The leading team in the Western Conference with just one NBA All Star? That should give the Oklahoma City Thunder a point to prove when they travel to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday.
With Kevin Durant already voted in as a start for next month’s showpiece, it was perhaps a reach for Russell Westbrook to join him given the amount of games he has missed this season.
But Serge Ibaka’s emergence as an offensive threat to complement his already stellar defensive presence made him a genuine candidate for selection by the league’s coaches. Instead, he will stay home.
The Spanish international is averaging 14.7 points and 8.8 rebounds and his impact can be seen in that OKC are +4.4 with him on the floor, as well as giving up an extra four points per 100 possessions in his absence, a significant amount for a side allowing only 97.9 per night.
He’s also upped his points production by three per game during the Thunder’s current streak of nine consecutive wins and that could be a telling factor when they try to out-do the Nets for the best record in January.
Brooklyn – who are 2.33 for the victory - had won eight of nine until falling at Toronto on Monday. But Oklahoma City are -3.5 on the handicap at 1.92 and with both flourishing offensively, look over the total points line of 197.5 at 1.95.
Despite their 28-19 record, the Golden State Warriors are a better team than their recent form suggests. With just three wins out of nine before this week’s impressive defeat of the LA Clippers, it’s time for Mark Jackson’s men to start making a push.
There’s no better opportunity than against the lowly Utah Jazz but the hosts have won two in a row to gain a little traction. Expect the Warriors – who are 10.00 to win the West – to have to scrap for the W.
Best bet: Take Oklahoma City over Brooklyn at -3.5 on the handicap at 1.92