NBA Betting: Trail Blazers vs. Raptors
There’s something strange about this matchup. The Portland Trail Blazers (7-2 SU, 6-3 ATS) have gotten off to a tremendous start, exceeding expectations thus far in a year where they were bubble candidates for a Western Conference playoff seed. This Sunday afternoon, the Trail Blazers face the Toronto Raptors (4-6 SU, 5-5 ATS), who have underwhelmed for the most part as a bubble team in the East. So why are the Raptors 2-point favorites on Sunday’s NBA lines?
Stop Shooting Long Twos Already
If you go by certain computer models at the Worldwide Leader, the Raptors are projected to win by anywhere between two and six points. Toronto has certainly put up some impressive performances – gutsy, even – against the Indiana Pacers and the Houston Rockets. But the Raps have also lost to the Charlotte Bobcats. I’ve been watching their games, and it’s hard to get a handle on these guys. They’re inconsistent.
Shot selection seems to be at the heart of it. Rudy Gay in particular (36.5 percent on 2-pointers, 40.5 percent on 3-pointers) has been jacking up a lot of ill-advised bricks. But bad shooting has also affected DeMar DeRozan (40.3 FG%) and Kyle Lowry (39.8 FG%). These are three very talented and athletic players, and when the shots go in, great. When they don’t, which is too often and is nothing new, people start talking about Tank Time again.
They also talk about firing head coach Dwayne Casey. But before we throw out the baby with the bath water, let’s look at some relevant data. As we go to press, the Raptors are seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency (98.1 points allowed per 100 possessions), which is Casey’s specialty. And through the ups and downs on offense, Toronto ranks No. 14 in that department (100.5 points/100). After 10 games, this is a marginal playoff contender in the East, as advertised.
I Never Promised You a Moda Center
The Trail Blazers are playing at a higher level. They lead the Northwest Division, and quite frankly, it blows my mind. It’s not that the Blazers didn’t do the right this offseason by strengthening their lineup with center Robin Lopez (8.9 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per 36 miuntes) and swingman Dorell Wright (18.1 PER), or even veteran guard Mo Williams (13.8 points, 6.2 assists/36). It’s more about the giant leap that SG Wesley Matthews has made this year:
2009-10: 12.3 PER
2010-11: 15.5 PER
2011-12: 14.1 PER
2012-13: 14.1 PER
2013-14: 18.2 PER
Is this an NBA case of arrested development? Maybe not so much. Matthews (54.0 FG%, 50.0 3P%) has been hitting a ridiculously high number of his shots. He’s No. 19 in the NBA in field-goal percentage, and seventh in points per shot at 1.55. Thank s in part to this barrage, Portland is third in the league in offensive efficiency at 106.4 points per 100 possessions. On defense? Not so hot at No. 19 overall (102.8 points allowed/100).
Come to think of it, Wright’s PER is a fair bit bigger than what we’ve seen in his 10-year NBA career; his previous high was 16.0, set last year while playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. Before that, Wright was basically just another half-decent player. His career PER remains at 14.7; as you know, 15 is the indexed league average for PER.
Personally, I’m very happy to see NBA players reach new heights. It’s good for the quality of the game. But I’m skeptical about Matthews and Wright continuing to play at this level. I’m not prepared at this time to give much credit to new head coach Terry Stotts, who didn’t last more than two seasons in his previous stops with the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks. But hey, players are only as good as their teammates, and coaches are only as good as their players. Maybe Portland’s hit on the right mix here.
I remain skeptical for now. But not as skeptical as I am about the Raptors. Give me the hot team and the points for my NBA pick.
NBA Pick: Take the Trail Blazers +2.5 at Bet365