As a general rule, handicapping is mostly made up of educated guesswork. We look at the stats. We look at the matchups. We look at the scheduling spots. We look at a variety of different factors in hopes of putting together enough pieces to see what the puzzle should look like if everything goes according to plan.
Well, on the last day of the NBA regular season, there is a lot more guesswork than usual. Teams are going to be resting players around the league. Motivation will be non-existent for some teams and just enough for others. Ultimately, we simply do not know until we see the teams take the floor and see what the lineups look like.
One game that matters, at least for one of the two teams, is the game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets. The host Blazers need a win or a Lakers loss to avoid the play-in tournament. The Nuggets do have seeding considerations and will need a win to remain on the #3 line.
Portland, with a lot more incentive and urgency, is favored by 10 points here with a total of 233.5 per BetOnline Sportsbook as Denver rests players.
Life without Jamal Murray started out slowly for the Nuggets in a lot of ways, but Nikola Jokic’s MVP-caliber season has provided a huge lift since the jump and especially without Murray. Murray’s unfortunate injury has given other players the opportunity to step up and enough of them have to propel the Nuggets into the discussion for a top-three seed in the Western Conference.
Markus Howard had 20 points in his first career start in Denver’s last game against the lowly Detroit Pistons. This opponent will be a lot tougher, but we could certainly see guys like Howard and other rarely-used bench guys get additional minutes in this one. The Nuggets have won three in a row and seven of 10, so they’d like to finish the season on a high note.
Of course, one of the things for Denver that is very important with regards to the playoffs is home court advantage. Denver has the altitude factor at home and went 25-11 at home during the regular season. That isn’t to say that the Nuggets can’t win on the road, as they actually have one of the best road records in the conference, but you want any advantage you can get when the games increase in importance.
With Jokic at the forefront, the Nuggets are fifth in 2P% and eighth in 3P% on the season. They’ve been a highly efficient offensive team, which has helped to cover up some of their defensive shortcomings, like being a bottom-five team defending two-point shots.
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland goes into this one needing a win or a Lakers loss to stay on the #6 line, which is more important than ever. This could very well be a preview of a first-round matchup, though the Clippers are a big favorite agianst the Thunder. If the Nuggets don’t win this game, they could get jumped by the Clippers and face Dallas.
As good as Denver has been this season and as effective as Jokic has been, it sure seems like avoiding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the first round is something that the Blazers would like to achieve. On the other hand, they cannot actively punt this game because they could find themselves in the play-in tournament as a #7 seed staring down the double elimination format.
As always, it is the Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum show for the Blazers. Lillard has scored just under 29 points per game and McCollum has chipped in over 23 PPG. Stopping the Blazers means stopping those two, which is much easier said than done.
Portland is actually 27th in 2P% offense, so it has been the three-ball that has been the great equalizer. Portland is sixth in 3P% on the season. They’ve been able to make a lot of long-distance jumpers to overcome the lack of post position talent and also the lack of players willing to go to the rim.
Nuggets vs. Trail Blazers Free Pick
Denver and Portland each have something on the line here, which should make for a pretty good game, despite the nature of the last day of the NBA regular season. I’m looking at taking the under at of of the biggest sportsbooks at BetOnline in this one. Both teams do have some incentive, which should keep the game a little bit lower-scoring. Also, Portland’s heavy reliance on the three could keep the game lower-scoring as well if they don’t shoot well.
Pick: Under 233.5