(3) PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS V. (3) OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER — SERIES PREVIEW
Game 1 Time: 2:30 PM CT (ABC)
Spread: POR -3.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Portland Trail Blazers concluded its 53-win season with the tiebreaker advantage over the Houston Rockets to claim the No. 3 seed in the West. It probably could have had a better draw, now facing the dangerous No. 6 seeded Oklahoma City Thunder—a team with the star potential in the postseason to be a very dangerous upset threat to Portland and the rest of the conference. The Blazers, though, was one of the league’s best teams at defending its home court, and it has home court advantage in a venue it fared 32-9 this season. Moreover, the Thunder are mediocre on the road at 22-19. And so, NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes favor the hosting Blazers by 3.5-points in a game 1 with an over/under that opened at 224 points. The game will air at 2:30 CST on ABC/ESPN.
One thing Portland will continue to have in its advantage, even with the loss of starting center Jusuf Nurkic, is the play of its dynamite backcourt. Damian Lillard is one of the game’s best point guards, and CJ McCollum is a flame-throwing sidekick. There may be no better backcourt outside of perhaps Golden State’s tandem, however, McCollum is ailing and Lillard is going to have to do more than ever. With a gimpy McCollum and Nurkic out for the postseason, can Portland avoid what will probably be the most-expected first-round postseason upset?
There are enough reasons to suspect it cannot avoid that fate. The OKC Thunder closed its season with five straight wins, and Paul George was simply on fire for the majority of the second half of the 2018-19 season. He will be in MVP talks with his dominant two-way play. Russell Westbrook just concluded his third-straight season with a triple-double average. While the Blazers may have an All-Star leader in Lillard, OKC has two of the top-15 players in the Association, regardless of Westbrook’s abundant “efficiency detractors.” Sometimes the game is more than a compilation of stats, which irks Westbrook’s “haters,” but there is absolutely no denying the impact Westbrook can have when he is locked in to destroy his opponent.
Outside of that, the Thunder have a tougher defense than its No. 15 team defense would indicate. Steven Adams is one of the game’s premier defending big men, and both Westbrook and George themselves can dig in when the situation calls for it (like the playoffs most certainly do). Where OKC is dominant, however, is on the glass— The Thunder averaged a second-best 48.1 rebounds per game. Having a 1-man in double figures seemingly helps assure this.
The Thunder also have some nice depth beginning with the key acquisition of last offseason, combo guard Dennis Schroder. Something of an unheralded signing, Schroder perfectly stepped into the role of third-guard with Terrance Ferguson getting the start alongside Westbrook and rookie Hamidou Diallo providing plenty of a spark and entertainment off the bench, as well. Markieff Morris was a solid pickup to be a stretch-4, and the underrated Nerlens Noel seems to have found a home in OKC. The Thunder may be underdogs in this series, but everything seems to suggest this team is cut out to thrive in the NBA’s “real season.” Look for Portland to stumble without its starting center, for Lillard to have to do too much, and for George to potentially have the best series of his NBA career.
Prediction: Thunder in 6