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August 24, 2019

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NBA Playoffs betting: Vegas picks and preview of Western Conference Finals

Lillard and McCollum

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) and Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) in the second half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Denver. Portland won 97-90.

Game 1

  • 6 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN
  • Point Spread: Trailblazers plus-8 at Warriors
  • Moneyline: Golden State minus-350, Portland plus-270
  • Total: over/under: 219.5
  • Talking Points' pick: Trailblazers plus-8

Blazers vs. Warriors exact series odds

  • Trailblazers in 4 — 45-to-1
  • Trailblazers in 5 — 25-to-1
  • Trailblazers in 6 — 9-to-1
  • Trailblazers in 7 — 12-to-1
  • Warriors in 4 — 9-to-2
  • Warriors in 5 — 2-to-1
  • Warriors in 6 — 3-to-1
  • Warriors in 7 — 4-to-1
  • Talking Points' pick — Warriors in 6 at 3-to-1

Steve Kerr was ahead of the curve.

For years, the Golden State Warriors coach has outspokenly sung the praises of the duo currently commanding all the voices in the NBA world. Kerr extolled the promises of the Portland Trailblazers’ Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum before they were ever fully realized.

Going into Golden State’s first season with Kevin Durant, Kerr surprisingly picked Lillard — then a 35-to-1 long shot — to win the MVP award. When the Warriors matched up with the Trailblazers in the first round of that same postseason two years ago, he declared forcing McCollum out of his comfort zone as a key to advancing.

Lillard played at an MVP-level in Portland’s first-round victory over Oklahoma City last month, and Denver’s inability to contain McCollum for the majority of a second-round series ultimately ended its season in Sunday’s Game 7.

No teammate twosome has scored more in this year’s NBA Playoffs than Lillard and McCollum going into a Western Conference Finals matchup against their loudest external advocate. Kerr will need to combat the one-two punch he always considered lethal in order to put the Warriors in position to win a third straight NBA championship and their fourth in five years.

Lillard and McCollum will need to be more than the series’ leading scorers to beat the Warriors; they’ll need to be the best players on the floor. That’s a tall enough order against Golden State’s healthy championship core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala before even considering the potential returns of Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins.

The betting odds aren’t totally dismissive, though. Portland is currently a plus-375 (risking $1 to win $3.75) underdog to win the series with Golden State coming back at minus-500 (risking $5 to win $1).

After adjusting for hold percentage, the line implies about a 19 percent chance the Trailblazers do the unthinkable and beat the Warriors — or the same probability oddsmakers gave them to get this far in the playoffs to begin with. While there hasn’t been a single upset in any other playoff series, Portland has pulled a pair for the franchise to get to its first semifinals in 19 years.

The Trailblazers were plus-130 against the Thunder in the first round before prevailing in five games, and plus-125 ahead of their seven-game win versus the Nuggets.

There’s a strong case to be made that they were undervalued going into the playoffs — and that it was a result of their star power with Lillard and McCollum — but it’s hard to say that’s still true going into this series. The makeup of the two teams isn’t that much different from their aforementioned 2017 series, and Portland was an astronomical 40-to-1 ahead of that eventual sweep.

The Trailblazers have gotten the best of the Warriors in their encounters since that postseason meeting though. In the last two seasons, Portland is 4-2 straight-up and against the spread versus Golden State with a plus-8 point differential.

Golden State’s stock isn’t exactly scraping the bottom either. It dipped a tad after Durant left Game 5 against the Rockets with a calf strain but appears to be restored after the Warriors closed out the series on the road with a 118-113 win as 7-point underdogs in the next contest.

That Curry- and Thompson-led performance prompted some fans to mock those who ever suggested the Durant-less Warriors might be in trouble and serve unnecessary reminders that they had already won a title before the latter's arrival.

But one game, even a gutsy series-clincher on the road, isn’t enough to draw a conclusion that Golden State is fine without Durant. It’s a hastiness that may have extended into the betting market.

The 8-point spread in Game 1 is the same number that Golden State laid to Portland in the teams’ only previous meeting at Oracle Arena this season — and that was with the Durant in the lineup. Portland pulled the upset, winning 110-109 in overtime.

It was one of many times this season the Trailblazers hinted at the ability to make the type of run they’ve ultimately put together. It’s almost surely ending against Golden State, but maybe neither as quickly as most anticipate nor without cashing a few tickets.

Lillard and McCollum are as dangerous as Kerr has long espoused, and now it’s up to the coach and his players to deal with them at the peak of their powers.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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