Russell Westbrook’s early return to action for the Oklahoma City Thunder is a huge boost for his team’s aspirations, not just in terms of wins and losses but because they can ill afford to fall adrift off their fellow Western Conference powerhouses – or even Miami - in the eventual race for playoff seeding.
Still 3.50 favourites for the West following a 2-1 start, OKC gets a visit from the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night looking for Westbrook to keep up the impressive form he showed in his seasonal debut against Phoenix. But the Thunder only won by seven and there are few question marks for coach Scott Brooks to correct.
So far, Oklahoma City has a negative points differential of -3 and a lot of that is down to offensive inefficiency. They’re only piling up 96.9 points per 100 possessions, among the worst in the league, compared with last term when their rating was 110.2, second overall.
That figures to improve considerably as Westbrook settles in but we might also be seeing the effects of Kevin Martin’s abrupt exit with no-one there to fill that third scorer void. It’s only three games in but, like Denver, we may not see huge scoring tallies from the Thunder this term.
Dallas has been scoring well in its first few games with Dirk Nowitzki looking rejuvenated including Tuesday’s 123-104 rout of the Lakers. However back OKC to come up trumps, especially with the ageing Mavs on a back-to-back.
There’s a early season re-match in Philadelphia where the Washington Wizards will look to atone for last Friday’s 109-102 loss to the 76ers. The hosts finally sustained a first defeat on Monday when they were pounded by Golden State but it’s men from DC, and especially coach Randy Wittman, who have most cause for concern.
By dealing for Marcin Gortat on the eve of the season, the Wizards brass signalled they want to win now rather than loiter in the basement for one more year. Yet they’re 0-3 yet again and looking out of sorts by conceding a mammoth 108.3 points per night. Much more of this, and Wittman will be a rock-solid favourite to be the first coach to lose his job but back his side to find some magic on the handicap of -2.5 at 1.96
Best Bet: Take Oklahoma City on the -7.5 handicap over Dallas at 1.94.