The Warriors and Nuggets may be alone at the top of the Western Conference, but the tier of teams just below them in the standings is set for an all-out war. Entering Thursday’s brief 2-game slate, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers are tied with the Houston Rockets for the No. 3 seed in the conference. The Rockets currently own the real No. 3 spot due to tiebreakers, but all 3 teams are 39-25 as of now.
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Getting the No. 3 spot over the No. 4 or 5 spot has plenty of advantages, not the least of which is the potential to avoid having to face the Golden State Warriors until the Western Conference Finals. If Golden State hangs on for the top seed, whichever team finishes No. 3 will face Denver in the second round instead. The Nuggets are a quality team, but all 3 of those teams would rather face Denver than Golden State so early in the playoffs.
So, tonight’s game in Portland between the Thunder and Blazers comes with plenty on the line.
The following odds are courtesy of our live odds feed:
|2019 ATS Home||16-15-0||21-11-0|
|2019 ATS Away||17-16-0||16-16-0|
|2019 O/U Home||17-13-1||16-15-1|
|2019 O/U Away||13-19-1||17-15-0|
The Blazers suffered a 120-111 loss in Memphis in their last game, but it wrapped up what was still a largely successful road trip. Portland went 5-2 on their season-long 7-game road swing, a trip that included wins over teams like the 76ers and Celtics.
The Blazers are technically only in third place in their own division with Denver and Oklahoma City ahead of them, but this seems to be the most well-rounded team they have had in the last handful of years. Portland actively added some depth by trading for scoring swingman Rodney Hood and signing Enes Kanter off the buyout market. Kanter is miscast as a starting center, but he does have some usefulness serving as the backup to Jusuf Nurkic.
Kanter can score, but his defense is sorely lacking. So, playing him 17-20 minutes is unlikely to kill the Blazers with Nurkic still soaking up most of the minutes. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are still handling the vast majority of the offensive work, even with the team having added some help. Lillard is averaging a shade under 26 points per game on the season, and this will mark the fourth straight year in which he has averaged at least 25 points a night.
Portland has been one of the best bets in the league this season against the spread. The Blazers always see themselves as underdogs, so perhaps there’s a reason for that. The Blazers’ record of 37-27-0 against the spread, which is the third-best mark in the league behind only Milwaukee and Sacramento.
The Thunder, meanwhile, have hit a rough patch. Paul George just missed a couple of games due to injury, but he returned for the last outing against the Timberwolves. OKC has now dropped 5 of their last 6 games overall, which has helped Portland and Houston catch up to them in the standings. Oklahoma City suffered a rather discouraging 131-120 loss to the Timberwolves in their last game.
The story for the Thunder this season has been the rise of George. We all knew George was an All-Star, but this season he has taken a huge step forward. PG-13 leads the Thunder with an average of 28.6 points per game, which would be a career-best if he’s able to keep it up for the rest of the season. His heightened offensive role has meant Russell Westbrook has taken something of a back seat offensively, but Westbrook is still averaging a triple-double for the third consecutive season.
The Thunder have proven to be a difficult matchup for the Blazers so far this season. Oklahoma City is 3-0 against their Northwest Division rivals so far this season, so they have already clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker if the 2 teams wind up tied in the standings at the end of the year.
The Thunder went up to Portland to notch a 111-109 win in their first meeting back on January 4. They followed it up with a 123-114 win on January 22 and a 120-111 triumph in their last meeting on February 11. The Blazers have some excellent perimeter defenders, but they have been completely inept when it comes to stopping George. OKC’s MVP candidate is averaging a robust 40 points per game along with 9.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 50 percent shooting through the first 3 meetings this season against the Trail Blazers.
Beating the same team 4 times in one season is a difficult feat, but the Thunder just look like a bad matchup for the Blazers. Oklahoma City has been stingy defensively against the guard positions, and that’s obviously where Portland butters their bread. Lillard will still find a way to get his points, but it’s tough not to like OKC here as underdogs.
You won’t often get this Thunder team at plus odds, which makes them an intriguing value bet this evening. The Thunder have obviously had the Blazers’ number, so I like them quite a bit against the spread and to win the game straight-up on the moneyline. Taking OKC to cover the 4-point spread is obviously the safer bet at -110, but the value on Oklahoma City to win the game outright at +135 is where the money is.
If you want the safe bet, bet OKC against the spread. If you are shooting for upside, bet the Thunder to win on the moneyline.
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