Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to May 13 inclusive: 109-95-2 ATS, 26-23-1 Totals
There are two ways to win in the NBA: One is to play really good basketball. The other is to watch your opponents shoot themselves in the foot. It's not that the Portland Trail Blazers didn’t play a good game Monday night against the San Antonio Spurs, but Portland didn’t exactly follow the same winning blueprint that the Brooklyn Nets used in Game 3 of their series against the Miami Heat. The Blazers didn’t light it up from downtown, and they didn’t post twice as many assists as San Antonio.
They didn’t have to. The Spurs simply didn’t have their game faces on in Game 4; they hit just three of their 18 trey attempts and shot 11-of-19 from the free-throw line in a 103-92 loss that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. Portland took a 2-point lead into the dressing room and pulled away late in the third quarter to beat the NBA lines as a 4.5-point home dog. Perhaps the Spurs just didn’t have the killer instinct, having taken a 3-0 series lead into Monday’s matchup. The Blazers can expect much tougher opposition at Alamo City for Game 5 on Wednesday.
Your Head Up
As you’ve probably heard 1,004 times by now, no team in the NBA has ever won a playoff series after losing the first three games. It has to happen sometime, and there’s much more than a non-zero chance that Portland will make history at San Antonio’s expense. Even if the Spurs end up being 6.5-point favorites in Game 5 like they were in the first two games, that still translates to about a 28-percent chance that the Blazers will survive to see Game 6, according to the fair prices at Wizard of Odds. It's crucial to map out the entire betting patterns before placing your NBA pick.
Portland can also draw inspiration from what the Dallas Mavericks were able to do in the first round. Although the Mavs lost the series, they extended San Antonio to seven games and went 6-1 ATS in the process. The Blazers roster doesn’t match up quite as well defensively, and head coach Terry Stotts might not be at the same level as the reigning and three-time Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich. The Spurs have nonetheless been proven vulnerable.
Let’s also take into account those two wins the Trail Blazers earned over San Antonio during the regular season. This was back when Portland was battling the Spurs and Heat, among others, for first place in the overall standings – and back when the Blazers were hitting a ridiculous number of their shots. On Nov. 2, Portland (+2.5 at home) went 8-for-20 from the perimeter in a 115-105 victory. On Jan. 17, Portland (+5.5 away) was even better from long distance at 8-for-16, beating the Spurs 109-100 on their own court. Both teams had their key players available for both games.
I remember those salad days well. Wesley Matthews (15.7 PER) was absolutely killing it back then, especially in that January game when he dumped 24 points on the Spurs and nailed six of his seven 3-pointers. Matthews saw his long-range accuracy dip from 41.0 percent before the All-Star break to 36.2 percent afterward. Moreover, in these playoffs, Matthews has fallen even further back at 31.6 percent. That can happen when you’re playing quality opponents like the Spurs and the Houston Rockets. Be that as it may, Portland’s chances of extending this series are in Matthews’ hands. It’s either that, or pray San Antonio honks another one.