NBA Picks: Back Clippers & Blazers To Go Under in Game 1

Sunday, April 17, 2016 12:00 PM GMT

If you believe oddsmakers, only one Western Conference first-round series will be competitive: the No.5 Trail Blazers and No.4 Clippers. They open on Sunday night with the Clippers at -8 on NBA odds.

Trail Blazers Overachieved In 2015-16
Here are the series odds for the other three underdogs in their series in the West: No. 8 Houston is +2000 against No. 1 Golden State, No. 7 Memphis is +3000 (longest shot of any series) against No. 2 San Antonio, and No. 6 Dallas is +1300 against No. 3 Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, Portland is +310 against the Clippers (-370).

Portland (44-38) was able to move up to No. 5 in the West with a 107-99 win over Denver on Wednesday and Dallas' loss earlier that night to San Antonio. I suppose if you had a preference of facing the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers, which were Portland's options, then the Clippers would be the pick. That the Blazers are even here is a surprise to pretty much all NBA experts as they were widely projected to hit the lottery after losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo in free agency this offseason and trading Nic Batum to Charlotte.

The Blazers thus became the first team in NBA history to make the playoffs despite bringing back just two or fewer players from the year before who played at least 1,000 minutes the previous season. Those two are Damian Lillard, the only returning starter, and Chris Kaman, who never plays. Lillard deserves to perhaps be as high as second-team All-NBA as he averaged 25.1 points, 6.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds this season. The first two are career-highs.

Another reason the Blazers overachieved was fellow guard C.J. McCollum, a top candidate for NBA Most Improved Player. Last year, McCollum played just 15.7 minutes per night and averaged 6.8 points and 1.0 assists. This year, he's averaging 20.8 points and 4.3 assists. He is one of just six players in the NBA to attempt more than 300 3-pointers and hit better than 40 percent (41.7). Lillard and McCollum might be the Western Conference's best backcourt outside of Oakland. They are going to have to be spectacular here because the Blazers are really weak up front. Former starting big man Meyers Leonard, who averaged 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds, was lost for the season in mid-March.

Portland was 44-38 against the spread on NBA odds this season and 44-38 'over/under.'


Now Or Never For Current Clippers?
Los Angeles (53-29) won three fewer games than last season, but that's pretty good considering All-Star forward Blake Griffin missed three months due to injury. In his five games since returning, Griffin is averaging 10.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists in five games.

Chris Paul had another MVP-caliber season at point guard and should be first-team All-NBA. Paul largely carried the team without Griffin and averaged 19.5 points, 10.0 assists (fourth in NBA), 4.2 rebounds and 2.05 steals (3rd in NBA).

But I think the championship window on this team, if there is one, closes if the Clippers don't do it this year. There's only so many times you can keep trying and failing with the same core of players, in this case Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Paul is tied for the most All-Star selections (nine) among players in league history who haven't reached a conference finals. All three of those Clippers stars make at least $20 million next season so the Clippers can't add a big name in free agency unless one is traded. Griffin perhaps? Paul to Cleveland to play with buddy LeBron James for Kyrie Irving?

This will be the first time the Clippers will be heavily favored to win a playoff series in the era of Paul and Griffin. The Clippers have done a good job over the years in dealing with Lillard. His average of 16.2 points per game against the Clippers in his career is more than five points below his overall average.

Los Angeles is 40-39-3 ATS on NBA picks this season and 34-48 O/U.

Season Series
The Clippers won 3-1. On Nov. 20 in Portland, the Blazers won 102-91 to end a seven-game losing streak at the time. Lillard had 27 points. That was the second of a back-to-back for L.A., which nearly upset Golden State the night before. On Nov. 30 in L.A., the Clippers won 102-87. Jordan had 24 points and 18 rebounds. Lillard left early in the third quarter due to injury. On Jan. 6 in Portland, it was 109-98 Clippers. A clerical error by the Blazers before the game meant that McCollum was ineligible to play. Clippers coach Doc Rivers could have allowed it but chose not to. On March 24 in L.A., the Clippers won 96-94 on a J.J. Redick jumper at the buzzer.

NBA Free Picks: Give the points, go 'under.' Portland has little playoff experience and the Clippers a ton. The Blazers are 1-5 ATS in their past six vs. the West. The Clippers are 5-0 ATS in their past five at home. The 'under' is 8-3 in Portland's past 11 games. The 'under' is 5-2 in the past seven meetings.

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NBA Pick: Clippers Under 209 -105
Best Line Offered: at Heritage