Still see Rockets-Warriors in Western Conference Finals
April 17, 2018 3:03 AM
by Tony Mejia
New Orleans and Indiana pulled off the only upsets, stealing homecourt advantage from Portland and Cleveland. After breaking down the East last week – yes, I still recommend riding the Cavs despite the early loss and dig the 7-to-4 odds – we’ll break down the Western Conference below.
Despite all the parity since the teams seeded third through eighth behind the Rockets and Warriors were separated by just two games, it’s hard to imagine anyone stepping up and preventing that Western Conference finals from coming to fruition.
(odds c/o Westgate)
Houston Rockets (EVEN): James Harden went 6-for-6 on isolations against Minnesota and 5-for-5 from 3-point range to help the Rockets hold off the Timberwolves in a series opener that they always appeared to be in control of despite a tighter final margin of victory than expected. Houston failed to cover as a double-digit underdog despite Harden’s brilliance, but that shouldn’t scare you off if you believe this won’t be the Warriors’ year.
Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson rested down the stretch and Chris Paul got himself right as well, so Mike D’Antoni has his full arsenal in play. The Timberwolves are a tough matchup on paper with Jimmy Butler back and Karl-Anthony Towns playing as well as he has, but Houston won its four regular-season meetings against the Wolves by double-digits, surrendering 122.8 points per game.
Golden State Warriors (5/6): With Stephen Curry sidelined until later in this series at the earliest, guys like Quinn Cook and Nick Young will have to make contributions, but it’s not like Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson can’t shoulder the scoring load enough to get past the depleted Spurs. It’s also an advantage that the Blazers/Pelicans ended up being the matchup on their side of the bracket even though they lost the last three meetings against those two and ended up just 5-3 on the season. Both OKC and Utah are tougher to match up with for the defending champs, which looked sharp in never giving San Antonio a chance from the opening tip.
Portland Trail Blazers (40/1): The Blazers finally snapped their late-season slump in order to finish atop the Northwest Division, holding on to a homecourt advantage they badly needed but immediately squandered away. The Blazers shot less than 38 percent in their Game 1 loss to the Pelicans, who stifled the home team from the perimeter. You can’t write this group off just yet, but my call for an upset in the 3-6 series in the West certainly picked up a boost.
Center Jusuf Nurkic came on late in the season and will be the x-factor in the series, but the loss of underrated small forward Mo Harkless to knee surgery was one that will be difficult to overcome. CJ McCollum is slumping at the wrong time. Damian Lillard dominated the regular-season finale against Utah but has been bothered by ankle soreness and had a really rough playoff opener. Even if the Trail Blazers rally to get past New Orleans, they may have little left for a duel with Golden State.
Oklahoma City Thunder (15/1): Paul George rediscovering his shooting stroke after admitting he felt off over the season’s final weeks is a major development and one reason why it might be worth getting back on the OKC bandwagon. He scored 36 points and drilled 8-of-11 3-pointers to help get the Thunder postseason started with a flourish. Carmelo Anthony coasted down the stretch and may surprise with his ability to take and make big shots.
Meanwhile, Corey Brewer ultimately became an effective replacement for Andre Roberson as a defensive wing. If those fringe guys answer the bell and Westbrook and George continue to be unstoppable forces on the floor, Houston will likely have more work to do to get out of the conference semifinals than Golden State.
Utah Jazz (50/1): Rudy Gobert’s ability to impact a series as the most dominant defensive force in the league today will be on display against the Thunder but may not loom as large against a perimeter-oriented team like the Rockets. Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio have really been tremendous down the stretch, which must continue to have a shot at getting out of this first series.
An MRI on Mitchell’s foot contusion suffered in the opener came back negative, but his status for Game 2 is up in the air and any hindrance felt due to the injury could be a deal-breaker in getting past Oklahoma City.
New Orleans Pelicans (50/1): The Pelicans saw their odds improve from 100-to-1 after they were able to hold off Portland’s fourth-quarter flurry If Anthony Davis can stay healthy, the Pelicans have one of the game’s most dominant forces to depend on in a winnable series against the Blazers. He scored 36 points in each of 2018’s meetings with Portland, shooting 31-for-47.
Assuming Terry Stotts sends double-teams his way, advancing will likely depend on Nikola Mirotic and E’twaun Moore making the most of their open looks. Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday will get the job done at both ends of the floor to give the Pelicans a fighting chance to finish off the Trail Blazers.
San Antonio Spurs (100/1): With Kawhi Leonard now ruled out for the postseason, oddsmakers have made San Antonio a real long shot after holding off to start the postseason. LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Dejonte Murray, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Danny Green will form the core of a team likely to be competitive but not talented enough to take seriously in a series against a heavyweight like Golden State.
Minnesota Timberwolves (150/1): Can Jamal Crawford have a big game or two against the Rockets? How about Jeff Teague? The Wolves have two of the best players in the league in Butler and Towns, so Houston will have its hands full if those fringe guys can knock down shots and get going. After ending a lengthy postseason drought, Minnesota is playing with house money and will at least get some playoff experience out of the deal. They displayed some fight in Game 1 but will need Crawford and Teague to have special games to break through and get on the board with even one upset since they’re going to be home underdog when their series shifts to Minneapolis.