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Blazers-Thunder Series Betting Preview: OKC Provides Best Betting Value in Round 1

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Photo credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard

  • The 3-seed Portland Trail Blazers and 6-seed Oklahoma City Thunder will match up in the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
  • Bryan Mears dives into the biggest matchup factor of the series and why he thinks there's value on lower-seeded Thunder.

No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder

Odds: Blazers +145 | Thunder -165

Thunder -165 is a few of our experts’ favorite series bet, so allow me to make the case for them.

On the year, these teams aren’t too far apart in terms of metrics:

  • Blazers: +4.4 Net Rating (6th), 114.8 Offensive Rating (4th), 110.4 Defensive Rating (16th)
  • Thunder: +3.7 Net Rating (8th), 110.5 Offensive Rating (16th), 106.7 Defensive Rating (3rd)

But that doesn’t fully factor in the absence of Jusuf Nurkic, which is huge in general but especially in this series.

Nurkic’s splits are extreme: With him on the floor this season, the Blazers have been 12.0 points per 100 possessions better than with him off; that’s in the 96th percentile of all players. It’s evenly split on offense (+6.5, 92nd percentile) and defense (-5.5, 91st percentile).

And honestly, his absence is being underrated right now.

The Blazers have played nine games without him, and they went 7-2 in those with a +7.4 point differential. They’ve scored an impressive 117.8 points/100 on offense and allowed just 110.4 points/100 on defense. But look at the schedule:

  • Win at Bulls
  • Win at Hawks
  • Loss at Pistons
  • Win at Wolves
  • Win at Grizzlies
  • Loss at Denver
  • Win at Denver
  • Win at Lakers
  • Win at Kings

Only three of those came against playoff teams, and they lost two of them. And in the one they won (vs. Denver), the Nuggets pulled their players. Even in the last two wins of the season, the Lakers and Kings didn’t play their main guys. It’s a rather uninspiring 7-2 run through that lens.

Without Nurkic, the Blazers are going to have to rely on now-starter Enes Kanter. That … will not go well for Portland. My colleague Justin Phan summed it up nicely in our futures bet piece earlier today:

CAN’T PLAY KANTER. Billy Donovan knows, and Steven Adams vs. Kanter will be the Thunder’s biggest edge in this matchup. In the 64 combined possessions that Kanter guarded Adams this season, the Thunder scored 89 points. That’s an absurd 1.39 points per possession (for reference, the Warriors lead the league at 1.15).

Also, even with Nurkic, the Blazers just don’t match up well against the Thunder. They’ve lost all four games this season, posting a -6.1 Net Rating along the way. They’ve struggled to shoot, posting an egregious 47.8% effective field goal rate, and haven’t defended well either, allowing the Thunder to post a 112.7 Offensive Rating.

Nothing came easy for the Blazers, and it’s unrealistic to expect that to change with Nurkic and also with C.J. McCollum not 100 percent. The Blazers didn’t get to the rim on Steven Adams, they took few 3s and they never got out in transition. The Thunder, meanwhile, got out in transition quite often.

The Thunder have a ton of athletes to throw at Damian Lillard, and they’re especially adept at defending the pick-and-roll, which is what the Blazers will do nearly all series. The Blazers can win, but it’ll take some really hot shooting from tough parts of the floor; it’s definitely not something worth betting on.

As a result, I think perhaps the best value of the first round is to lay -165 on the Thunder to advance to the semifinals.

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