With 14 wins from their last 15, the Portland Trail Blazers now sit proudly at the top of the standings in the Western Conference. Any suggestion that this is a mere early season anomaly was dispelled on Wednesday when they dismantled the Indiana Pacers, still currently the NBA’s best team, in what was a true statement of intent.
It’s simple but effective basketball. The Blazers, statistically, are the third-most efficient side in the league while trailing only Golden State in three-point percentage, one key reason why their starting unit contributes 81.3 points per game, second overall.
But they also defend effectively, tallying fourth in defensive rebounds and trailing only the Pacers in defensive efficiency. That’s a big part of why Portland are out-scoring opponents by 5.1 per game.
It probably won’t be enough to make a sustained title challenge this season. Some extra depth may be required. The Blazers are 3.65 to win the Northwest Division but Oklahoma City remain deserved 1.38 favourites. Nevertheless, Terry Stotts’ side promise to be fun to watch and a real handful, particularly against less physical opponents.
The hapless Utah Jazz, presently bottom of the West, match that description ahead of their arrival in Portland on Friday night. They’re 1-10 on the road, where they’re out-scored by an average of 12.2. Tonight, the hosts are -11.5 on the handicap at 1.90 but it’s a safer punt to look at staying under the total points line of 200.5, available at 1.88. In either case, we can’t sleep on the Trail Blazers any more.
It says a lot for the horrific state of the Atlantic Division that the rebuilding and short-handed Boston Celtics still sit in first place with an 8-12 record. In fact, only Indiana and Miami in the entire East are above .500.
The Celtics have taken advantage of a soft schedule to win four out of six but they might struggle to cope with the Denver Nuggets on Friday. Winners of seven from their last eight, they score a mammoth 105.9 per night on the road with Boston getting 97.8 at home. Go with Denver to come up trumps on the handicap of -4.5 at 1.83.
Go under the total points line of 200.5 in Portland-Utah at 1.88
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