The Portland Trail Blazers did what a lot of people though they couldn’t – win a series on the road against a higher-seeded opponent, and do it without heir do-everything center. But with they have enough to make a horse race of it against the defending world champion Golden State Warriors, even if they are without the two-time playoff MVP? There are lots of interesting elements to this NBA Western Conference finals series, which gets underway with Game 1 at 9 PM ET on Tuesday at the Oracle Arena in Oakland.
Kevin Durant, who had to sit out Game 6 against Houston as his teammates closed out the Rockets, will miss Game 1 as he continues to work things out with his calf strain. He was a tough hombre for Portland to deal with this season, averaging 28.8 points per game. But the offense will have a different look, with Steph Curry the guy who will be counted on a bit more. He had 33 points in the second half of Game 6 against Houston, but he’s going to find himself working hard at both ends of the floor, as it’s a matter of “pick your poison” between guarding Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
These teams split four games during the regular season. The most recent clash saw the Blazers explode in the fourth quarter, outscoring Golden State 35-12 in a 129-107 romp.
In the NBA playoff betting odds that have been posted on this game, the Warriors are listed as solid favorites:
Golden State Warriors -7.5 (-108)
Portland Trail Blazers +7.5 (-102)
Over 219 points (-105)
Under 219 points (-105)
As you can see, you can avoid laying the customary -110 with reduced juice, the best deal available in the online sportsbook industry, at BetAnySports, where the Warriors are the favorites at -550 to win the series (Portland is at +425).
Without Durant, the Warriors are going to have to decide on a starting lineup. And while we can see several people coming off the bench, there is going to be a question of whether to give extra time to centers Kevon Looney and Andrew Bogut or use Draymond Green in that spot. Aside from the fact that he plays that position in the vaunted “Death Lineup” (albeit one that has Durant), he has matched up very well against the Blazers. Golden State was at +23 with him on the floor, and minus-8 without him in games against Portland.
That’s better, for example, than how they’ve done with Looney in that spot, as the Dubs have a difference of minus-17 (with) and +32 (without). In the absence of Nurkic, who of course has a broken leg, Green may stand a pretty good chance of neutralizing Enes Kanter and/or Zach Collins, as he allowed just one point per 15 possessions when he was guarding one of them this season.
Speaking of Kanter, we should mention that he put forth a very gutsy effort in Game 7 against Denver. He is observing Ramadan, as you probably know, which meant no food or drink until sundown on Sunday. Yet he played almost 40 minutes, scored 13 points and pulled down 13 rebounds (five on offense). Kanter has averaged a dozen rebounds over the last five games.
Still, the advantage for Golden State with Green may be palpable. And with Portland having had such an intense series concluding just two days ago, they may suffer from shorter rest than G-State has. Playing small-ball early, the Warriors could be dangerous, which is why that first quarter line at -3.5 (essentially at even money) could be appetizing. Keep in mind that Portland’s starting lineup (or at least the one we anticipate they’ll have) has been outscored by 39 points in the playoffs, so clearly they hope the second unit can make gains. Rodney Hood, who provides a lot of pop off the bench, is questionable with a knee ailment.
Clearly the Warriors are not a more formidable team without Durant out there. However, though we probably don’t know how to describe it appropriately, it appears there’s more freedom; more energy, when they are operating without him. It’s entirely feasible that they could run off with a double-digit win to kick off this series.
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