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Western Conference Round 1 Preview

There’s no doubt that there’s better basketball to be played in the thoroughly dense Western Conference. You can bet on the series prices for the opening round by following this link, and check out the NBA futures here. For the most part, the matchups speak for themselves and the odds back up what you’re probably already thinking. But Utah-OKC? That’s far from a closed discussion.

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No. 1 Houston Rockets vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves
NBA Series Price: HOU -3000 over MIN +1500

Do I really need to go in to details bout this one? Houston has been the outright best team in the NBA all season, and they have TWO starting rotations that are both unstoppable. That’s insane. You can lob a flier at Minnesota if you want to, but the chances of them really shining with such young stars and a half-healthy Jimmy Butler are very slim.

We just haven’t seen anything out of Andrew Wiggins this year. He’s hardly in the conversation, doesn’t truly put up highlights on a nightly basis and just hasn’t generated much buzz. This isn’t hyperbole – he is a great player worthy of a “max” but he just hasn’t found his identity yet.

Houston has some flaws, but you need to be an exceptional scoring team to pace with them. Minnesota has maybe one game in them. They only real reason that Houston unravels is if the team just turns on each other with Chris Paul barking negativity at his teammates and punching a hole in the hull of the ship. That may happen deeper in the playoffs, but not now and not against a Minnesota team they can sleepwalk through.

Again, as I’ve said all season long, banking on Houston long term in the NBA futures might be a bit of a fool’s errand. James Harden wore down last year, Chris Paul has never managed to get it done and Mike d’Antoni is practically cursed. It’s certainly not a lack of playoff experience and more so the lack of playoff success.

Game 1 – Sunday, April 15th – MIN at HOU -11.5

No. 2 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs
NBA Series Price: GSW -1300 over SAS +875

I mean…it’s sort of tempting? Stephen Curry is out but then again so is Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs went just 12-11 SU over the second half of the season, rising all the way up to third and dropping way down to ninth at one point. The wild, wild west indeed.

Besides, like Houston, you’re probably not going to bet on Golden State to win the series because it requires so much risk to make it worthwhile. And it might be a lock in the eyes of the oddsmakers, but it certainly doesn’t feel like one.

Curry’s absence not withstanding, the Golden State Warriors are loaded on paper. You know the players and they’re all really, really good. I’m not going to bother listing stats. They’re the defending champions.

But this same team has been a bit unhinged through the year, haven’t they? Durant is probably the best scorer in the league right now, but he’s also racked up a ton of technical fouls. There’s been some laziness, some in fighting. It’s the usual baggage that piles up when you’re so successful and red lining for so long. Things have gotten so strange that even Draymond Green is getting kicked in the nuts by accident.

All of that speaks to mental fatigue, and Golden State is counting on the fact that they can just flick a switch, and honestly that doesn’t happen just because you want it to all the time. Of course, this could all just be posturing and Golden State really can just turn the engine up to full blast and then we all look like dummies.

In terms of the western conference, there aren’t many series where you can turn a little in to a lot, and a bet on the Spurs might be worth it if you can talk yourself in to the idea that the Warriors are running on fumes. It’s a flaccid argument – I get that part.

I also understand that any curiosities I have about this series will be crushed once Game 1 starts and I realize “Oh yeah…they’re the FREAKING WARRIORS”.

Game 1 – Saturday, April 14th – SA at GS -8.0

No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans
NBA Series Price: POR -205 over NO +175

The paradox of Boogie Cousins is that we all wish he was healthy enough to take part in this series, but would the Pelicans have made the playoffs with him? Anyways, that’s all the time I’m going to spend on Boogie. If he was on the court with Anthony Davis, I would be so punch drunk love with this big man combination that I’d lose all my money. It’s just such a fun idea with these two that I’m so very much in to because it shouldn’t make sense but does and didn’t work but who cares.

New Orleans is such a fascinating little roster, and I mean that in a nice way because they have a bench that doesn’t even deserved to be talked about by name. Anthony Davis is a devourer of worlds, and perhaps the only guy in the league with potential equal to LeBron James (yes, that’s a silly thing to say but whatever). He’s surrounded by a bunch of guys I like in weird fan ways. Rondo’s an electric passer. Jrue can get scorching hot. Mirotic is such an under appreciated gap filly. And E’Twaun Moore is a straight lunch pail sort of guy - very blue collar.

The Pelicans ranked 3rd in scoring with 111.7 points per game and that’s fantastic. They’ll need that to keep up with Portland. But they don’t have anyone on the bench who can step in and maintain momentum. It’s a passable starting five that some of us can talk ourselves in to. Having a player like Davis doesn’t just move the needle, it shoves the needle the other way. He’s that big of a difference maker.

The difference between New Orleans and Portland? Well, you can talk yourself in to the Pelicans being pretty good. With the Blazers, you can almost convince yourself that they’re good enough to beat Houston and Golden State. Yes, I am that high on them.

Damian Lillard isn’t just peaking, he’s a problem for any other team. Rondo and Jrue won’t be able to stop him, let alone match up against the combination of Dame and CJ McCollum. I’m already running out of room to talk about the first round of the western conference playoffs, and I haven’t even gotten to the Utah Jazz. What I will say about Portland is that they’re a very big threat and my favorite outsider to steal the conference championship.

In terms of betting advice, this series belongs to the Trail Blazers and that’s your pick if you’re going long term. But New Orleans has intrinsic, stand alone value when it comes to the game line. They’re +5.5 point dogs in Portland for Game 1. As I said when I started, they’re tempting, but not for the long haul.

Game 1 – Saturday, April 14th – NO at POR -5.5

No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz
NBA Series Price: OKC -145 over UTAH +125

Give Utah your money right now. Quin Snyder is going to win coach of the year and this team is very, very, very good. One of the best elements of the team is how balanced they are across the rotation. Utah ranks out 19th in scoring, but they routinely have four or five guys a night that score double digits. Plus, they’re one of the best defensive teams in the league thanks to the return of Rudy Gobert.

Utah is also the farthest thing from a public team in the NBA, and the odds with Oklahoma City are still this tight. That should tell you something right there. If you do the man-to-man matchups, Oklahoma City would win hands down. Steven Adams is the best front court player in this series. Russell Westbrook is a freaking reigning MVP (and I do not care about what you think about his stats). There’s also Paul George playing like the best two-way threat in the league not named LeBron James.

So why is Utah so close? Well for one thing, Donovan Mitchell has been an absolute super nova as a rookie. He is just a few weeks removed from dropping 35 points on San Antonio, and leading an 110-91 drubbing of the Warriors with 22 points and 6 assists. What steadies Mitchell more than anything is that he has a team-first mentality and he is flanked by numerous league veterans like Rubio and Crowder who know how to extract the best from him.

Ultimately, Utah is playing with house money. They’ve already won this year after losing Gordon Hayward, worming their way in to some weird trades that brought in workhorse Jae Crowder, and have elevated their status in a very dense western conference. They have a superstar in the making, one of the best coaches in the league and a transformative defensive force in Gobert. When you’re playing ahead like that, you can let loose in a playoff series.

The stakes are much higher for an Oklahoma City team that is on the verge of playing for the championship this year, and also teetering on the brink of losing Paul George and seeing all of their efforts over the past ten years go up in smoke.

If you do line these teams up, then Gobert-Adams and Westbrook-Mitchell are basic toss-ups. Yes, that’s how dominant Mitchell has been since the break. But the real question is whether or not Snyder can find a way to mitigate what Paul George does on both ends of the floor. That’s really the tough part.

But Utah, thankfully, has been incredible at overcoming these kind of generalities by being uber specific in what they do on the court. Their defence is so good that it’s been the best in the league since the All-Star break according to advanced metrics. Their defensive rating is 96.0 which is the only double-digit rating in the NBA. It’s more than 10 points better than the Thunder, who rank 15th in this regard.

This is the best series in the western conference’s first round because we always, always talk about offence. Utah is about to put the clamps on three of the most prolific talents in the NBA (yes I have to lump Melo in there and I don’t like it either). The Jazz have found value in surprising alleyways and then maximized talents. Rubio is shooting 46.3 percent from three point range for the last three months for goodness sakes. Sure, he doesn’t take a lot of threes but that clip is the best of his career.

All hail Snyder. If we’re going to heap praise on Brad Stevens, it’s time we bet money on good coaching. Snyder is everything the Thunder were hoping Billy Donavan would be. They’ve each had different challenges. For Billy, it’s been about melding a lot of very strong personalities. Snyder has created a different mentality, and his overall team is united and simply playing more cohesively than the Thunder. We have 82 games of a knit-together Utah Jazz operating like one of the best teams in the league, while the ultra talented Thunder still don’t feel like they have everything figured out.

In terms of betting commodities, that’s why the Jazz are the most likely upset specialist in the entire first round.

Game 1 – Sunday, April 15th – Utah at OKC -3.5

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