NBA on ESPN Betting Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder at Philadelphia 76ers

All eyes will be on Russ as he begins what could be an MVP season.
All eyes will be on Russ as he begins what could be an MVP season.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Philadelphia 76ers
Time: 7 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: OKC -9
Total: 208

Betting odds c/o 5dimes

The Oklahoma City Thunder will be playing without one-time franchise player Kevin Durant for the first time since the 2007-08 season, when the club was still the Seattle Supersonics. The first Thunder game without Durant in uniform takes place tonight as OKC visits the Philadelphia 76ers for its opener.

The Thunder are 9-point favorites in the game which will air at 7 PM (Central) on TNT.

OKC is still a dangerous team even without its former MVP. Russell Westbrook is one of the most dynamic guards in the game, and he had 18 triple-doubles last season. He also led the league in scoring two seasons ago while Durant was spending much of the season nursing a foot injury. Westbrook missed big chunks of time that campaign as well, but OKC still finished just one game out of the postseason. The Thunder should still be right there at season’s end, again, but as to how high it is much less easy to project.

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The Thunder added former Orlando Magic shooting guard Victor Oladipo on draft night, and he could become a legitimate No. 2 option after Westbrook in the offense. The former Indiana Hoosier has developed well since coming into the NBA, but many wonder if he can take it to a “star level.” At times, Oladipo appears to have all the vigor of a player whose talents caused him to go No. 2 overall (albeit in a weak draft), but at other times his flaws seem so pressing.

For a “shooting guard” Oladipo is not a lights-out shooter. He can hit well in the mid-range, but his three point stroke hovers are merely passable at 34 percent last season. Given that Westbrook is not known for elite triple shooting, the Thunder could have spacing problems at times. Losing Dion Waiters only exacerbates that probably.

But this is still a tough defensive team and Steven Adams is now getting billing as one of the NBA’s top young bigs. Enes Kanter is not much defensively, but he can put the ball in the bucket and has a trusty jumper, which makes his value pretty clear cut. The Thunder function well with Adams and Kanter in as a “twin tower” tandem, so it will be interesting to see how much Billy Donovan goes to that this season. They also will look to develop rookie Domantas Sabonis, who has showed considerable promise and his shooting will also help keep the court spread. The same applies to journeyman Ersan Ilyasova.

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This is a quality basketball team that will be in the postseason, and it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility that OKC can still win 50 games. The team is not lacking in any major areas, and it is still guided by a top-5 NBA talent in Westbrook. It seems hard to sleep on that.

For Philadelphia, it is all about seeing this “Process” initiated by Sam Hinkie start to yield its results. After two long seasons of waiting, Joel Embiid is finally healthy. He is facing minutes-restrictions (less than 24), but he looked promising during preseason with great coordination, shooting, instinct—and even timing, which is remarkable considering how long he had to spend rehabbing. It has left the Sixers with a bit of a predicament having three high quality bigs, but a trade is pretty inevitable.

Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel will find themselves elsewhere, as the Sixers put a lot of eggs in the injury-prone basket of Embiid. 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons is also likely out for the majority of the season, meaning the “tanking” in Philly has not quite come to its end. Fans are excited to see rookie Dario Saric, who was obtained from the Orlando Magic in a draft night trade in 2014. The Sixers do have an abundance of frontcourt talent, but the roster is going to have to be balanced. Teams will know the Sixers are forced into dealing, too, which may lower the returns, particularly on Noel and Okafor.

As to whether Philly can still get a quality point guard or whether it has to turn to the draft to address that need is dubious, but the Sixers are finally a team with some talent on the court, and a number of guys have developed into quality players in what most deemed “just bad basketball” the past few seasons in Philly.

The Sixers will showcase Embiid, because he is about showcasing himself: look for his personality to go as far as his basketball skills in making Philly basketball fun again. It just might not necessarily come with a Sixers ‘W’ attached to this one, as OKC should prevail as the easy favorites it is according to NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes.

Even if this season goes rough from a win-loss standpoint, the Sixers are on the verge of turning the corner with a franchise-talented big, Simmons (eventually), and some exciting prospects surrounding them.

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