When Russell Westbrook returned early from injury at the outset of the season, it provided a massive spark for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Now they’ve got to cope without the All Star for two months, can they maintain their current pace?
The answer is probably no, with the OKC’s present 24-5 record probably as good as it’s going to get without their chief playmaker who’s bringing 21 points and seven assists per game. It will probably also ultimately give his team – who are 2.75 favourites to win the West – a lower seeding and a tougher route through the playoffs.
The Thunder gain an average of 3.1 points more per 100 possessions with Westbrook on the floor and, as we saw during his brief spell on the sidelines at the start of the campaign, it shoves a huge load onto Kevin Durant and onto Reggie Jackson, the designated stand-in.
So we can probably expect two things: Durant to score more and Oklahoma City to win less, probably starting on Sunday when they host the Houston Rockets.
OKC has a good riposte for Dwight Howard in the form of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins but little for their former star James Harden, who’s put up 25.3 points per night in their current three-game winning streak.
And although the Thunder are 13-1 at home, the Rockets will hope to lift off with the impeccably-dressed Westbrook watching on.
Golden State - Cleveland Cavaliers
Another Sunday All Star absentee will be Andrew Bynum, whose stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers looks to be over following his suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. Effective only in flourishes, the centre’s likely departure could even potential help the disappointing Cavs if they can find some relief in a trade.
But it should allow Andrew Bogut to dominate the rebounding boards when the Golden State Warriors visit today. And with Stephen Curry showing the form to win his shootout with Kyrie Irving, back the Warriors to spear the Cavaliers’ hopes.
Best bet: Take Houston on the handicap over Oklahoma City.
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