Could the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers really upset LeBron James and the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in their first round western conference clash? Do Luke and the high-scoring Mavs stand a chance against Kawhi Leonard and a now, fully healthy LA Clippers squad? Are James Harden and the Houston Rockets in trouble against Chris Paul and an Oklahoma City Thunder team that has been overlooked virtually all season? Last, but not least, will the Utah Jazz be able to overcome the recent departure of veteran floor leader Mike Conley after he bounced out of the bubble to attend the birth of his brand new baby boy? If you’ve got questions about the Western conference portion of the first round of NBA playoff action, then you’re in luck! Let’s take a closer look at some of the upcoming matches so you can place your bets against their NBA odds.
NBA Predictions for Western Conference Matchups
Portland (36-39) vs. LA Lakers (52-19)
The Lakers might be the top seed in the western conference, but LeBron James and company are going to have their hands full trying to dispatch Damian Lillard and the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers when they square off in the first round. While L.A. took two of three regular season meetings and have the statistically better defense in this matchup, the Lakers are also highly dependent on getting the vast majority of their offensive production from James (26.1 ppg) and all-star forward Anthony Davis (25.3 ppg). No other player on their roster averages more than backup forward Kyle Kuzma (12.8 ppg) and that lack of proven scorers could hurt L.A. in this series.
You see, Portland has much better offensive balance with five players that put up double figures in scoring and six of those averaging at least 15.5 points per contest. More importantly, Portland has one of the very best backcourts in the league in Lillard (30.0 ppg) and C.J. McCollum (22.3 ppg). The Blazers went 7-2 in the bubble including their 126-122 play-in win against Memphis the last time out while the Lakers went an uninspiring 3-5 in the bubble. Portland won the last meeting between these two rivals and has gone 5-1-1 ATS in their last 7 games against a team with a winning straight up record while L.A. has gone 0-5 ATS in their last five games. Still, while I really want to pick Portland and genuinely believe the Blazers have a very good chance of pulling off the upset, in the end I’m going with LeBron and the Lakers to advance, though it’s going to take seven, knock-down, drag-out contests to make that happen.
Pick: Lakers in 7
Dallas (42-32) vs. LA Clippers (49-23)
The seventh-seeded Mavs can score the ball with any team in the league in ranking third in scoring (117.0 ppg) and they have a true superstar in young forward Luka Doncic (28.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 8.8 apg) and they have another all-star caliber big man in Kristaps Porzingis (20.4 ppg), but only two other players average double figures in scoring and this is a young team with little postseason experience.
On the flip side of the coin, the second-seeded Clippers are loaded with talent from top to bottom starting with 2-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard (27.1 ppg). The Claw was one of six players putting up double figures in scoring. L.A. will have a healthy Paul George (21.5 ppg) and their full roster of players, including two Sixth man of the Year candidates in Montrezl Harrell (18.6 ppg) and Lou Williams (18.2 ppg). While Dallas went 3-5 in eight restart games, the Clippers went 5-3 in the bubble and swept the regular season series 3-0 while beating the Mavs 126-111 in their bubble matchup on Aug. 6. I’m going to give Dallas one win in this series because of Luka Doncic, but that’s it!
Pick: Clippers in 5
Oklahoma City (44-28) vs. Houston (44-28)
Fifth-seeded Oklahoma City might be underdogs in their first round playoff series against fourth-seeded Houston, but from where I’m sitting, the Thunder have an excellent chance to get out of the first round. First, both of these teams finished with identical 44-28 records. Houston went a modest 4-4 in the bubble, but the Rockets lost their final three restart games. Houston ranks second in scoring (117.8 ppg), but the Rockets are heavily reliant on James Harden (34.3 ppg) and Russell Westbrook (27.2 ppg) to get the lion’s share of their points and that doesn’t bode well with Westbrook dealing with an injured quad and sitting out the series opener at the very least.
Oklahoma City is elite defensively in ranking seventh in points allowed (108.4 ppg) and they have what I believe is the best backcourt trio in the league in young floor leader Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (19.0 ppg), veteran, Dennis Schroeder (18.9 ppg) and future Hall of Famer Chris Paul (17.6 ppg). The Thunder have won two straight in this rivalry and have gone a pristine 5-0 ATS in the last five meetings. Yeah…Harden and the Rockets are in trouble!
Pick: Thunder in 6
Denver (46-26) vs. Utah (44-27)
Third-seeded Denver went 4-4 in the bubble, but they’ll hit the playoff riding a three-game losing streak, although all three losses came against a trio of the top title contenders (Lakers, Clippers, Raptors). The Nuggets rank a modest 11th in scoring (109.2 ppg) and 19th in points allowed (111.3 ppg), although they swept the regular season series 3-0 while beating Utah 134-132 in an overtime thriller inside the bubble on Aug. 8.
Utah went an uninspiring 3-5 inside the bubble and the Jazz rank a modest 18th in scoring (111.3 ppg) despite ranking an encouraging eighth in points allowed (08.8 ppg). Utah did split their final four restart games by beating Memphis and San Antonio and they have a true superstar in shooting guard Donovan Mitchell (24.0 ppg), but now, they’ll be forced to take on the Nuggets without veteran point guard Mike Conley Jr. (14.4 ppg) and that will be a huge blow to a team lacking at the point guard position and one that needs as much offensive firepower as possible. Last, but not least, Denver has found they have a true future superstar in second-year forward Michael Porter Jr. In eight bubble games, Porter Jr. the 14t overall pick in the 2018 draft put up a stellar 26.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game while more often than not, looking like the Nuggets best player. Sorry Utah fans, but the Jazz will be on the golf links in short order in this first round matchup.
Pick: Denver in 5