The wait is finally over. We’ve had basketball back in our lives for the past two weeks, but the majority of those seeding games were pretty dull. Most of the teams in Orlando had very little to play for, so the quality of basketball suffered.
That’s not the case any longer.
The Blazers and Grizzlies get the festivities started with a play-in series for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The Blazers finished as the No. 8 seed, which gives them a distinct advantage. They will need to win just one game vs. the Grizzlies to advance to the postseason, while the Grizzlies will need to win twice.
The first game will take place on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET, and the second game (if necessary) will take place on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.
Let’s break down Saturday’s contest to see if we can identify any betting value.
Portland Trail Blazers (-5.5) vs. Memphis Grizzlies — 232.5 total
These two teams had drastically different experiences during the seeding games.
The Grizzlies entered as the clear favorites to win the No. 8 seed. They held a 3.5-game lead over the Blazers, Pelicans, and Kings, a 4.0-game lead over the Spurs, and a 6.0-game lead vs. the Suns. Considering that there were just eight seeding games, that would be a tough lead to blow.
That said, that’s exactly what the Grizzlies did. They let the Blazers overtake them in the standings, and they needed a win vs. a shorthanded Bucks’ squad in their final game just to hold off the Spurs and Suns for the No. 9 seed.
Still, they undoubtedly were a bit unlucky during the seeding games. They caught virtually no breaks in terms of their schedule. Most of the other teams chasing them in the standings played multiple games vs. teams that were resting players, but the Grizzlies didn’t face that situation until their final game.
Their Net Rating also suggests they deserved a slightly better record. They were outscored by just -1.0 points per 100 possessions over their eight regular season games. That’s obviously not great, but it’s clearly better than you’d expect from a team with a 2-6 record. To put that in perspective, they had a better Net Rating than the Thunder and Rockets, both of whom finished with a 4-4 record.
On the other hand, the Blazers ran super hot. It seemed like they were facing a team that was resting players every single night, so their 6-2 record definitely overstates their performance on the court.
They posted a Net Rating of +2.1, which ranked merely seventh on the bubble. That’s not bad by any stretch, but four of the six teams that finished with a better Net Rating posted a worse record.
That’s despite the fact that they got some ridiculously good performances in Orlando. Damian Lillard was an absolute monster — he should be a lock for the bubble MVP — finishing with an average of 37.6 points, 9.6 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game. He was also incredibly efficient considering his volume: He shot 49.7% from the field, 43.6% from 3-point range, and 88.8% from the free throw line.
That doesn’t even account for the extreme difficulty on some of his shots. He seriously made one from the logo in his last game:
Dame didn’t do it by himself either. Gary Trent Jr. shot a ridiculous 50.7% from 3-point range on 8.4 attempts per game. Carmelo Anthony shot 46.9% from 3. Jusuf Nurkic averaged 17.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.4 assists.
With that in mind, shouldn’t it be a little concerning that the Blazers posted a Net Rating of just +2.7? If literally everything broke right for the Blazers, shouldn’t their mark be a little more impressive?
The problems with the Blazers have all come on the defensive end of the court. They’ve allowed opposing offenses to average 120.4 points per 100 possessions, which is absolutely dreadful. The Cavaliers were the worst defensive team in the league prior to the restart, and they allowed just 114.8 points per 100 possessions. If they can’t make some strides in that department, it’s going to be tough for them to win games against teams that are actually trying.
With all that in mind, I think this spread does not accurately reflect the differences between these two teams. The Blazers were favored by 3.5-point when these two teams met in the bubble, so we’re getting a few additional points of spread value here.
The Blazers ended up covering in that game — they won by five points in overtime — but the Grizzlies very easily could have won in regulation. They were winning for the majority of that contest before the Blazers got hot in the fourth quarter.
This line has already dropped from 6.0 to 5.5, so I’m locking it in before it moves any further.
The Pick: Grizzlies +5.5