NBA Odds, Picks, Predictions: Our Staff’s Best Playoff Bets for Nuggets vs. Trail Blazers, Jazz vs. Grizzlies, More (May 29)
Jeff Swinger/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz.
Two Game 3s and two Game 4s are on the schedule for Saturday with one team (Miami Heat) facing elimination, another (Portland Trail Blazers) trying to even its series and two home teams (Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies) hoping to ride the home crowd to wins against the top seeded teams in each conference.
Our NBA analysts are looking at three of the games on Saturday’s playoff slate and are betting the spread in all three of those matchups.
Check out their analysis and picks for today’s action below.
NBA Odds & Picks
Denver Nuggets vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Kenny Ducey: This may be a case of stubbornness, but it feels like a monster night is around the corner for the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s undeniable how great Jusuf Nurkic has been in this series, giving Nikola Jokic a real fight in the frontcourt and providing Portland another option on offense when its 3-pointers aren’t falling, like on Thursday. The big issue here is that Nurkic has been in massive foul trouble over the past two games, and that’s killed the Blazers.
This team is scoring 110.7 points per 100 possessions in the 55 minutes Nurkic has been on the bench this series, and 126 per 100 possessions when he’s been on the floor. The Blazers’ net rating is +13.1 with Nurkic, and -27.7 without him per NBA Advanced Stats. Obviously with a small sample, you’re going to get big margins like that, but holy smokes is that a massive difference.
Losing him with around five minutes to go in a tight Game 3 was the nail in the coffin for the Blazers. I’m banking on Nurkic being out there for an extended period in Game 4, considering he averaged just 4.2 fouls per 36 minutes this year, which matched a career-low. He also hadn’t fouled out of a game all season until Game 2.
Nurkic playing big minutes here would make me feel confident that massive offensive night is coming, but another big reason I like Portland tonight is because it shot 31.4% from deep last game, and the Nuggets shot over 50%.
Given the Blazers’ reliance on the three, and Nurkic’s importance, you’d figure that game would have been a blowout, but the Blazers had every chance to win. We’ve been building to the Blazers rout for a while now, and the Nuggets just might finally get exposed here for playing without a starting point guard.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards
Raheem Palmer: It’s amazing what happens when the Philadelphia 76ers play a game in which Joel Embiid isn’t limited in the first half due to foul trouble and the Washington Wizards don’t shoot an unsustainable 28-of-33 (84.8%) at the rim and 8-of-20 (40%) from behind the arc, well above their regular season averages.
In Game 2, Washington’s outstanding performance regressed to the mean and we saw what we expected from these two teams, a 120-95 blowout in which this 76ers defense, which is third in Defensive Rating (108.2) in their non garbage time minutes, held the Wizards to an Offensive Rating of just 95.6.
Overall, we should expect more of what we saw in Game 2 going forward as opposed to Game 1 as the Wizards take the highest frequency of midrange field goal attempts in the league (39.9%) facing a 76ers defense, which rank first in opponent field goal percentage in the midrange (38.6%).
The length in Ben Simmons, Embiid and Tobias Harris is going to make it tough for any team to score and with the Wizards ranking dead last in three point field goal frequency (29.2%) they aren’t a team which going to add a ton of variance to this matchup. If you’re an underdog, you need variance because without it, the better team is going to win.
Compounding their struggles to score, they have no hope at stopping the 76ers’ offense in this matchup.
For starters, they have no answer for Embiid who followed up his Game 1 performance — 30 points on 9-of-16 shooting with 13 free throw attempts — with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting in just 26 minutes of action. The Wizards are 27th in opponent field goal percentage at the rim (65.8%) and 30th in opponent field goal percentage in the midrange (46%), two areas where Embiid thrives.
In addition, they struggle with stopping big wings. We saw Jayson Tatum put up a 50-point performance in the play-in game and Tobias Harris has devoured the Wizards alive this series, averaging 28 points and 7.5 rebounds on 57.1% shooting and he also played just 23 minutes in Game 2.
With Harris and Embiid ranking in the 86th and 76th percentile on midrange jumpers, this Wizards team doesn’t have a prayer at stopping this 76ers team. Also, the 76ers don’t typically have a 3-point shooting advantage over teams but in this matchup they hold a substantial edge as they’re ninth in 3-point percentage (38%) against the Wizards who rank 24th (35.6%).
Utah Jazz vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Brandon Anderson: Through two games of this series, the Grizzlies have been the talk of this series, and deservedly so. Full credit to this terrific, deep young team led by star point guard Ja Morant and terrific young coach Taylor Jenkins.
Memphis knocked Gregg Popovich’s Spurs and Steve Kerr’s Warriors out of the postseason entirely and then came out and delivered the opening blow to the dominant 1-seed Jazz, and the Grizzlies made it clear in Game 2 that they’re not going anywhere.
Still, I have to feel good about the Jazz overall.
In Game 1, Utah got a late, confusing scratch from Donovan Mitchell, saw Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley in foul trouble all game, had a barrage of turnovers, and had one of their worst 3-point shooting games of the entire season.
Basically, everything went wrong, and it turns out it’s a lot harder to play without your three best players for much of the game. And even despite all that, the Grizzlies BARELY held on to win by a single shot, and it sure felt like Utah would’ve stolen the game with another minute or two.
The Jazz played much better in Game 2. They made 19 3s and got fouled on one three more times, and Utah had seven different players with at least 14 points. On offense at least, this looked like the dominant Jazz team we saw all year. Still, the takeaway for most was how the Grizzlies would not give up and kept battling back all night.
And that’s true, but it’s also true that Memphis really can’t play any better than it has already this series. Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks have combined for 127 points through two games, just a silly number with no chance of continuing.
The Grizzlies also got to the line 38 times on the road in Game 2, another extreme outlier, and they shot an awesome 38-of-62 on 2s. That 61% would be great against any opponent, but it’s incredible against what was the league’s No. 1 defense against 2-point shots all season with surefire Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert manning the paint.
The Grizzlies aren’t going to shoot 61% inside the arc again. They’re not going to live at the line 38 times, and Morant and particularly Brooks can’t keep scoring this well forever. And remember, Utah still won Game 2 relatively comfortably even despite all that.
The Jazz are just a much better team, and I trust them to come to Memphis and take care of business, winning one or both of these games to put the Grizzlies to bed. I’ll take the Jazz to win and cover, and I’ll play to -6.