Moore: How to Bet the Blazers vs. Nuggets Series
Photo credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jamal Murray and Damian Lillard
- Game 1 of Nuggets vs. Blazers will kick off Monday, April 29 at 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT).
- Matt Moore dives deep into this series to find the best betting edges, hitting on series prices, player props, quarter spreads and much more.
Oh, yeah! There’s the other Western Conference second-round playoff series. The Blazers and Nuggets tip off Monday, and while there won’t be as much fanfare as there is about the already tense Rockets-Warriors series, this one does have drama, great matchups, great players and some real opportunities. Here are the betting angles for Nuggets-Blazers.
BLAZERS TEAM TOTALS
The Blazers’ games in the first round went 2-3 on the over, but so much of that was the Thunder putting up under 100 in three of the games. The Blazers got over 110 vs. a much better defense in Round 1, even if it took heroics from Damian Lillard rarely seen in playoff history to get there.
The Nuggets played phenomenal defense in Round 1. The caveat comes that they were facing a team with the worst shot selection of any team in the playoffs, including the Thunder. The Spurs opted for guardable shots. The Blazers will not.
You can expect more open looks than what the Spurs generated and more makes. Denver’s defense will probably do a better job on Lillard (how could you not) but will give up shots to guys who can hit them like Al-Farouq Aminu, Rodney Hood and to a degree C.J. McCollum.
The early overs are low: Game 1 is at 106.5 for the Blazers. That’s great value for a team that can put up points and will need to in this series. The Blazers went 4-1 on team totals in Round 1 vs. their implied totals.
NUGGETS TEAM TOTALS
It’s really, honestly about whether or not they’ll hit uncontested looks.
Can the Blazers do the work they did against a team in the first round that can’t shoot? Keep in mind that Denver was 14th in shooting percentage on unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers in Round 1. Portland actually gave up a big number to OKC. If the Nuggets shoot like they did in Round 1, the under is the play. But if Denver normalizes, the overs are the way to go.
Enes Kanter not being 100 percent could cause mayhem if he can’t contain Nikola Jokic. Bear in mind that big, physical presences, whether through brute strength (Kanter) or athleticism (like Clint Capela), give him issues. There will be times Portland tries to use Zach Collins or Meyers Leonard to pick-and-pop, but that’s going to be tough because of the offensive rebounds it will allow, and Jokic just came off a series chasing LaMarcus Aldridge on pick-and-pops all over the floor.
Jamal Murray and Gary Harris are also way more likely to attack Kanter in pick-and-roll coverage than OKC did. Russell Westbrook’s diminished jumper played a huge part in OKC’s offensive troubles, as did Paul George’s shoulder. If Kanter is not playable, as opposed to how that first-round series went, then it only gets worse for the Blazers.
They don’t have a viable counter. Meyers Leonard is big and can stretch the floor. That might work if he can hit shots and rebound. But defensively it gets tough vs. a team that backcuts the way Denver does.
However, for all their advantages, the Nuggets shot truly terribly in four of the seven games vs. San Antonio, and while the better team won, Denver nearly cost itself the win with its shooting. The Nuggets have the third-best Offensive Rating in the playoffs despite that, but against Portland the offensive bar is much higher.
I want to be hesitant with Denver overs and see how the series progresses, compared to Portland’s overs.
Denver went 3-4 on overs vs. implied totals in Round 1.
So, if we want to be patient with Denver’s overs and aggressive with Portland’s, you’re looking at a pretty good look for the over still with the opening total at 216.5.
Pace matters here: OKC was a fast team. Denver plays a bit slower, but San Antonio played the slowest. Portland-OKC was the fourth-fastest series so far, and San Antonio-Denver was the slowest. Will Denver want to slow it down and get Portland into halfcourt sets to try and prevent Lillard in transition? I think both teams probably want to push pace, and that again leans towards the over.
So much will come down to shooting, but based on firepower, how the teams match up and pace, the lean should be towards the over.
GAME BY GAME
Teams on a two-day turnaround for a Game 1 in the second round at home are 5-12-1 ATS since 2005 after Houston covered in Game 1. Portland has to be the first pick. Expect a split in Denver.
There’s so much conversation about how good these teams are at home, but the Nuggets literally just lost a crucial Game 1 in Denver. (Are they the new Raptors?) I think there’s more value on the spread than the moneyline, however, with an eye to zig-zag in Game 2 — though that’s proven to not be a sustainable strategy — on the other team.
In Portland, I think a split’s likely as well, but be prepared to expect offensive improvements from whoever slumps. We saw the Nuggets pop off consistently high efficiency ratings after their first two nightmarish games, until Game 7, which is always a slog for both teams. Expect the same for the Blazers. If they have a rare off offensive night, get ready to jump on them to adjust in that category for at least their totals. Defense will be the harder thing to adjust in this series based on the matchups.
I’m expecting this series to go long, but Game 5 feels like the strongest Denver game and Game 4 the strongest Portland game. Even if the Blazers are up 2-1, they’ll then be headed downhill with momentum vs. a tired Denver team that has already in many ways validated its season.
The Blazers are 3-5 vs. the Nuggets in the first and third quarters of their matchups the last two seasons. Their starting unit continues to cook and has an advantage in this matchup as well.
Denver’s bench was a disaster late in the season and in the first round, and while I expect a better performance against a team not as disciplined and difficult as the Spurs (though more talented), it’s still probably a lean towards the Blazers, making the second quarter a good Portland look.
Then there’s the fourth. The Nuggets are dead last in defensive efficiency in the fourth quarter of the playoffs, and while their Game 6 implosion played a part, the Defensive Ratings were consistently above 120 in their regular-season series vs. Portland. So keep that in mind especially if Portland’s trailing going into the final quarter.
Lillard went 4-1 on overs on his point totals in Round 1; his assists went 1-4 on overs. The Thunder didn’t blitz Lillard until the second half of Game 5, when it was too late. Denver will defend it drastically differently. The Nuggets want to play Nikola Jokic at the level of the screen like this:
The Nuggets will likely try and make anyone else beat them, which may or may not work, but it also means you want to probably be careful with the overs on Lillard’s points and maybe go for his assists.
His over is still 27.5 in Game 1. I won’t blame you at all if you go over because “it’s Dame.” He’s been that good. But just know Denver will put a lot more pressure on Lillard than OKC did.
Now McCollum went 3-2 on overs vs. OKC, which again is a credit to his shot-making. His overs might be the best play. Gary Harris or Torrey Craig will likely get the first assignment on him; the latter is a big, physical defender but also one more prone to off-ball mistakes on closeouts. McCollum can have a huge series if Denver puts Jamal Murray or Craig on him. Harris will likely do better, but McCollum is a tough shot-maker.
Kanter’s injury takes him off the board. Healthy, he can have a big series with how he can counter Jokic, but you can’t rely on his production with a bad shoulder.
Aminu hit the under for scoring in four of the five first-round games. That said, he played really well, and there’s a good chance he gets a lot of looks as Denver seeks to limit the guards.
Harkless is probably the best value, as his over hit in three of the five games; he’ll be left open by Nuggets rotations to help on Lillard. They will try and make Harkless beat them, and he can if left open, which he will be if Denver hides Jamal Murray on him.
Jokic and Murray both went 4-3 to the over on their scoring totals last round, in a slow, ugly series. Expect the over to be a better play in this one, but with Jokic, there’s a caveat: The Blazers know they have to send the double.
They know that right away like the Spurs did. They will send it aggressively. The problem is the Nuggets figured out that if they double the post, the counter is to get Jokic in the pick-and-roll. When they’re moving with both Jokic rolling and Murray handling or Harris driving off the hand-off, they’re tough to stop.
Harris was also 4-3 on the overs in the first series. Expect him to be more involved as they try and run McCollum off screens.
Expect Jokic to dominate on the glass in this series with Kanter’s injury impacting things; he went 5-2 on overs in the first round. Paul Millsap may fare better when not facing both Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl; Millsap vs. Aminu is a pretty even battle.
Jokic’s overs on assists went 4-2-1 in the first round, and with Portland set to bring the double just as much, there will be these opportunities as well. In Game 1, his over is all the way up to 8.5. With a higher pace and a hard double, the over seems like a value play.
This series is a coin flip. The Nuggets are better team that won 3-1 in the regular season, only losing the game they tanked to get Houston into the 4-spot. They haven’t lost to Portland outside of that game since Jusuf Nurkic wished them a nice summer two years ago.
But Denver didn’t play to potential in Round 1 and will enter as a tired team. Damian Lillard has been the second-best player in the playoffs behind Kevin Durant, and their role players sense a moment. That’s dangerous. Yet Denver has tactical advantages all over the place, and Jokic has been even better than expected.
You’re getting Denver at a low price, so there’s value, but I’d wait to see how this series plays out. If nothing else, Denver in 6 at +500 has the best value, with Blazers in 5 at +800 and Blazers in 7 at +650 as the second- and third-best.
It’s going to be a great one, even if no one is talking about it.