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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, May 26, 2014 at 7:00 PM

The return of Serge Ibaka turned out to be HUGE for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their Western Conference Finals series against the San Antonio Spurs. Not only did he play well individually. But, the team as a whole played much better defensively and on the boards. Given the fact that Oklahoma City went 4-0 during the regular season against the Spurs, it’s not outlandish to assume they have a real chance to rally back and take the Western title.

In fact, the winner of Tuesday’s Game Four may well be the winner of the series.

*If San Antonio wins, they would be a virtual slam dunk with a 3-1 series lead and two home games still remaining. Could the Thunder win three straight, including two in Alamo City? Very unlikely.

*If Oklahoma City wins, then we’re knotted up at 2-2…but the Thunder would have all the confidence and momentum. They would have re-established their regular season dominance…and reminded everyone that they’re the better of the two teams at full strength. San Antonio was the #1 seed this year because Russell Westbrook missed so much time for the Thunder.

Ibaka looked to be back at something close to 100%. Maybe it was 90%. It was surely much better than 25% or 50%. The danger now is that he’ll aggravate the calf injury…or that only having two days off will prove more troublesome than having a long rest break.

Note how his return motivated his team in the key areas of “defense and rebounding”...

Two-Point Defense: allowed 59% and 54% in first two games, 40% with Ibaka

Takeaways: forced 9 and 12 turnovers in first two games, 16 with Ibaka

Rebounds: out-boarded by 3 and 15 in the first two games, were +16 with Ibaka

That’s a complete turnaround! Now, obviously the Thunder laid down and took their medicine to a degree in the two blowout losses. We can deduce that Oklahoma City doesn’t hustle much once they’re getting blown out. They were clearly the much more energetic team Sunday Night.

The questions now for handicappers:

*Can Ibaka stay at somewhere between 90 and 100% effectiveness?

*Were the Spurs just “flat” with a 2-0 series lead, and are now ready to bounce back?

*Will the coaching advantage the Spurs enjoy matter late in close games (no close games yet!)?

Game Three historically represents a peak game for a pre-series underdog because they get a boost in their first game in front of a rabid home crowd. What we saw Sunday may have been strongly influenced by that…and Ibaka’s getting all the credit for it. Very tricky handicapping spot…because we’ve already seen that the Vegas spread barely matters in this series. The Spurs covered by 11 and 30 points in their games. OKC covered by 6.5 points…but had a bigger lead than that until the final moments.

Here’s the current number for Game Four…


Las Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 3, total of 207.5

If Oklahoma City is “back,” then that line should be at least -4.5…and that might be too low given their regular season advantage. If the Spurs were flat, and Ibaka becomes more hobbled…then the wrong team is favored. The Spurs will re-establish their superiority after an off-night.

JIM HURLEY has been working very closely with his on-site sources to find out as much as he can about Ibaka’s health and the Spurs’ mindset. He’s confident he has a BIG WINNER in this game. You can purchase the final word for Tuesday right here at the website with your credit card. Don’t forget to check on bonus baseball as well. We’re looking at Boston/Atlanta, Baltimore/Milwaukee, NY Yankees/St. Louis, and Cincinnati/LA Dodgers for possible major releases on the evening card.

If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155. Be sure to ask about THE BELMONT that goes this Saturday. JIM HURLEY has more horse racing clients than most services have football clients!

Back with you Wednesday for Game Five of the Miami/Indiana series. Game day previews will continue until the Conference Finals have finished. Any off-days in the baskets will bring in baseball, as we gear up for another SUMMER OF MONEY on the diamonds!  

Whether it’s basketball or baseball…visit the website every day for BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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