The Portland Trailblazers emerged victorious in Saturday’s Western Conference Play-In Game and knocked the Memphis Grizzlies from playoff contention, 126-122. Portland has had four straight games down to the wire and decided by four points or less and they will get a crack at the West’s top seed, the Los Angeles Lakers, as its reward. The First Round of the Playoffs start today and the higher-seeded teams win first-round series a little less than 80 percent of the time (108-28; 79.4%) since going to the best-of-seven format in 2003. On the other hand, none of these series has ever been played in a “bubble” on a neutral site. The lack of a home-court advantage dynamic could potentially mean that the chalk isn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion to hold serve, especially in the Western Conference where the series prices are closer as a whole versus the Eastern Conference counterparts.
(1) LA Lakers -500 vs. (8) Portland + 400
The Lakers won two of the three regular season meetings and all three games (249, 248 and 246 combined points) were high-scoring affairs. Portland, behind Bubble MVP Damian Lillard, has been on a roll and have won four in a row to get into the playoffs. Their offensive firepower is getting a lot of respect from oddsmakers as you wouldn’t ordinarily see the 1 seed as only a -500 in the first round. The Lakers only went 3-5 in the bubble but had already clinched the top seed two weeks ago. The Blazers are certainly potent offensively but they are facing the West’s best defense in terms of points allowed (107.6 ppg). Portland allows the most points of any team left in the playoffs and have the worst 3-point defense as well if they try to double Lebron or AD. Portland may have enough to get a game and if you don’t want to lay -500, although cheap for a 1 seed, the Lakers are currently 3/1 to sweep Portland and 5/2 to win in five which is the most likely result.
(4) Houston -150 vs. (5) Oklahoma City + 130
This series is the biggest coin flip of the first round is now even tighter with Russell Westbrook dealing with a strained quad and missing the start of the playoffs for Houston. Oklahoma City was around a + 300 underdog before the Westbrook news. The Thunder won the last two meetings, both in January, as their three-guard lineup of Chris Paul, Shai-Gilgeous Alexander and Dennis Schröder, who returned to the bubble a few days ago after the birth of his second child, has given Houston fits. OKC ranks second in the NBA in fourth quarter net rating. Houston is the deeper team but Mike D’Antoni, not prone to going too deep into his bench, will have to change his rotations early on. The value has been extracted here from the Thunder so the best bet is to wait and see if Houston wins Game 1 and then come back with the Thunder on the adjusted price.
(3) Denver -210 vs. (6) Utah + 180
The Nuggets won all three meetings during the regular season, including a 134-132 2OT victory a week ago Saturday. Utah’s Rudy Gobert is considered the best post defender in the league but he gets help from his perimeter defenders funneling guards into the paint. Stopping Nikola Jokic, who has averaged nearly a triple double (29 points, 12 rounds and 9 assists), against the Jazz this season, one-on-one is a more herculean task. Denver has been missing Gary Harris and Will Barton of late (although Michael Porter Jr’s emergence has softened the blow), which is a major reason they rated as bubble’s worst defense (120 points per 100 possessions) and head coach Michael Malone has lamented giving up 16 to 17 threes every night. Nevertheless, Utah is without their best outside shooter in Bojan Bogdanovic and they will need to make a lot of threes to win this series. The value is in Denver to win the series in 6 (+ 350) or 7 (+ 450) games.
(2) LA Clippers -650 vs. (7) Dallas + 475
The Clippers are the biggest favorite in the West for the first round and they are the current slight favorite at Westgate Superbook USA to win the title at 11/4. This is the first playoff series for most of this Dallas roster including superstar guard Luka Dončić. The Clippers won all three regular season meetings including a 126-111 victory in the bubble about a week and a half ago. In that game, the Clippers held Dallas to just 44.8% from the floor and 111 points. It helps that the Clippers have three of the best wing defenders in the league (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley) all on the same team. The Mavericks can make enough threes to take a game or two in the series which is why Clippers in 5 (+ 250) or 6 (+ 350) is the most likely outcome.