thanks largely to those two, OKC leads the NBA in scoring and in offensive efficiency at 111.3 points per 100 possessions. James Harden who? OKC also has won 11 straight (by more than 14 points a game) heading into Wednesday, the franchise’s longest streak since 1996.
Thunder at Timberwolves Betting Story Lines
Yes, the Thunder look like the best team in the NBA right now and have the best record at 20-4. But the schedule has been very kind thus far, as OKC had played just eight road games entering Wednesday, tied for the fewest in the league. Thus, by extension they have played the most at home, going 14-2 there. The combined record for the 11 teams they have beaten in the streak is just 119-154 with only three above .500 (Atlanta would be No. 4). Eight of the wins have come in OKC. But, including Wednesday, 15 of the Thunder’s next 21 are on the road, including an epic Christmas Day showdown in Miami.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, won in Rubio’s debut Saturday against Dallas, 114-106 in overtime for their fourth straight victory, which was a season-high. Rubio looked pretty good in the game, with nine assists and eight points in 18 minutes. Kevin Love missed it with an illness. On Monday in Orlando, the Timberwolves definitely had a letdown with a 102-93 loss. Rubio showed his rust by going 0-for-3 from the field in 16 minutes. Love had 23 and 15 in his return. As noted above, Rubio then sat out Tuesday in Miami and the Wolves lost 103-92. Love had 18 boards but was just 2-for-10 from the field. Minnesota lost despite outrebounding the Heat by a whopping 29. The Heat were the first team to win a game in which they were outrebounded by 29 or more since 1994.
But without Rubio handling the ball, the Timberwolves also had 19 turnovers to Miami’s eight. In Rubio’s short career, Minnesota is 22-21 with him and 16-30 without. They score a few points less and allow a few points more when he’s not in there. Defensively, he is pretty good at stopping dribble penetration. And offensively he’s a passing wizard.
The Thunder were 3-0 against Minnesota last year but by only a combined 18 points. One of the games was easily in the best five of the entire 2011-12 season. It was March 23, 2012, in OKC and the Thunder won 149-140 in double overtime. Love had a franchise-record 51 points, but Westbrook had a career-high 45 and Durant 40. They became the first pair of teammates in NBA history to each score at least 40 points in the same game twice in one season. Minnesota’s J.J. Barea, only playing heavy minutes because Rubio suffered his knee injury less than two weeks before, had a triple-double. This will be Love’s first game against the Thunder since, because he was out in the teams’ final meeting last season.
Thunder at Timberwolves Betting Odds and Key Trends
At BetOnline, the Thunder are 3.5-point favorites with the total at 198. OKC (all trends entering Wednesday) is 15-8-1 ATS (5-2-1 on road) and 13-11 “over/under”. Minnesota is 13-10 ATS (6-4 at home) and 12-10-1 O/U.
The Timberwolves are 4-1 ATS in their past five vs. the Western Conference but 1-4 ATS in past five Thursday games. The under is 6-1-1 in OKC’s past eight Thursday games. The over is 4-1 in the Wolves’ past five overall. The over is 4-1 in the past five meetings. Minnesota has covered each of the past five and five of the past six in Minnesota.
NBA Picks: Thunder at Timberwolves Betting Predictions
You are getting good value on only giving 3.5 points because the Thunder are playing the night before. If Rubio were 100 percent, I might recommend taking the points. But without him, the Wolves’ backcourt just isn’t very good (shooting guard Brandon Roy apparently has been cleared to return to practice, but he’s a while away and unreliable at this point in his injury-plagued career). Plus, Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic is nursing a tender back, although he has been playing through it and doing so very well. Take OKC and the over.
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