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NBA-Play offs 2019-Western Conference finals- Game 1 preview

Western Conference Finals – Game 1
No. 3 Portland at No. 1 Golden State (ESPN, 9:05 p.m. ET)

2018-19 Regular Season (Tied 2-2, Over 2-2)
Nov. 23 – Warriors (-1.5) 125 vs. Blazers 97 (Over 218.5)
Dec. 27 – Blazers (+8.5) 110 at Warriors 109 – OT (Under 227)
Dec. 29 – Warriors (-5) 115 at Blazers 105 (Under 226)
Feb. 13 – Blazers (+2) 129 vs. Warriors 107 (Over 235)

For the fifth consecutive season, the Warriors are playing for the Western Conference championship. The Blazers have not sniffed the conference finals since 2000 against the Lakers, when Portland squandered a 16-point advantage in a Game 7 heartbreaker at Staples Center.

Golden State finished off its fourth straight playoff series win on the road dating back to last season’s conference finals in a 118-113 triumph to eliminate Houston in six games last Friday night. Kevin Durant didn’t suit up for the first time this postseason after suffering a calf injury in Game 5 against the Rockets, as the Warriors were tied at halftime in spite of Stephen Currynot scoring a single point in the first half. Curry turned things around in the second half by scoring 33 points, including 11 free throws, while Klay Thompson knocked down seven three-pointers to post 27 points and give the Warriors the cover as 7 ½-point underdogs.

The Warriors have struggled to a 5-7 ATS record in the first two rounds against the Clippers and Rockets, while the 12 games played in the opening two rounds of the playoffs are the most since Steve Kerr took over as head coach in 2014. Golden State owns a 2-4 ATS record at Oracle Arena in the playoffs and will start this series without Durant, who will miss Game 1 with this lingering calf injury.

The Blazers were predicted by many to not even escape the first round against the Thunder, in spite of owning home-court advantage. Portland failed to win a single game in each of the last two playoff appearances against New Orleans (2018) and Golden State (2017), but the Blazers knocked out Oklahoma City in five games, followed by bouncing the Northwest division champion Nuggets in the second round.

Portland went through a disastrous stretch on the road in the playoffs from 2014 through 2018 by losing 16 of 17 contests away from the Moda Center. Terry Stotts’ club has picked up three highway victories in this postseason alone, capped off by erasing a 17-point deficit in Game 7 at Denver on Sunday in a 100-96 triumph as 5 ½-point underdogs. C.J. McCollum helped saved the Blazers’ season with a 30-point effort in a Game 6 victory at home, but the shooting guard stepped up in the series finale with 37 points, as Portland overcame a dreadful 4-of-26 performance from three-point range.

The two teams split four matchups in the regular season with only meeting coming since January. Golden State blasted Portland in the first hook-up at Oracle Arena on November 23 as 1 ½-point favorites in a 125-97 rout, led by 32 points from Durant and 31 from Thompson, while playing without an injury Curry. The Blazers picked up revenge in their next trip to Oakland on December 27 in a 110-109 nail-biter in overtime as 8 ½-point ‘dogs. Portland ended a 13-game slide at Oracle in spite of shooting only 36% from the floor.

Golden State topped Portland in the second of a home-and-home set two days later at the Moda Center, 115-105 to cash as five-point favorites. The three-headed monster of Durant, Curry, and Thompson combined to score 82 points, while Damian Lillard led Portland with 40 points in the loss. Portland captured the most recent matchup on February 13 as two-point home underdogs, 129-107, highlighted by the Blazers outscoring the Warriors, 35-12 in the final quarter.

The Warriors and Blazers are meeting for the first time ever in the Western Conference finals, while locking horns for the third time in the last four postseasons. Interestingly enough, these two squads had never faced each other in the playoffs prior to 2016, but Golden State has topped Portland in eight of nine meetings. The Warriors knocked out the Blazers in five games in the 2016 second round, followed by a first round sweep in 2017, as Portland’s lone win in this stretch came in Game 3 of the ’16 semifinals.

The total for Game 1 opened at 216 and the number has been pushed up to 219 as of this morning.

In the four regular season meetings, Golden State and Portland saw their total results break even (2-2) and the closing numbers ranged from 218 ½ to 235 points. In those games, the pair combined for an average of 224.3 PPG with the highest result being 236 points (129-107 Portland) and the lowest at 219 points (Portland 110-109). I was a little surprised to see the number get pushed up because Golden State will still be without Durant. The All-Star played in all four games against the Trail Blazers this season and he averaged 28.8 PPG, 6.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists while shooting 58 percent from the field.

The Warriors showed no signs on missing Durant’s production last Friday as they defeated the Rockets 118-113 in Game 6 and that turned out to be an easy ‘over’ (215 ½) winner. However, in the regular season Golden State averaged 104 PPG while only allowing 99.5 PPG in games without KD and that produced a 4-0 ‘under’ record.

The Blazers can’t really afford to ease their way into this series since they must take advantage of Durant’s absence, so being able to steal Game 1 hinges almost entirely on their ability to hit the 3-ball. Lillard can’t be trusted at this point given his awful start to Game 7. Whether it’s physical or mental, he was unable to find a rhythm against the Nuggets until hitting a few key shots late and shot just 29 percent from beyond the arc for the entire series.

Although he’s had some monster games in his native Oakland, he’s 0-5 in playoff games there in series losses in 2016 and 17, shooting 34 percent (25-for-73) at Oracle, making 15 of 40 3-pointers. Lillard has only left the Oracle Arena floor a winner twice in 16 attempts over his NBA career but does have five 30-point games there.

The Warriors are listed as 7 ½-point favorites in Game 1, while the two-time defending champions are -550 (Bet $550 to win $100) to return to the NBA Finals for the fifth straight season.

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