Friday night could be Date Night for the Oklahoma City Thunder and their embattled fans with the potential return of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to try and save their season from beyond repair.
Durant, the NBA’s reigning MVP, hasn’t played a single minute so far. Westbrook had just two games before joining his fellow All Star on the sidelines. In their absence, OKC have started an abysmal 4-12 with only Philadelphia putting up less points with 90.1. But while that figure will grow exponentially, perhaps even towards the 106.2 per night the team averaged last term, the Thunder face an initial challenge just to make the playoffs.
Already six games adrift of eighth-placed Phoenix in the Western Conference, their odds of reaching the post-season are a mere 1.3%, according to ESPN calculations. Yet, that fails to account for the strength of their roster to date and the reinforcements now arriving.
Presently, Oklahoma – who travel to the New York Knicks – are 12.00 for the title and while there’s still ample time to play catch up, it’s difficult to envisage them overhauling any of the top four, Memphis, Golden State, Portland or Houston, from such a deficit.
That would send them on the road to start every round of the post-season but that either makes the Thunder an outsider or the most dangerous of floaters.
In their favour is a defence that has excelled even when short-handed, giving up 94.1 per, fourth in the league. Once everyone is up to speed, OKC’s current championship odds might seem like outstanding value.
The Knicks have doubts over Carmelo Anthony and while there’s no guarantee that both Westbrook and Durant will suit up, their improving fitness has seen the visitors installed at 1.32 to win, and favourites by -6.5 on the handicap at 1.84.
It’s one of those contests where it’s worth waiting for the final line-ups before jumping in too hard. But in the weeks and months ahead, expect the Thunder to start making some noise.
Best bet: Go under 182.5 total points in New York-Oklahoma City