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Apr 12 NBA Action: Oklahoma City Thunder @ Indiana Pacers

Oklahoma City Thunder +4.0 @ Indiana Pacers

While teams such as the Cavaliers enjoy the luxury of being able to rest the majority of their starting unit at this point in the season, for others, the playoff chase will go down to the wire. Today's contest between the Thunder and Pacers is an example of this latter scenario. Coming into Sunday's game, Oklahoma City's record exactly matches that of the New Orleans Pelicans, who are clinging to the #8 spot in the Western Conference playoff bracket. Similarly, the Pacers trail the Brooklyn Nets by one game for the bottom playoff slot in the East. As the final few games of the regular season will determine the post-season fates of these teams, we expect this afternoon's action to be hotly contested from beginning to end.

Indiana's stock has risen in recent days as the Pacers won their last four games straight up, and covered in three of those contests. On the other hand, though Oklahoma City soundly beat Sacramento at home Friday, the Kings were absent their two best players for that matchup. Further, Oklahoma City had dropped four straight before entertaining Sac.

In accordance with each team's respective direction over the past week or so, our Real Plus/Minus framework makes the Pacers slightly better than the Thunder for today's game. We would not be surprised to see a 1-2 point Indiana victory, but we do not see the Pacers covering the four point spread.

With the pressure to make the playoffs about at its apex, this contest might simply come down to a superstar's will to win (or at least to keep the score close enough to earn the cover). By this measure, we give the Thunder a decided advantage, as their Russell Westbrook is the seventh most valuable player in the league (based on ESPN's Real Plus/Minus stat).

While we appreciate the Pacers' Paul George's prior accomplishments, the fact is that George's RPM has fallen by over four points compared to last season, to -1.24. Thus, on average, this former stud (and perhaps future stud) is not nearly as threatening right now as he was a year ago (and as he might be a year from now).

The Thunder and Pacers last met in late-February, at OKC's Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma CIty collected a sweat-free win/cover in that game. Westbrook was tasked with leading the charge, as scorer extraordinaire, Kevin Durant, did not play. The Oklahoma City Point Guard delivered, contributing 20 points, 11 boards and 10 assists.

However, unlike the meeting seven weeks ago, in addition to Durant missing today's action, the Thunder will be without their dead-eye Power Forward, Serge Ibaka, as well. As such, we hesitate to call for an outright Oklahoma City win, however, we think Westbrook and the Thunder are adequately equipped to beat the number.

Happy betting!!

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