Blazers step up in class, need to step up shooting and rebounding

May 13, 2019 10:54 PM

Can the Portland Trail Blazers keep winning with house money? Damian Lillard, C.J. MCcollum and company enter their third straight series as underdogs Tuesday night when they visit the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET).  

They weren’t supposed to get anywhere near this far after losing star impact player Jusuf Nurkic to injury in late March. In the playoffs…

  • Portland was in the range of plus 130 and up to advance past the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, even though the Blazers had earned home court advantage in the series. And, many pundits liked Oklahoma City at market prices because of all the intangibles Russell Westbrook supposedly brings to crunch-time basketball. Lillard crunch timed the Thunder out of the brackets in five games. 
  • Portland was also in the range of plus 130 and up in the second round against Denver. Though, that soared up to plus 200 or plus 210 before Sunday’s Game 7 at altitude at Denver. This time it was McCollum carried the team on his back with 37 points on 17 of 29 from the floor in the clincher.
  • Portland opened at a whopping plus 375 in the Western Finals against Golden State at the Westgate in Las Vegas minutes after the upset of Denver ended. 

Accounting for vigorish, Portland was a shade over 40% pre-series to survive each of the first two matchups. The market has them at less than 20% to upset the Warriors. 

Many NBA observers considered the second-round series featuring Golden State and the Houston Rockets as the “true” Western Conference Championships. Based on raw talent, those were the two best teams.

Betting markets agreed. 

Golden State was priced from -5 to -6 in its three home games vs. Houston, with Kevin Durant healthy at tip off each time. Golden State opened at -7.5 in Game 1 of the actual Western finals, and was immediately bet up to -8 even though Durant was out of the lineup. That suggests the Warriors might have been as high as -10 over Portland with Durant. 

VSiN’s Jonathan Von Tobel (“The Edge,” weekdays at 3 p.m. ET) and I have updated our estimated “market” Power Ratings based on the early Game 1 lines of Golden State -8 over Portland, and Milwaukee -6.5 over Toronto. Our neutral-court numbers… Golden State 88 (no Durant), Milwaukee 88, Toronto 85, Portland 83.

What must Portland do to extend its amazing run?

  • Shoot better from long range. Lillard’s “Steph Curry impression” in the first round led to erratic shooting vs. Denver. Portland posted three-point marks of 11/29, 9/29, 12/42 (in four OT’s), 10/37, and 4/26 in five of their second round games. That while getting outrebounded five times in seven. Not going to work when stepping up in class. 
  • Hope Golden State comes in overconfident. The Warriors are at their worst when they don’t respect an opponent. Turnover counts shoot up. Defense softens. And the team relies too much on fickle three-point shooting.
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