Portland has 41-19 record, but is fighting to hang on to a No. 3 seed in the West and could fall all the way to fifth with a bad week. Conversely, Atlanta is 26-32 and eighth in the East and has a pretty solid cushion to make the postseason, even with their abysmal record. Should we even consider the Hawks as underdogs with one of our NBA picks?
Atlanta’s Defense Has Gone South
Atlanta has suffered a higher than normal rate of injuries to their frontcourt players, losing center Pero Antic and Paul Millsap in recent games and Al Horford for a good chunk of the season.
But this does not preclude the Hawks from giving effort, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Atlanta is 1-11 since Feb. 4 and has been strictly play against material for those making NBA picks at 1-10-1 against the spread.
While the Atlanta is having to piece together players to understand their defensive rotations, more often than not, opposing are pushing the orange up the floor with Hawks players slow to retreat and they are giving up dunks, layups and wide open shots in defensive transition.
Head coach Mike Budenholzer is not getting through to his players about retreating properly on defense and in their past eight outings, they are doing their best 76ers imitation in surrendering 111.2 points a contest.
It was evident in the loss at Phoenix 129-120, defense was the last thing on minds of Hawks players and they determined to outscore the Suns and see what happens on defense, which led to their demise once again.
NBA basketball handicappers are aware Atlanta is 24th in field goal percentage defense and it is not too hard to determine why the Hawks are 9-22 and 11-19-1 ATS in away games, when they concede 106.1 points a contest, which ranks them 27th in road contests.
Talk about perfect timing, next up for Atlanta is the NBA’s highest scoring team, Portland!
Portland Defense not Offense will Determine their Ultimate Fate
After going through an unseemly 5-9 SU and ATS stretch from Jan. 20 to Feb. 19, coach Terry Stotts and his staff must have convinced their team they will not have any home court advantage in the playoffs unless equal amounts of effort are used on both sides of the floor.
After that period of mediocre basketball, Portland ran off five consecutive wins, holding each opposing team under 100 points, something they had not accomplished this season to that point. The teams the Blazers faced were not necessarily outstanding offensively, nevertheless they cared about defending.
Their last contest against the L.A. Lakers showed they are still not wholly committed to this new mentality, giving up 63 points in the first half at home against a depleted foe. In the second half, Portland was more alert in allowing just 44 points, but they ended up losing 107-106. Coach Stotts put it best, "The takeaway is we lost a game we probably shouldn't have lost," he said.
Those setting the NBA odds have not bought into the Trail Blazers playing more defense and they are on a 6-0 UNDER run.
Betting Odds and Scheduling
Sportsbooks opened Portland at -8 with a total of 218 and soon thereafter the total dipped to 217.
This will be Atlanta’s third road game on a six-game trip, with stops at Golden State, the Staples Center (Clippers) and Utah still to come before heading home.
This contest will conclude Portland four-game homestand and they will start a five-game road sojourn against all five Southwest Division squads in right days.
Head to Head Meetings
The Blazers are only 2-3 SU and ATS hosting Atlanta, with the straight winner a perfect 10-0 ATS since 2009. Granted, this Portland club scores more than prior outfits and the Hawks are weaker defensively, but the UNDER is 8-1 the past nine get-togethers, which includes the past six.
Atlanta will eventually win and or cover the spread, but I do not believe it will be tonight.
NBA Free Pick – Portland minus the points