Let’s face it … the Portland Trail Blazers did not look good Wednesday night.
Damian Lillard, who came in averaging 34.8 points in the playoffs, was held to 14 points on 5-for-17 shooting. C.J. McCollum missed 12 of 20 shots, and the Blazers looked rather ordinary in dispatching the Nuggets 97-90 to even the series at one game apiece.
Game 3 will be in Portland, and the Blazers are sitting at 40-1 to win the NBA championship at DraftKings SportsBook – which is astonishing given that the Nuggets are 25-1 … and one of those two teams is going to the Western Conference Finals. The Blazers are -138 to win the series at DraftKings going into Game 3.
Portland’s odds FanDuel Sportsbook were even higher: 50-1 early Thursday before dropping to 32-1, which means those who believe in Enes Kanter and the lesser Curry and Rodney Hood are still get extraordinary value for a small-market team that nobody seems to want to talk about.
But a trail to the title?
Here’s the thing about this year’s NBA playoffs: The Warriors look vulnerable, LeBron James is on vacation somewhere, everybody wants to talk about the Lakers, the draft and free agency …. and ratings are down significantly from a year ago: The 41 first round games were down 18 percent from a year ago (Tiger Woods winning the Masters had something to do with that), and Sunday’s Rockets-Warriors Game 1 on ABC delivered 7.3 million viewers, the best first- or second-round game since the deciding Thunder/Lakers Game 5 in 2012 drew 8.15 million viewers on TNT.
Outside of Oregon, there are not a lot of folks holding Blazers viewing parties, and the prospect of a Milwaukee-Portland NBA Finals is what is keeping Adam Silver awake at night.
But be that as it may, there are years when the two teams that make it all the way to the finals are simply not glamour teams. The NBA just has to live with it, and the folks that benefit are Major League Soccer, Major League Baseball, etc.
Diehard NBA fans, however, don’t really care. They’ll watch the two best teams regardless of whether they are sexy teams or not … and truth be told, the Blazers can be pretty darn glamorous when they are doing stuff like winning at the buzzer on 37-footers from Lillard as they did in closing out their first-round series against the Thunder.
Value is value
The trick for those who like to wager is getting in on the action before the price drops.
This writer dropped a $20 wager on Portland back on Feb. 18 when the odds were sitting at 74-1, and another $40 on March 24 when the odds had dropped to 40-1.
The fact that the odds remain that high is confounding, but the smart bettor knows when the time is right to make a wager that offers a premium payout. Everyone is saying the Houston Rockets are dead because they trail the Golden State Warriors 2-0 in their best-of-seven series, but James Harden is not the type of guy you want to count out. And if those two teams end up going seven games, the winner of the Portland-Denver series is going to go up against a tired and perhaps injured opponent. Denver is sitting at 25-1 at DraftKings and 27-1 FanDuel.
What will be memorable about Game 2 of the Portland series is Torrey Craig’s busted nose, the “Kanter sucks” chants late in the game, and the bow ties that the Portland coaching staff wore in honor of injured development coach Jonathan Yim, who was seriously injured in a car crash.
The Nuggets were somewhat awful in every aspect of the game, but especially when it came to converting passes from Nikola Jokic. Denver finished just 6-for-29 from 3-point range.
Where this series goes from here is unknown. But again, there is value here from a wagering standpoint because one of these teams is guaranteed to be in the NBA’s Final Four.
For Blazers believers, the trick is getting those wagers in before the odds drop to where they should be.