Portland at Golden State – Game 1
Time: 2:30 PM (CT)
Spread: GSW -14.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
“Blazers in six,” were the words of Portland Trail Blazer starting point guard Damian Lillard.
Ignored in this comment was that the answer was in reply to a reporter asking if the Trail Blazers would be more likely to win in six or seven games, but what should not be ignored is Lillard’s confidence in his up and coming squad.
Portland closed the season strong after acquiring Jusuf Nurkic from the Denver Nuggets, and Nurkic while certainly a large part of the team’s future, is unavailable due to a leg injury he sustained the waning stretch of the 2016-17 season. That leaves Portland sort of back where it was: reliant on its strong backcourt of C.J. McCollum and Lillard to attempt to knock off the Western Conference’s toughest team, the Golden State Warriors.
Golden State enters Game 1 as heavy 14.5 point favorites on its homecourt, but those associated with the Trail Blazers know Lillard and company will do anything but roll over and conceded this return to the postseason. Portland finished the year with a .500 record, but it won nine of its final 12 games and surpassed the team it dealt with (the Denver Nuggets) to secure its meeting with the Dubs today.
Lillard finished the season with averages of 27 points, five rebounds and six assists per game, augmented nicely by his backcourt mate McCollum averaging 23 points himself while shooting 42.1 percent from three-point range. While Portland does not have many major offensive weapons outside that pairing, it does have a nice array of role players whose synergy has made the Blazers into a more formidable team than those might expect if glancing at the talent simply on paper.
Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu all had breakout years of sorts. The trio is hardly headlining names, but it could be the coming out series for any of them, if not all three. Crabbe is a hot shooting 2-guard whose second unit scoring bursts helped Portland stay in games, given the overall lack of quality elsewhere on its bench. Harkless is a a good “three and D” wing player to start alongside Aminu, a deft three-point shooter who knocked down 33 percent of his triples as a valuable defensive stretch-4 for the Blazers this season. Waiting in the wings are Tim Quarterman, Noah Vonleh, and the recently emergent Shabazz Napier.
The Blazers may have guys casual fans are not acquainted with, but that could make this series all the more surprising should the Blazers be able to give the Warriors a run to potentially steal a game or two at Oracle. Barring that, the Trail Blazers will have a tough climb out of what seems like an inevitable 0-2 hole. Portland won just 16 road games this season.
Golden State got hot at just the right time, winning 13-straight games only to get Kevin Durant back into its lineup in time for the playoffs. Durant played a tune-up game in the regular season, tallying 16 points and 10 rebounds and showing he is more than ready for this trip to the postseason with his most talented cast of teammates thus far in his NBA career.
Durant was quietly having a monster season, posting efficient lines and playing the best defense of his career, which went largely unnoticed on a star-studded team and with the statistically dominant years of James Harden in Houston and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.
Durant drew plenty of ire for joining such a loaded team in the Bay Area, but now he has the chance to silence those critics partially, by doing what is expected. The Warriors have won 60-plus games the past three seasons, and the collection of talent features not just Durant, but also the Jack-of-all-trades Draymond Green and the sharpshooting backcourt Of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Perhaps the only weakness on the Warriors is at the 5-spot where it uses Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee, but with Portland’s starting center out for the time being, the Blazers will be unable to exploit perhaps its only major advantage in this series. While Portland will be an exciting draw, it is unlikely they do more than simply manage to win a home game in this series, and that may be pushing it, too.
Prediction: Warriors in 5