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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 8:19 PM

One of the most exciting players in the NBA has returned from injury just in time to make early season hoop action even more entertaining. Sports bettors must now assess the impact Ricky Rubio is going to have on the pointspread potential of the Minnesota Timberwolves from this point forward. An interesting challenge awaits Tuesday Night as Minnesota visits the Miami Heat in a game that will be televised nationally by the NBA Network.

Minnesota won Rubio’s debut a few days ago, but had to go overtime to do it against the Dallas Mavericks. Rubio thrilled those in attendance and League Pass viewers with a few breathtaking assists (fitting that you can watch the best passer in the league on League Pass!) How much impact can he have daily as he gets back into game shape? Particularly when dealing with a back-to-back spot on the schedule (Minnesota’s itinerary was Orlando-Monday, Miami-Tuesday)?

JIM HURLEY will keep his cards close to the vest in terms of day-to-day selections. But, he’s not afraid to say that he thinks the Western playoff picture just got more interesting with Rubio’s return. And, he believes that how handicappers deal with the realities of Western basketball will largely determine how well their NBA seasons go. There’s gold in them there thrills!

WESTERN LOCKS (standings thru Sunday)

Oklahoma City 19-4

San Antonio 19-6

LA Clippers 17-6

Memphis 15-6

Those four teams are the class of the conference. All four have clear league championship potential as well.


Golden State 16-8 (in great form under their new coach even without Bogut)

Minnesota 12-9 (already in sixth place as Rubio returns!)

Denver 13-12 (still time to gel)

Utah 13-12 (always a factor)

Portland 11-12

Houston 11-12

Dallas 11-13 (will improve when Nowitzki returns)

LA Lakers 11-14 (will improve when Gasol and Nash return)

There are only four playoff spots available for the eight teams we just listed. What a dogfight this is going to be with so many teams on this list set to close the season well once they either get old bodies healthy, or new acquisitions in the flow of what the coach is trying to accomplish. A few good teams are going to miss the postseason. A few truly great players are going to be watching the playoffs on TV with the rest of us.

JIM HURLEY will be watching Rubio and the T-Wolves very closely this week. Also on the Western Conference radar in the next few days…

Tuesday: San Antonio at Denver, Utah at Brooklyn, Philadelphia at Dallas

Wednesday: Oklahoma City at Atlanta, Utah at Indiana, Philadelphia at Houston

Thursday: Oklahoma City at Minnesota on TNT, Denver at Portland

You can always purchase NETWORK’S top basketball releases right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

We’ll be talking basketball again Wednesday. Then, it’s back to the bowls Thursday as a new week of football begins…

Thursday’s NOTEBOOK: a stat preview of the Poinsettia and Beef O’Brady’s Bowls

Friday’s NOTEBOOK: a preview of the New Orleans and Las Vegas Bowls that go early Saturday

Saturday’s NOTEBOOK: a preview of Atlanta-Detroit in the NFL, a Saturday Night Special

Sunday’s NOTEBOOK: a preview of San Francisco-Seattle, the prime time game on NBC

Stay on top of handicapping developments right here…and get your daily stocking stuffers of BIG MONEY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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