Rip City new threat in NBA West

Rip City new threat in NBA West

March 06, 2018 3:05 AM

It’s unheard of to see an NBA division leader getting 100-to-1 odds to win a conference, but I suppose it’s rare to see two teams emerge as heavier favorites than the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets have on this year’s futures landscape.

Getting in on Houston earlier in the season has proven to be the shrewdest move in NBA betting since they’re down to 3/2 to win the West and just 2/1 to win a title at Westgate after opening at 15/1 and 30/1, respectively. Golden State remains the heavy favorite to win both, while the East remains wide open since the Cavs have fallen out of their role as a heavy chalk.

From a sheer value standpoint, it’s still wild that a Northwest Division-leading Trail Blazers team that took a six-game winning streak into Staples Center for a Monday night date with the Lakers is going off at 100-to-1 to win their conference. To win it all – and why the heck wouldn’t you go this route if you’ve got them coming out of the West – Portland would currently pay out 200-to-1.

This is the team that entered March 5 with the third-longest winning streak and fifth-best record in the entire NBA, and yet the likelihood of them getting through both the Rockets and Warriors is so far-fetched the books would love for you to come in on the Trail Blazers.

Get excited about Rip City!

They don’t need any help being giddy in Portland as March Madness approaches, and it has nothing to do with college basketball. At least this season’s version.

Last year, Gonzaga made a run to the national championship game, so many of the city’s fans, who may have been rooting for the school from Spokane that’s roughly six hours away, got a look at Zach Collins, a 7-foot freshman who exclusively came off the bench for the Bulldogs. He posted a double-double and blocked six shots in the loss to North Carolina and made the All-Tournament team in the NCAAs, turning pro and landing in the lottery.

Over the weekend, the Blazers started really cashing in on his promise.

Collins ran the floor and finished a plus-17 in making five of his six shots and playing great defense to emerge as the x-factor in Saturday’s 108-100 win over Oklahoma City. The No. 10 pick is a former standout at Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman, so he’s no secret to some of the local readers. As things stand, he could be one reason to at least throw some money on the Blazers to hold off their opposition in a loaded Northwest that has emerged as the NBA’s most competitive division.

In scoring a career-high 12 points and playing more minutes than starting center Jusuf Nurkic and primary backup Ed Davis, Collins emerged as a viable option to help give teams different looks since his athleticism makes him a much better defender than Nurkic, who can often be a liability in that department.

This is the deepest into a season the Trail Blazers led the division since winning the Northwest in 2014-2015, but the lead is tenuous. Minnesota hovers just a half-game behind entering the week and OKC is just one game back and figures to improve down the stretch. Denver, coming off a big win in Cleveland, is trying to make a big move itself after getting Paul Millsap’s services back, while Utah looms as the only last-place team in the NBA with a win, entering the week with victories in eight of 10. Every other cellar-dweller is at least 20 games under .500.

While Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum still do the heavy lifting, quality depth has begun to develop. Shabazz Napier is making an impact as the backup point. Mo Harkless and Pat Connaughton have obviously improved. Then there’s Collins, who can really thrive as a difference-maker if he’s able to duplicate last year’s big March in the pros.

The rookie had eight points and six boards in 18 minutes against Sacramento, the franchise that drafted him for Portland, to close out February. So we’ll see if he’s truly ready to contribute after he slumped for most of the month, making just four of 24 shots prior to the All-Star break. The Blazers love his intangibles and potential. His offensive struggles appear entirely tied to confidence, so getting him going is essential to the Blazers’ success this season.

Portland is home for seven of the next eight between now and March 23, returning only to Staples Center for a date with the Clippers on March 18. The Warriors, Heat, Cavs, Rockets and Celtics will be among the teams that come through town, so we’re about to find out exactly what the Blazers are truly capable of.

They beat the Warriors on Feb. 14, sending a message just before the All-Star break. They’ve lost to the Rockets twice, but play them two more times on March 20 and April 5, giving them an opportunity to get some licks in. Although it absolutely is farfetched that the Blazers will shock the world and win a title as they haven’t even reached the West finals since 2000, they do have a backcourt that can shoot down anyone in a single game. For that reason, 200-to-1 seems like a fun lottery ticket.

After all, if the Vegas-born Collins gets to deliver upsets over Houston and Golden State, why wouldn’t he help conquer the East’s lone survivor. Anybody got early Finals MVP odds? One might be able to retire on that.