They took out Westbrook and the Thunder in Round 1, and on Sunday they took down the Joker and the Denver Nuggets. They are the biggest mystery team among the four remaining NBA contenders, and their championship odds have dropped from 45-1 a week ago to 15-1 today.
So the question is: Are the Portland Trail Blazers still a good bet to win their first NBA championship since 1977 when Dr. Jack Ramsay was their coach?
The answer: Perhaps.
And here are five reasons why.
1. The Kevin Durant factor
Durant missed Game 6 of the series against the Rockets with a calf injury, and the severity of that injury remains a mystery. Teams tend to downplay injuries in situations such as these because they do not want to give their opponent a competitive advantage, but if Durant is going to miss any significant portion of time, that is to Portland’s advantage.
Durant has already been ruled out for Tuesday’s Game 1, and he will be re-evaluated prior to Game 2. That makes conditions ripe for the Blazers to steal one of the first two games in Oakland, robbing the defending champs of homecourt advantage.
2. The DeMarcus Cousins factor
Cousins is reportedly making progress from his strained quad and expects to make a return sometime during the series, which will be a relief to all members of Warriors nation who cringed through Andrew Bogut’s 12 minutes of scoreless action during Game 6 against the Rockets.
But until Cousins returns, Enes Kanter could be the x-factor for the Blazers in the low post. Kanter logged 40 minutes in Game 7 against the Nuggets, producing 12 points and 13 rebounds. Match him up against Bogut (instead of Jokic), and it is not inconceivable that those numbers will double. Again, another reason why the Blazers could take Game 1 or 2 in Oakland and steal homecourt advantage.
3. The Curry Factor
Should we talk about Steph? Or should we talk about Seth? Because although one may be more famous than the other, the younger of the two actually had a better year shooting the basketball.
The younger Curry shot 45 percent from 3-point range during the regular season, good for third in the league behind Brooklyn’s Joe Harris and Toronto’s Danny Green. The elder Curry made his 3s at a .437 clip, leaving him one spot behind his younger brother in the league rankings. Steph Curry is certainly the more accomplished playoff performer, but never doubt a younger brother whenever there is a sibling rivalry. Steph’s dislocated left finger is problematic, too.
4. The Damian Lillard Factor
The signature shot of this season’s NBA playoffs was Lillard’s 37-footer that knocked out the Oklahoma City Thunder, and there is nobody in the NBA who can let it fly from super-long range as well as Lillard. He has laid only two eggs in 12 playoff games thus far in the postseason, which is an acceptable success/failure rate for most folks.
The question for Steve Kerr is this: Who is going to defend him? The best bet is probably Draymond Green because Curry is too short and Klay Thompson will likely be assigned to defend C.J. McCollum. That is going to create scoring opportunities for Portland’s lesser lights, and if they shine brightly, that is another advantage for Portland.
5. The underdog factor
One team is trying to defend a championship. The other is trying to make a climb into the championship ranks. And in situations such as these, the pressure is generally stronger on the team trying to hang on to something it owns … which in this case is the Warriors.
There is a certain sense of freedom when playing when there is very little on the line (in terms of the public’s expectations), and that, too, works in favor of the Blazers. There are those out there who are expecting a Warriors sweep (the odds of that happening on DraftKings Sportsbook are 5-1; whereas the line on Portland sweeping is 40-1).
Again, getting past the defending champions is not going to be an easy task for the Blazers, and then they would have to go up against the winner of the Milwaukee-Toronto series — and try to find someone who can defend Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo. But the Blazers are more up to the task than a lot of people realize (the perils of playing in a small market), and as the longest shot on the board, they are certainly worth a flyer.