Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat (-4, 204) Kevin Durant's recent scoring barrage has moved him front and center in the race for the NBA's most valuable player award. On Wednesday Durant will come face-to-face with the greatest challenge to his MVP quest as he leads the Oklahoma City Thunder into Miami to face LeBron James and the powerhouse Heat.
Durant has scored 30 or more points in 11 straight games, the main catalyst behind the Thunder's eight-game winning streak. Durant is on the fast track to his fourth NBA scoring title, but faces one of his toughest assignments of the year – tasked with scoring on, and defending, the four-time league MVP and two-time defending NBA champion. James' numbers have taken a tumble in recent years, but he remains the most productive player on a team that sits second in the Eastern Conference. James will have help, too, as Dwyane Wade returns to the starting lineup.
Miami opened -4. 5 and was bet down to -4. The total opened 204 in Las Vegas and was bet down to 203. 5.
Thunder (-12. 5) – Heat (-14. 3) + Home Court (-3. 0) = Heat -4. 8
Thunder: Russell Westbrook (Out – knee), Heat: Dwyane Wade (Probable – knee)
WHAT BOOKS SAY:
"Most of the main rival teams at the top – Indiana, San Antonio, L. A. Clippers – would be +5 and bigger in Miami, but Oklahoma City and Durant are getting respect for how they are playing without Westbrook. Even though Durant is getting all the accolades for his recent play, and rightfully so – hes the current MVP frontrunner, the Thunder have the inside matchup edge with Perkins and Ibaka, plus Collison and Adams off the bench. " – Aron Black, Bet365. com.
WHAT SHARPS SAY:
"A bit surprising that Thunder actually have a better record right now than the Heat, despite playing with Russell Westbrook for the past 18 games. What has been most impressive to me is that OKC is 4-1 SU in their five games as an underdog without Westbrook during those past 18 games, meaning they have played very well against quality teams, even while short-handed. "
Thunder Dancers or Heat Dancers?
WHY BET THE THUNDER (36-10 SU, 27-19 ATS, 22-24 O/U):
Durant isn't just shooting his way to superstardom – he's thinking his way around defensive schemes designed to shut him down. Durant hit the game-winning shot in Monday's narrow victory over the Atlanta Hawks, and said afterward that he was successful because he had seen the game-ending defensive setup before. "This is the third team we played that's been under that San Antonio umbrella, " he said of the Hawks' approach. "They brought that (double-team). And they were bold enough to do it in the fourth quarter. " Durant averages 29. 3 points in 12 career games against the Heat.
WHY BET THE HEAT (32-12 SU, 19-25 ATS, 27-17 O/U):
Wade was given the green light to join the starting five after coming off the bench in Sunday's one-sided win over the San Antonio Spurs. Wade, who scored eight points in 24 minutes in a reserve role, relishes the challenge of facing the team with the best record in the West. "I asked (head coach Eric Spoelstra) to take me out as a starter that one game, but I didn't ask him to do it the whole year, " Wade told reporters Monday. "So we can stop that conversation. " Miami is an Eastern Conference-best 12-2 against West foes.
TRENDS: * Favorite is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings.
* Home team is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings.
* Thunder are 0-6 ATS in the last six meetings.
* Thunder are 0-5 ATS in the last five meetings in Miami. CONSENSUS PICK:
54 % on Oklahoma City +4, 75 % on Over 204.