Friday night figures to be one of the toughest tickets of the season for the Boston Celtics as the Oklahoma City Thunder make their only visit. The Thunder are 9-4 favorites to win the Western Conference and 6-1 third-favorites behind Miami (11-5) and Indiana (3-1) to win the NBA title.
Oklahoma City remains without injured star point guard Russell Westbrook, but that means more shots for NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant. He had a career-high 54 points in Friday’s win over the Golden State Warriors and followed that with “only” 30 in Sunday’s win over the Sacramento Kings. Durant has scored at least 30 in seven straight games and is going to win his fourth scoring title, averaging 30.6 points. That would be the most in the league since Kobe Bryant averaged 31.6 in 2006-07.
Durant isn’t the only Thunder player to raise his game lately. Forward Serge Ibaka has had three straight games with at least 20 points, a career high, and is 27-for-37 from the field in that stretch. Ibaka also is fourth in the NBA in blocks at 2.35 per game. One guy not playing well is former Celtic Kendrick Perkins. He’s essentially a black hole on offense at this point, averaging just 3.4 points per game. Perkins has more than twice as many personal fouls as he does made field goals. The Thunder would love to find a taker for his contract and could amnesty him this summer. Perkins’ big salary is part of the reason why the Thunder had to trade James Harden before last season.
Oklahoma City had little trouble when Boston visited Jan.5, routing the Celtics 119-96 as nine-point favorites. Durant had 21 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, while Ibaka had 17 points and 11 boards. Westbrook missed that game as well, and his backup, emerging Reggie Jackson, had a career-high 27 points. Jeff Green and Avery Bradley led Boston with 19 points apiece.
Boston’s home game Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets also will have live betting. The Nets, who beat the Celtics 104-96 earlier this season, have been playing much better in the new year. Star point guard Deron Williams returned Monday from an ankle injury that kept him out since Jan. 4.