Date and Time: Thursday, February 20th, 2014 8:00 PM EST on TNT

Game Line: Oklahoma City -3.5 Total (Over/Under): 206 (from JustBet)

Thursday NBA analysis: LeBron James and the Miami Heat travel to Oklahoma City to take on Kevin Durant and the Thunder in a possible preview of the NBA Finals.

The Oklahoma City Thunder own the NBA’s best record at 43-12. Kevin Durant is enjoying the best season of his career averaging 31.5 ppg. They have been without point guard Russell Westbrook since the end of December, and have actually been playing great basketball without him. 6’3” point guard Reggie Jackson has filled in nicely averaging 13.6 ppg. The Thunder have won 5 out of their last 6 games, but Thursday’s game will be their first since February 13th due to the All-Star break. It is being reported that Westbrook will make his return to the lineup on Thursday night.

The Miami Heat are on the last stop of a six game road trip. They have won 4 out of the 5, with the only loss being a sloppy game at Utah in which they seemed totally out of sync. LeBron James has been on a tear as of late, averaging 38 ppg in his last 3 games in turn heating up talk of the MVP race between him and Durant. The Heat are 18-10 on the road this year, and 15-12-1 against the number. They are averaging 104.4 ppg while shooting a league leading 50.9% from the field. They aren’t too aggressive on the glass, as they rank near the bottom of the league in rebounding (36.6 rpg). Defensively they are allowing 99.2 ppg and allowing opponents to shoot 45.9% from the field.

I’m backing the Heat on Thursday night and there are many reasons why. First off, the return of Russell Westbrook…Once the average Joe sees that Westbrook is returning to the lineup, they would probably look to back the Thunder. Not so fast…I understand Westbrook is an upgrade, but he hasn’t played in almost 2 months. Getting a player of that stature back into the mix can be disruptive the first couple of games. Not only will he be somewhat rusty, but he’ll also take some offensive opportunities away from Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and others. Second, the Thunder haven’t stepped onto the court in a week, and the first game back from a long break with a guy coming back from injury can just subtract to the continuity of a teams offensive flow. Finally the third reason, back on January 29th, the Thunder came back from an 18 point deficit to throttle the Heat on their home court 112-95. Lebron and company haven’t forgotten about that, and will be looking for a little payback. The Heat are a team that can flip the switch and can basically coast into the playoffs. I expect them to flip the switch tonight and get the win in Oklahoma City tonight. Even with Westbrook in the lineup, I think it will be a negative, and that can’t be good against a Miami team looking to make a statement.

Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder Free NBA Pick: Miami +3.5 Over 206

Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder Game Prediction: Miami 114 Oklahoma City 103

 

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