Indiana Pacers vs. OKC Thunder Pick
Indiana Pacers (45-29, 36-37-1 ATS) vs. OKC Thunder (43-31, 37-37 ATS)
When: Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 – 8:00 pm ET
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena – Oklahoma City, OK
By: Kyle Cash, NBA Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: IND +6/OKC -6
Last Night in the NBA
That’s what we in the business call a perfect prediction. Milwaukee was, in fact, uniquely qualified to quell Harden’s attack, and they held him to one of his worst performances of the season. More importantly, we settled the MVP race once and for all – it’s clearly Pat Connaughton. Glad we got that out of the way.
Elsewhere in the NBA, Norman Powell outdueled Wayne Selden to seal a Toronto victory (March basketball, everybody!), there was a smoke signal seen on Waiters Island before being snuffed out by Nikola Vucevic, and Trae Young continued his rise up the rookie rankings with a 33 point-12 assist road effort against the Pelicans. That “Trae Young Rookie of the Year – 11/1” I suggested to you way back in October is looking like a juicy ticket now, isn’t it?
Tonight, I have the displeasure of zeroing in on a matchup between two of the coldest teams the NBA has to offer as the Indiana Pacers head to OKC to play against their ex-girlfriend Paul George. Indy suffered through a brutal 0-4 West Coast road trip last weekend and now has to travel to OKC and Boston, and the Thunder are either snake bitten or secretly injured as they’ve lost 5 of their last 6 games. Out of courtesy to their superstar talent, the Thunder are still managing to lay 6 points at home with the total set to an eye-watering 217 points. I think I can skip out on the Nyquil for tomorrow – this game should put me to sleep just fine.
Locked in on Boston
Unless my 76ers do something extremely stupid and ill-advised within the next two weeks on par with dropping back-to-back games against the Hawks and Magic, it would appear that Indiana is all lined up to play the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. The top-heavy Eastern Conference is an exclusive club, and it’s refreshing to see the blue collar kids from the Midwest crash the party. And if they want to go ahead and send Kyrie and Co. packing early, you’re not going to hear a single objection from myself or any other resident of the City of Brotherly Love.
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While tonight’s game is important for the shear math of the thing, Friday’s match-up against Boston is the important showdown to which Indiana has to bring its “A” game. I’m sure that the Pacers would love to down the Thunder in similar fashion to their victory a few weeks ago, but if the Thunder drop a few haymakers early, don’t be surprised to see the Pacers pull the plug and regroup for Friday.
If, however, Indiana is more invested in the here and now, they may be able to do some damage to OKC. The Sabonis-Thad-Turner frontcourt is a problem for an OKC team whose “best” rebounder is a 6’3” point guard, and with a lineup of stick figures in George, Grant, and Ferguson, Indy may be able to overpower OKC with sheer force. The Pacers also make their bones on the defensive end, forcing more turnovers than anyone else in the NBA. With a reckless Russell Westbrook and a potentially-hobbled Paul George running the show, Indiana may be on the receiving end of cheap buckets and be in position to win this thing outright. Hey – if this were a black and white scenario, it wouldn’t be called “gambling.”
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Only 1 game separates the 5th seed from the 8th seed in the Western Conference, and the Thunder have found themselves on the wrong end of a precipitous slide down the playoff rankings. As of today, they are on track to face off against Cupcake Kevin and the Golden State Warriors in Round One. You know what would get a lot of people fired? The third most expensive team in the NBA getting bounced in the first round. (Side note: Miami has the most expensive team and are currently the 9th seed behind four teams that have been in the lottery since before YouTube was created. Yikes.) With a handful of games left, the Thunder need to vault somebody and land in 7th versus the Nuggets. That’s more their speed.
To do so, OKC really just needs to sharpen into playoff form over the course of the last few weeks. With games against Indy and Denver this week before a four game stretch against inferior opponents, the Thunder would be wise to pad their stats this week and try and sneak in some rest against the tanking teams.
But that’s easier said than done. In their first and only meeting this season, OKC fell victim to the PER-God Sabonis and the GOAT Bojan Bogdanovic’s stellar play, and Indy had the recipe to disrupt the Thunder. However, role players and young guys are historically better at home than on the road (see: Boston Celtics 2018 playoff home/road splits), and the Thunder are a solid 23-12 in OKC this season. With Indy’s 17-20 away record, I find it hard to believe that they’ll have another 11-point free throw advantage and 6 double digit scorers on the road. The Pacers defense may have been able to hold Russ and his gang down once, but doing so again in his own house is a tall task – even for the Pacers.
On paper, you could take one look at this game and make your decision straight away: Russell Westbrook and Paul George versus Cory Joseph and Bojan Bogdanovic? Sign me up. But the doldrums of March basketball have hit the NBA like a ton of bricks, and it’s harder to guess the motivations of a professional baller these days than it is to catch an NCAA coach on wiretap offering money to a five-star recruit. Furthermore, if you line up the statistics of these teams, you see that OKC is basically Indiana but with better PR. Both teams have average offenses, elite defenses and are allergic to the 3-pointer. But for narrative purposes, I believe in Indiana’s desire to bury Boston on Friday rather than slay the dragon in OKC tonight. And for that reason, I am out. Thunder up.
Final Score Prediction: OKC Thunder 109 – Indiana Pacers 96