James Harden’s return to Oklahoma City on Wednesday night is not just another game for the Houston Rockets as the Thunder welcome back the grandest beard in basketball.
Harden was an integral part of the team which reached last season’s NBA Finals, winning the Sixth Man of the Year award while acting as a foil for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Since his trade to Texas on the eve of the campaign, OKC have racked up an 11-4 start, winning 10 of their last 12 games as Kevin Martin has slotted into the gap.
But are the Thunder good enough still to go back to the Finals? In a flawed Western Conference, they’re still 2.85 favourites with the Lakers at 3.00 despite massive inconsistency and fears over Pau Gasol’s ability to remain effective. Behind them, the Spurs and Clippers are at 9.00 to top the West and although Oklahoma are still the pick of the bunch, have a look at San Antonio whose 12-3 start signals their era is not yet over.
Houston won’t be contenders and after an emotional 24 hours that saw the team attend the funeral of coach Kevin McHale’s daughter, this might be one game too far despite Harden’s personal mission. The Thunder are favourites by 9.5 at 1.91 and they will be out to prove a point.
San Antonio are in Orlando looking to improve to 9-1 on the road against a Magic side which collapsed in the fourth quarter against Boston on Sunday. Orlando has been plagued by turnovers which will be punished by a team as savvy as the Spurs. But the Magic, who are 3.85 to win, have found ways to pile up points so look at going over the total points line of 197.5 at 1.91.
Two teams hobbled by the loss of a former league MVP match up as Dallas travel to Chicago. The Mavericks are 7-8 without Dirk Nowitzki while the Bulls have been even harder hit by the absence of Derrick Rose, winning just one of their last five. Chicago are favoured by 5.5 but they could find the Mavs swarming offense a problem, leaving Dallas good value at 2.90 for a win.
Bet of the Day: Take the Thunder over the Rockets at -9.5 at 1.91.