Predictions for Every NBA Western Conference First-Round Playoff Series
NBA playoff series prices come courtesy of TopBet and are accurate as of Friday, April 13. Although these lines won’t move much, if at all, in advance of all Game 1 tip-offs, you absolutely want to get in the habit of poring over them yet again after each and every contest. That’s when they are most likely to shift, as all the sportsbooks are trying to account for what’s taken place on the court and in the series thus far.
5. Utah Jazz (+120) vs. 4. Oklahoma City Thunder (-150)
Most analysts are pegging this as the best first-round series from either conference. It’s not hard to see why.
On one side, you have the Utah Jazz, this season’s second-best feel-good story (behind only the Indiana Pacers). They went from 19-28, with Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors looking unplayable, to posting the NBA’s best point differential per 100 possessions in the time since and contending for home-court advantage through the first round.
Utah defends like the league’s best defense by a mile whenever Rudy Gobert is on the court, and rookie Donovan Mitchell has proven to be a capable primary scorer despite his inexperience; the offense actually pumps in more points per 100 possessions when he plays independent of Gobert.
Both Favors and Rubio have perked up in big ways of late, and Joe Ingles remains the NBA’s most underrated switchblade. He’s a lights-out standstill shooter and looks far more comfortable launching off the dribble, and his capacity to tackle the toughest defensive assignments, ranging from point guards to power forwards should not be undersold.
Jae Crowder is defending better since being traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers. His jumper is still M.I.A., but the Jazz are a statistical fireball when they close games with him at the 4 and Gobert at the 5. Look for them to try milking that frontcourt combination through the entirety of their playoff run.
On the other side, you have the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team brimming with marquee names yet prone to wild swings in every imaginable direction.
Russell Westbrook is shooting under 30 percent from three and is one of this season’s most inefficient crunch-time players. And yet the Thunder are still nine points better per 100 possessions on the floor. Carmelo Anthony isn’t hitting many shots himself. And yet he’s taking the exact types of shots the Thunder need him to take. Oklahoma City is a disastrous 17-19 through games in which neither team trails or leads by more than three points entering the final three minutes. And yet it also owns the third-best record against above-.500 squads in the Western Conference.
Basically, the Thunder are an enigma, wrapped in another enigma, shrouded in yet another enigma still. That makes picking this series almost impossible. Don’t be surprised if and when it goes to seven games. And also don’t be taken aback if and when the Thunder win. They’re not nearly as consistent as the Jazz, but they have appreciably more go-to options in the half-court. That will be the difference.
The Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder (-150)
6. New Orleans Pelicans (+170) vs. 3. Portland Trail Blazers (-220)
Many people have this marked down as the second-best series of the postseason. And once again, it isn’t hard to see why.
Oddsmakers are favoring the Portland Trail Blazers a little too much overall. Their line should be closer to -150. The New Orleans Pelicans are that scrappy even without DeMarcus Cousins.
Since he last played, the Pelicans are first in possessions used per 48 minutes, a stark cry from how they played beforehand. Their offense isn’t as efficient overall, but they’re fifth in points allowed per 100 possessions and have a slightly better net rating.
Both Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday have been playing out of their minds at either end. Holiday is ruining lives in the half-court while switching, basically, between three positions, and Davis is putting up monster lines each and every night.
Sticking them beside Nikola Mirotic at the 4 has essentially been a cheat code. The Pelicans are outscoring opponents by 9.4 points per 100 possessions during the time these three spend together on the court.
Portland will be hard-pressed to slow that combination. Al-Farouq Aminu, the team’s best defender, will be forced to cover one of Davis or Holiday. Someone else should be able to somewhat neutralize Mirotic. But that still leaves one of Davis or Holiday relatively unaccounted for. The Pelicans don’t have a surefire stopper for either of them with Maurice Harkless still recovering from knee injury.
Stashing CJ McCollum on the less glamorous end could also be a huge problem. The smart money is on him trying to cover Darius Miller, who the Pelicans primarily use for spot offense. But he’s explored work off the dribble in recent weeks, and battling against that isn’t McCollum’s forte.
Still, Damian Lillard has been playing out of his mind basically all season. And the Blazers have some interestingly switchy lineups they can run out. The Zach Collins-Ed Davis frontcourt combination has proved extremely useful, and we might get to see more of the seldom-used Aminu-Davis dyad.
Bank on this series being close. In the end, though, the Blazers should end up being the more well-balanced squad, grinding out a first-round victory in six or seven games.
The Pick: Portland Trail Blazers (-220)
7. San Antonio Spurs (+750) vs. 2. Golden State Warriors (-1400)
The San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors house three top-five stars between them: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard.
Two of those megastuds, Curry and Leonard, probably won’t be available for this series.
Talk about a major buzzkill.
There’s no need to spend too much time dissecting this one. The Warriors are going to win. The Spurs’ defense is admirable, and their lineup of LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyle Anderson, Danny Green, Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills is nuking opponents by 12.4 points per 100 possessions. But they don’t have the from-scratch offensive chops overall to compete with a high-octane squad like the Warriors. Aldridge’s tough turnaround jumpers can only take them so far.
All that being said, this probably isn’t a series you’ll want to bet on. The Warriors have a losing record since Curry suffered his Grade 2 MCL sprain, during which time their offense has appeared human to downright below average.
Durant, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala should all kick into a different gear when the games start to matter, but they’re far from invulnerable without Curry. Plus, Leonard could technically return at any time. The Spurs have already cleared him; they’re merely waiting on him and his people to follow suit.
Again: The Spurs should not, under any imaginable circumstances, come out on top in this series. At the same time, when all they’re laying is -1400 with Curry on the sidelines, the Warriors aren’t the most economical bet.
The Pick: Golden State Warriors (-1400)
8. Minnesota Timberwolves (+1600) vs. 1. Houston Rockets (-4000)
At first glance, it seems wild that Houston Rockets would be heavier favorites in their series than the Warriors are in theirs. Yes, Golden State is missing Curry, but San Antonio doesn’t have Leonard. And the former is, on paper, better equipped to tread water without its best player.
Houston losing Luc Mbah a Moute to a dislocated left shoulder only makes it more surprising. He isn’t a high-volume offensive player, but he’s super important to the Rockets’ switch-everything defense.
Surely, then, a full-strength Minnesota Timberwolves could cause some problems for the Rockets.
Except, really, they can’t.
The reasoning here is twofold: First up, the Timberwolves don’t know how to defend properly without Jimmy Butler in the game. And even when he’s on the floor, they still lack the discipline to get back in transition.
Mostly, though, the Timberwolves just don’t have the firepower to hang with the Rockets
Consider this: Houston ranked first in three-point-attempt rate during the regular season, taking more than 50 percent of its shots from beyond the arc. Minnesota placed dead last in this same category, attempting only a tick more than 26 percent of their looks from downtown.
That variance is impossible to make up when you don’t have a premier defense. The Rockets, on average, are making over seven three-pointers more per 100 possessions than the Timberwolves. That’s a difference of more than 21 points. No, the gap won’t be that large every single game. But there will be nights when it’s huge.
Brace yourself for an actual sweep (four games) or gentleman’s sweep (five game) in this one. The Rockets will run into problems if Mbah a Moute doesn’t ever get right, but those issues won’t rear their ugly heads in this series. Houston is that far ahead of Minnesota.
The Pick: Houston Rockets (-4000)
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