Jason’s 2018-19 NBA picks record through Apr. 12: 25-28-1 ATS, 0-4 ML (minus-9.35 units), 34-21 Totals
Oklahoma City (49-33 SU, 42-40 ATS) at Portland (53-29 SU, 45-36-1 ATS)
Series Starts Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Free NBA Pick: Thunder
Here’s something you don’t see every year: The No. 3 seed in the Western Conference is the underdog in their first-round matchup. At press time, the NBA odds board at Bovada has the Portland Trail Blazers pegged at +135 for their playoff series against the No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder. Seems like a bargain price for the Blazers. They were one of this year’s most profitable regular-season teams in the West, while Oklahoma City went 9-16 ATS after the All-Star break.
Things are not what they seem. Portland have many of the earmarks of a sharp NBA pick, but there’s one very important missing ingredient: Jusuf Nurkic (plus-5.1 BPM). Since Nurkic broke his leg in late March, the Blazers have managed to hang in there at 5-4 ATS, but that was against very poor competition for the most part. Chances are they’re going to get eaten alive now that the playoffs are here.
Don’t take our word for it. The projections at FiveThirtyEight have Oklahoma City winning this series 77 percent of the time, which works out to a “fair price’ of –335 according to the Super Genius-approved SBR Odds Converter. The Thunder are –155 favorites at Bovada. We’ll buy that every day and twice on Sunday.
Nurkic has been one of the NBA’s most overlooked players for some time now. The Bosnian Beast was a defensive powerhouse the moment he stepped foot on the court for the Denver Nuggets back in 2014; however, the Nuggets also had Nikola Jokic at center, so they shipped Nurkic to Portland two years ago for Mason Plumlee, who had more offensive polish at the time and was a better fit as a reserve.
Beast Mode: OFF
Then Nurkic found his groove. He was posting career highs in just about every offensive category before he got hurt – and was easily one of this year’s biggest All-Star snubs. Portland aren’t totally lost without Nurkic; Zach Collins (plus-0.1 BPM) is a fine young center, Meyers Leonard (plus-1.4 BPM) can score, and the Blazers picked up another offensive big in Enes Kanter (plus-2.3 BPM) for the playoff drive. But they’re going to miss Nurkic’s defensive chops in this series.
No such concerns in Oklahoma. They finished fifth overall in defensive efficiency, even without Andre Roberson (plus-2.8 DBPM last year) on the wing, and they’ve got a quality Big Three of two-way players in Russell Westbrook (plus-6.5 BPM), Paul George (plus-5.5 BPM) and Steven Adams (plus-2.7 BPM). Defense wins championships, and at this series price, defense is available at a deep discount.