The Thursday TNT nightcap this week is the final NBA game before the all-star break -- with no NHL games, either, is a very dry period for betting other than college hoops -- and it looks like a giant mismatch when Oklahoma City visits the L.A. Lakers. It's only the second of four meetings this season.
I almost want to feel sorry for the Lakers for how injury-ravaged they have been this year, but I simply can't muster up the empathy. Los Angeles deserves a few down seasons for how good the franchise has been for so long. It has an inherent advantage over every other team in the NBA because most NBA players want to be movie or music stars -- and most movie and music stars like to think of themselves as ballers -- and there's no better place to further your off-the-court career than in the shadow of Hollywood.
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Knowing the Lakers' good fortune, they will win the 2014 draft lottery and land a future superstar in Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker while also convincing LeBron James to come play with Kobe Bryant in 2014-15 (actually highly doubt that). Kobe continues to insist he will return at some point this season, and kudos to Bryant for being such a competitor. But he needs to just shut it down and work to getting back next October. Bryant hasn't played since Dec. 17 and won't be back this month. Kobe might not say it publicly, but one of his goals is to become the all-time leading scorer in the NBA. He'd have to play at least three more seasons after this one at full health to have a shot. Bryant is currently No. 4 with 31,700 points. Michael Jordan is only 592 points ahead. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record is 38,387. So Kobe is 6,687 behind. If Bryant plays three more full seasons that's 246 games. He would have to average slightly more than 27 points. That seems very unlikely, so Bryant, currently 35, probably has to play to age 40.
Thunder at Lakers Betting Story Lines
Los Angeles enters on a two-game losing streak, both at home and in which the team averaged 82.5 points. Tuesday's 86-79 loss to another of the West's worst teams, Utah, was the Lakers' sixth straight home loss, tying a franchise record. This sounds like a broken record, but Steve Nash left that game hurt again -- the future Hall of Famer really needs to retire. It was the second straight game Nash left early, and he just got back from a nearly two-month absence. It's that same nerve-root irritation problem. It would be an upset if Nash plays Thursday. Remaining out is Pau Gasol; he is hoping to return on Feb. 19. The Lakers want to prove Gasol is healthy so they can get something for him in trade before the Feb. 20 deadline. Also still out for the Lakers are Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmer, Nick Young and Xavier Henry. No wonder the team can't score. Tuesday's starting lineup was the 26th different one used this season.
Perhaps the Lakers will be able to trade Chris Kaman to a contender for a second-round draft pick or some salary relief. He was good against the Jazz with 25 points and 14 rebounds. The game before against Chicago, Kaman had 27 points and 10 boards. He's only on a one-year, $3.2 million deal and would make a nice backup center somewhere for a playoff team.
Oklahoma City won a big game Tuesday, 98-95 at Portland, which had won two of three against the Thunder this season and led by 13 at one point Tuesday. Kevin Durant is rolling again and had 36 points and 10 boards against the Blazers. It was Oklahoma City's 14th win in the past 16 games. Durant could probably use a break, however. He's averaging 39.0 minutes in the past 10 games because the Thunder have no one else to score with Russell Westbrook out.
The Thunder hosted the Lakers on Dec. 13 and had no trouble in a 122-97 victory. Durant had 31 in that one and Westbrook a near triple-double with 19 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. Kobe played and had a season-low four points but season-high 13 assists.
Thunder at Lakers NBA Betting Odds and Key Trends
At BetOnline, Oklahoma City opened as a 10.5-point favorite with a total of 208. The Thunder are 32-22 against the spread (17-11 on road) and 27-27 "over/under" (14-14 on road). The Lakers are 27-24-1 ATS (11-11-1 at home) and 28-24 O/U (10-13 at home). The Thunder are 7-1 ATS in their past eight against the Western Conference. The Lakers are 5-2 ATS in their past seven against teams with a winning record. The under is 4-1 in OKC's past five Thursday games. The under is 4-0 in L.A.'s past four playing on one day of rest. The over is 6-2 in the past eight meetings. The Thunder have covered five of the past eight.
Free NBA Picks: Thunder at Lakers Betting Predictions
Let's see, the Thunder are tied for the most road wins in the NBA with 19 while the Lakers have the worst home record in the NBA at 8-15 and can barely field a full roster. However, this could be a big letdown game for OKC after back-to-back emotional games against the Knicks and Blazers and with the break up next. It actually wouldn't shock me if Durant sat in this one or played very limited minutes just to get him maximum rest. The Lakers won't win but will close about an 18-point deficit to lose by less than 10 with some garbage points in the fourth quarter while Durant is on the bench, so they are the choice. Take the under.
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