With the second half of the NBA regular season upon us, hands have been shown and secrets are at a premium. So where will the odds be overcome as the race for playoff seedings starts to heat up?
There’s one hugely under-rated team that’s currently a great value steal for the title: the Portland Trail Blazers, presently sitting at 19.00 for the championship.
And while Oregon’s finest have lost some ground at the head of the Western Conference with five losses out of their last six, there’s still plenty to like about their chances of a rebound.
Firstly, LaMarcus Aldridge will be sitting out for up to two months with a thumb issue, adding insult to the injury that will sideline front court partner Robin Lopez until early February.
With Aldridge on the floor, Portland’s points per 100 possessions jumps by a massive nine with his total differential at +6.0. Lopez, while less impactful, has a difference of +3.5.
There’s also the X-factor Nicolas Batum who’s had a mediocre campaign by his habitual standards, notching just 9.1 points per night. If the Frenchman comes good – and he likely will – the Blazers could benefit from a rested Aldridge when the post-season begins.
It could get worse before it gets better. Expect their points production to decrease in the weeks ahead. Yet even if on current form, it’s worth backing their Saturday opponent, the Washington Wizards, by -7.5 on the handicap, expect Portland’s slump to be strictly short-term.
East no beast
It’s hard to pick a winner in the East right now with the two teams with the shortest odds slumping and the runaway leader still a tough call to make it all the way to the NBA Finals.
Cleveland, now plummeting to 7.00 for the title, are 2.50 with the Chicago Bulls for the Eastern Conference crown. If you’re still a believer in the Cavaliers, now’s the time to back it with bucks.
Chicago, even with their mini-slump, have all the tools for a rise. But while the Atlanta Hawks have won 14 straight and deserve to be 1.57 to overcome the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, their admirable style of play may be stifled when it comes to crunch time in late spring.