Free NBA Picks: Back Trail Blazers -3 At Home Against Celtics

Sterling Xie

Thursday, March 31, 2016 5:03 PM UTC

Thursday, Mar. 31, 2016 5:03 PM UTC

Though Boston is getting its best two-way player back, expect Portland to hold serve on its home court and cover the spread with your NBA picks.

With Thursday’s NBA schedule presenting a relatively light six-game slate, the final contest of the evening has drawn plenty of action from bettors.  The Boston Celtics are currently three-point underdogs as they visit the Moda Center to play the Portland Trail Blazers, but reports suggest Jae Crowder could return from a high ankle sprain in time to face the Blazers.

Though Isaiah Thomas earned the All-Star nod, most metrics depict Crowder as a similar valuable overall player based on his all-around contributions.  Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) measures Thomas as having been worth 3.2 wins over a replacement-level player, the highest mark on the Celtics.  However, Crowder is a close second at 2.7 VORP.  Moreover, Boston’s overall net rating (points per 100 possessions) is 4.8 points higher with Crowder on the court than when he’s on the bench.  That differential is the highest on the team by a considerable margin; Thomas comes in second at +3.2.

But even if Crowder does return, he is unlikely to significantly impact Thursday night’s result.  Most likely, Brad Stevens will limit the swingman’s minutes, given that Crowder has missed the past eight games, with his last action coming on March 11.  Since Crowder went down, Boston’s net rating has dipped to -3.0 per 100 possessions, which ranks just 20th over that span.  Conversely, over the first two-thirds of the season, the Celtics posted a +4.2 net rating, sixth overall in the league.

Assuming Boston is still relatively diminished, Portland should hold the upper hand on its home court.  The Blazers are 24-12 and have outscored opponents by 5.7 points per 100 possessions at home, the 12th-best home mark in the league.  Though Portland is relatively light on size with Meyers Leonard out for the season and veteran replacement Chris Kaman ill, that should not prove particularly problematic against an undersized Celtics team.

The game’s outcome will likely come down to Portland’s incandescent backcourt and its ability to score against Boston’s lockdown guard defenders.  Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have spurred the Blazers’ surprising path to the postseason, but the duo laid an egg in the first meeting between the two teams on Mar. 2.  In that matchup, a 116-93 pummeling, Lillard and McCollum combined to shoot 13-of-30 and post an eye-opening -44 plus-minus rating on the court.

Given the lack of depth on Portland’s roster, both need to be on top of their games to beat Boston’s much deeper overall roster.  On paper, this is a bad matchup for the Blazers, as Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart are Boston’s two most valuable defenders.  Smart in particular has compensated for a streaky jump shot with constant tenacity on defense, as opponents score 3.6 fewer points per 100 possessions when the second-year guard is on the court. 

However, Smart typically plays with Boston’s reserve lineups.  Though it might behoove Stevens to increase his minutes for this particular matchup, Smart has always had deleterious effects on Boston’s spacing, particularly when paired with a similarly limited shooter like Evan Turner in the backcourt.  Playing Smart heavy minutes could reasonably allow Terry Stotts to hide Lillard on him while using the superior defender McCollum on Thomas or Bradley.

Ultimately, Boston will likely put all its eggs into this basket, given that a daunting game at Golden State looms the next day.  But with Portland having won its past five home games and nine of its last 10 at the Moda Center, the smart money for your NBA picks is on the Blazers to cover this line at -3 NBA odds.

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NBA Picks: Trail Blazers -3 
Best Line Offered: at BetOnline

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