Prior to the start of the first round, the Oklahoma City Thunder were favored to beat the Portland Trail Blazers in their best of seven series. Yes, despite being the lower seeded team (No. 6; Portland’s a 3-seed), the Thunder were favored to win the series (Thunder– -133; Trail Blazers– +133 as of April 14 and prior to Game One).
The odds shifted in Portland’s favor after Game One and moved a little more after Game Two. Heading into Game Three, the odds on winning the series still favor the Trail Blazers (-205 to +175 for the Thunder).
But somehow the Thunder are favored to win the game. As of April 18, the line on Friday night’s Game Three between the Trail Blazers and Thunder is (according to BetOnline.ag):
- Money line: Thunder -335; Trail Blazers +280
- Spread: Thunder by 7.5
- Over/Under: 221.5
It is perplexing enough to make you wonder what series the oddsmakers have been watching or what they know that the rest of us do not. Portland hasn’t dominated the Thunder, but they have played better basketball and controlled the outcomes. So, why on Earth are the Thunder favored to win Game Three?
The answer is really pretty simple. It is for the same reason the Thunder were favored to win the series despite being the lower seeded team—star power. Oklahoma City has it, and Portland does not.
That is not to say that Portland doesn’t have some excellent basketball players. Damian Lillard has been one of the best in the business since winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2012-13. While they missed the postseason that year, they have gone in each of the last five.
However, in those five seasons, they have made it past the first round just twice and were easily beaten in the conference semifinal round the other two. Since they have been good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to really be a factor in them, Lillard’s star has not been able to rise as much as maybe it should have.
Oklahoma City, on the other hand, have two of the best players in the game today on their roster in Paul George and Russell Westbrook. But George is believed to still be battling shoulder issues which caused him to miss time down the stretch. As for Westbrook, by his own omission, he simply isn’t performing as he should.
After the loss in Game Two, he had this to say to the media, via ESPN:
“I’ve got to play better. Tonight, the loss, I’m going to take full responsibility of tonight because the way I played was unacceptable. I’m going to be better.”
So, what does all of this mean for Game Three? Is the smart money on the Trail Blazers or the Thunder?
Oklahoma City is probably going to play their best game of the series Friday night now that they will be back at home. However, while their inability to hit three-pointers is a glaring issue, the Thunder have been a sub-par team for weeks. Down the stretch in the regular season, they went just 12-14.
Portland, on the other hand, went 14-3.
The decision on where to put your money is easy—take the Trail Blazers to win.