Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, May 4, 2014 at 7:00 PM
If the Western Conference playoffs weren’t already grueling enough, we now have the added challenge of short turnarounds after a long series. The Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder were big enough favorites that they hadn’t planned on each going seven games to get out of the first round. But, after doing just that…they must now re-focus with only a day off before beginning a best-of-seven series against each other Tuesday Night.
How tired is the eventual survivor of this war going to be in a couple of weeks?!
Both teams rose to the occasion this past Saturday Night. Oklahoma City was helped by a questionable suspension to Memphis’s biggest offensive threat Zach Randolph. The LA Clippers had all sorts of drama to deal with the past several days…between their owner getting banned for life and their star point guard playing through a hamstring injury. They were helped before the series even began by an injury to Golden State center Andrew Bogut.
We have two teams who are capable of going the distance if healthy. We have two teams who were on the verge of elimination just within the past few days. Who’s more likely to win the series opener and the series as a whole? Let’s review our key indicator stats from the regular season for both Western powers. We’ll do that for each second round matchup over the next few days so you’re focusing your handicapping energy in the right place.
LA Clippers: 109.4 per 100 possessions (ranked #1 in the NBA)
Oklahoma City: 108.1 per 100 possessions (ranked #7 in the NBA)
Everybody knows how great Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are at scoring the ball. But, it was the LA Clippers who had the best offense in the NBA this season on a per-possession basis. Nobody was more efficient than the Clippers thanks to Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and a variety of contributing weapons. Oklahoma City was more like a two-man team with occasional help from elsewhere. Normally, we’d say edge to the Clippers. But, Paul’s hamstring issues have certainly reduced his potential impact.
LA Clippers: 102.1 per 100 possessions (ranked #7 in the NBA)
Oklahoma City: 101.0 per 100 possessions (ranked #5 in the NBA)
Both teams were better defensively than their reputations. They each like fast paced basketball, which creates the illusion of bad defense in higher scoring games. When you break it down per possession, each was in the top quarter of the league. NBA was actually a top five defense in efficiency. The key to this series may be determining who’s going to get the most steals and blocked shots amidst the offensive attacks of the basket.
LA Clippers: #7
Oklahoma City: #9
As we said, both teams like to run. That could create some amazing basketball if both teams are ever fresh at the same time. Maybe that’s not destined to happen. Oklahoma City looked to have found a second wind this past Saturday. The Clippers just had a windbag suspended for life…but that soap opera (which may continue) seemed to be draining rather than invigorating. Maybe that will change with the team becoming a dog rather than a favorite. Pressure’s off!
Against the Spread
LA Clippers: 46-35-1 (3-4 in first round vs. Golden State)
Oklahoma City: 43-37-2 (3-3-1 in first round vs. Memphis)
Both teams made money for backers during the regular season, even though they were high profile teams with stars constantly appearing in TV commercials. Neither team made money in the playoffs…where expectations were sturdy and so were their first round opponents.
Las Vegas Line:
Oklahoma City by 5, total of 212
Oklahoma City may be getting a line boost here because they got to stay at home while the Clippers had to fly in from Los Angeles after a very late finish. Oklahoma State would have been a slight series favorite anyway because of home court advantage as the #2 seed in a #2 vs. #3 matchup. But, many would argue that it was only home court determining that favorite status. These are two excellent teams who might be priced at pick-em in rested, neutral court, “everyone’s healthy” scenarios.
JIM HURLEY has been working very closely with his sources to determine the readiness of the Clippers. If they’re going to take the first game off to recharge their batteries before trying to steal Game Two…then OKC can probably name the score here. But, if the Clippers are going to show up ready to go…then this line is probably 1-2 points too high. If Memphis won twice on this floor, the Clippers can break through as well.
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Back with you tomorrow with our first look at the Miami Heat in several days. On Wednesday we’ll preview Game Two of Washington/Indiana, with our final Round Two preview from the West coming up soon afterward. The games keep coming…which means THE WINNERS KEEP COMING direct from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!