For some reason, defense has fallen out of favor in the NBA. It could be making a comeback at least in terms of it’s ‘popularity’ among fans. The Los Angeles Lakers could be the catalyst for a defensive revival this year as LeBron and Company have won 5 of their first 6 games and they’re playing very solid defense. LA currently ranks #3 in team defense holding opponents to 99.3 PPG. LeBron himself has talked about the team’s commitment to team defense and suggests that a better diet and offseason conditioning program has given him the energy to do it.
One of the two teams ranked above the Lakers in team defense will compete in this game against another solid defensive side. The Oklahoma City Thunder ranks #4 in team defense allowing just 101.8 PPG putting them right behind the Lakers. Right in front of the Lakers are the Orlando Magic who are holding opponents to just 98.2 PPG though there’s still a good bit of separation between them and the Utah Jazz who have the best team defense in the NBA at 95.6 PPG against. The Magic and Thunder enter with identical 2-4 SU records looking to get some momentum going. Oklahoma City has been the better pointspread team going 4-2 ATS while Orlando is 1-4-1 against the number.
The Thunder’s roster is barely recognizable from the superstar laden teams they’ve had ever since they moved from Seattle. That doesn’t mean they lack talent on both ends of the floor. So far this season, their best offensive contributor is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who came over from the LA Clippers in the Paul George trade. He’s putting up 21.8 PPG along with 7.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists. That’s a solid line by any metric though he doesn’t have much help–for the most part, the rest of the Thunder lineup are journeymen veterans as OKC is in the process of clearing contracts before the rebuilding process begins. The Thunder are just #24 in team offense scoring 104.3 PPG.
Orlando is dead last in team offense at 93.5 PPG and when a team isn’t scoring it’s difficult to play defense well enough to win games. This is particularly true in a league full of ‘scorers’. It’s bizarre that a team with such good team defense has a -4.6 PPG differential but that’s where the Magic are at. They do have the edge in the front court with Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier which could be a difference maker in what should be a tightly contested defensive battle.
Handicapping 101 dictates than in a likely low scoring game the points are the play and we’ll bet this one accordingly. We’ll also go with the ‘Under’–both the Magic and Thunder have only exceeded the total in one game this year.