Portland Trailblazers at Los Angeles Clippers (-8, 208.5 o/u)
If you lined up 100 NBA fans and asked them if they were sad to see the Memphis Grizzlies end the season losing 14 of their final 17 games, I doubt even the Memphis fan among them would say “yes.” Because the Grizz’s collapse opened the door for the surprising Portland Trailblazers (44-38, 16-25 Away) to draw the Los Angeles Clippers (53-29, 29-12 Home) in what should be the only good first round series in the West.
Game 1 between these two high-scoring teams goes tonight at the Staples Center (10:30 PM Eastern).
After losing four of five starters from last year’s playoff team, the Blazers were expected to be closer to the lottery than the postseason. But the resolve Portland has shown has been tremendous: at one point in January, the Blazers were nine games below .500. Then they put together a three-month run that will have head coach Terry Stotts in Coach of the Year conversations.
And Stotts isn’t the only Blazer chasing hardware: C.J. McCollum is almost a shoo-in for Most Improved Player. In his third season, he increased his output by 14 points per game and combined with Damian Lillard to form one of the most dangerous backcourts in the league. But with Lillard likely drawing the Chris Paul matchup for the series, the onus will be on McCollum to keep his production up if Portland is going to stand a chance.
This series also figures to be an interesting match up in the front court, thanks to the enigma that is Blake Griffin. The Blazers finished the season as a better rebounding team than the Clippers, thanks to Griffin missing 47 games. But Portland’s success on the glass was a result of team play, and their lack of any dominant bigs means DeAndre Jordan will be able to feast. Griffin has been a disappointment since his return, but if he can take his frustration out on Portland instead of a team trainer, the Clips should roll.
Los Angeles took three of four meetings between the two this season, including both on home court. The Clippers are also coming in hot against the number, covering eight of their last 11. Portland is just 4-8 in their last 12 ATS, but did cover in their last trip to L.A. in a narrow 96-94 loss.
With the pressure that’s on Chris Paul and company to finally make a deep postseason run, I can’t see the Clippers coming out slow in this one. Take L.A. to open the series with a statement.
Pick: Clippers (-8).
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (Originally uploaded to Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].)