No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Portland Trail Blazers Betting Preview
Line: Denver -1
Where: Ball Arena
When: Saturday, 5/22 at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Nikola Jokic is viewed as a lock to win the MVP in the betting market.
He is going to have to play like the MVP if No. 3 Denver wants to get off to a strong start in its opening-round series against No. 6 Portland. The Nuggets are without star guard Jamal Murray for the rest of the season, so Jokic has to carry the load.
Bettors are expecting Portland’s duo of guards to take advantage of a Murray-less Denver team. The Nuggets opened as 1.5-point favorites, but the line has dipped to a pick’em as of Friday afternoon before going back up to -1. Saturday’s total opened at 228.5 and has fallen to 227.5 and even 227 at a few spots.
Point guard Damian Lillard and shooting guard C.J. McCollum have had their moments in the playoffs, and this series could decide the fate of their head coach. Terry Stotts has 2/1 odds to be the head coach next season.
This first-round series is a rematch from a first-round series in 2019, where Portland came away with a 4-3 victory. It’s also a rematch from last Sunday, where the Trail Blazers notched a 132-116 win to close the regular season.
Portland is happy to have McCollum healthy after he missed two months with a fractured foot. Lillard carried the team in his absence, averaging 29 points per game. He scored 23.0 points and dished out 9.3 assists in three games against Denver this season.
McCollum faced them twice, averaging 19 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Jusuf Nurkic also missed two months of the regular season with a right wrist injury. He averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds in two games against the Nuggets.
It will take a team effort to slow down Jokic, who nearly averages a triple-double. He is scoring 26.4 points, grabbing 10.8 rebounds and dishing out 8.3 assists per game. Jokic scored 29.0 PPG in the three games against Portland.
With Murray sidelined, Denver needs Michael Porter Jr. to step up. He has two double-doubles in five career games against the Blazers, but he only averaged 12.7 PPG against them this season. The second-year forward was huge down the stretch this year, scoring 25.4 PPG over the final month of the regular season.
Denver has some depth available with JaMychal Green, Facu Campazzo, Austin Rivers and JaVale McGee, although River is listed as ‘questionable’ for Game 1. The Nuggets lost Jerami Grant, Gary Harris, Torrey Craig and Mason Plumlee after last season. They were without guard Will Barton for the final 13 games of the season due to a hamstring strain. He is ‘out’ of Game 1 but hopes to return at some point in the series.
The Nuggets rely on a defense that is No. 12 in the NBA, but their offense is No. 27 in points per game. Portland is second in points per 100 possessions, but its defense finished second-to-last in the league.
Portland has been a covering machine of late, going 4-1 ATS in its last five games and 7-1 ATS in its last eight road games. Denver slumped a little down the stretch, going 2-4 ATS. The Nuggets are 3-8 ATS in their last 11 Western Conference games.
The Trail Blazers have gone ‘under’ in four of their last six games, while Denver has gone ‘over’ in four of its last six. They have played ‘over’ at a 12-6 clip in their last 18 head-to-head meetings. Denver is 10-3 straight-up in its last 13 home games against Portland.
The pick: Denver -1
It feels like the betting market could be overreacting to several factors heading into Game 1. The obvious adjustment is being made because Murray is out, but Denver’s numbers didn’t change much once he went down. Another overreaction might be based on the final score of Sunday’s game, where Denver rested its starters in the second half. Jokic has been essentially unstoppable against Portland and the Nuggets are playing at home, so taking them at -1 feels cheap.