Gotta hand it to the Portland Trail Blazers. They are a crazy mystery as the NBA gets set to resume its season at the end of July.
Only one team voted against commissioner Adam Silver’s plan to resume the season with 22 teams.
Who cast the one negative vote?
That would be Jody Allen, the sister of the late Paul Allen. She is in charge of Vulcan Inc. and is also the head of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and she has been in charge of the Blazers since Allen died in October 2018.
Lest we forget, the Blazers made it all the way to the Western Conference finals last season before losing to the Golden State Warriors in a sweep. Perhaps that 4-0 loss caused an early-season hangover, but what happened in November, December and January will not necessarily translate into impacting what happens later this summer.
A fresh start
Portland is set to have Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins on the court together for the first time, and both will enhance the value of Hassan Whiteside, who was having a Most Improved Player type of season before the NBA went on hold.
There is no arguing with the thought that the Blazers have one of the top three backcourt duos in the NBA with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and although they were the league’s biggest underachievers from November through March, will that necessarily carry over to Orlando?
It is a question worth asking because no NBA team is priced quite so crazily in the legalized US sports gambling market when it comes to NBA championship futures odds.
Oregonian beat writer Casey Holdahl reported the Blazers are “very excited to return” to play, but they thought other proposals were better. Health concerns likely were a factor on their vote, and they may have wanted to support some comments from Lillard when he said he wanted a true opportunity to make the playoffs.
If the Blazers finish ninth, they would have to beat the eighth-place team two times in order to qualify for the postseason. The No. 8 team would only have to beat them once to advance, under the rules for a resumption of the season being voted on Friday by NBA players.
If the Blazers ended up making the playoffs, they would have a first round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers, who they went 1-2 against during the regular season. Still, having Nurkic and Collins back, combined with Whiteside, would give Portland a huge size advantage against Los Angeles. And as we have learned through the years, anything can happen in a first round series. Given that it would be played on a neutral court in Orlando, there is a huge unknown in play this summer.
Why such a disparity?
“There’s not too much to report on Portland,” said Patrick Eichner, a spokesman for PointsBet. “The Pelicans (+25000) represent out biggest liability, while the Nets (+6000 currently) are out No. 2. With Kevin Durant’s return looking like a possibility, the Nets have seen a price adjustment from +25000 on March 11 to +6000 today.”
PointsBet has seen the 76ers take the most bets to win the Eastern Conference, followed by the Bucks and the Nets.
“Lack of a home court advantage is absolutely a disadvantage, especially for a team like the 76ers who truly excelled this season at the Wells Fargo Center with a 29-2 record on their home floor. Neutral site games will be more of a disadvantage for the higher seed as opposed to an advantage for the underdog, but regardless, it will even the playing field a little bit,” Eichner said.
DraftKings Sportsbook ‘exposed’ on Trail Blazers
Johnny Avello, director of the sports book for DraftKings, said he has seen a steady volume of $100 and $200 bets come in on Portland.
“We are certainly exposed on them,” Avello said. “I saw a bunch of action on them for several straight days, and I am not sure why. Maybe the bettors think they underperformed, and perhaps they are seeing good value. That team never really had any momentum going. But if you start a new season – and that is what we have going on here, maybe they come out a little revitalized.”
Portland is currently ninth in the West, and under the rules that the NBA decided upon, they would have to move into eighth place and defeat whoever is in ninth place in a play-in mini-tournament in order to qualify for the postseason. (Ninth-place teams would have to go 2-0 against No. 8 seeds, while No. 8 seeds would have to win one game against a No. 9 seed in order to advance.)
Much is still up in the air
The resumption of the NBA season is still more than seven weeks away, and there is no telling what other kind of developments could occur between now and then.
All anyone can say for certain is that by the time the season resumes, there will be an appetite for something decent to watch on TV that may allow the NBA and its broadcast partners to break all sorts of records.
As for Portland, this bears repeating: They are healthy, and nobody in the West can match their size at full strength. Yes, Paul Allen’s sister is a little flaky, and yes, Neil Olshey will probably be out of a job if they fail to get into the playoffs or advance once they are there.
But late July is still a long way off. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.