Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#535 Oklahoma City Thunder 218 vs.
#536 Portland Trailblazers -120
Tuesday, April 16, 2019 at 10:40pm EDT
Moda Center, Portland
Written by Sporty Jordy



#535 Oklahoma City
#536 Portland


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When and where: April 16, 2019, Moda Center, Portland, OR, 10:30 PM ET

The Portland Trail Blazers struck first in the opening series of the NBA Playoffs on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not even the All-Star combination of Russell Westbrook and Paul George was enough to stop a motivated Trail Blazers team playing in front of a raucous home crowd. Portland might have a small-market franchise, but that fan base’s love for their team packs a mighty punch. The Thunder were likely still feeling the effects from that blow on Monday morning.

Offense not clicking for the Thunder

The Thunder were taken out to deep waters and nearly drowned by the Trail Blazers in the first quarter of Game 1. Desperation quickly set in as shots failed to fall and turnovers kept piling up. The Thunder looked like a team that was trying to win a sprint and not a 48-minute marathon.

Even worse, Paul George, one of the team’s star players, didn’t look like himself coming off a shoulder injury. If the same George that showed up on Sunday shows up throughout the series, the Thunder will see an early exit this year. Russell Westbrook’s one-man circus act is null and void in the playoffs, where the best teams in the league lurk.

“I thought we got great looks,” George said after the game, via USA Today. “Great looks all night. For me, it’s just rhythm. Four days ago I couldn’t even lift my shoulder. Fast forward to today, it’s the first day I shot the ball. Tomorrow I’ll get shots up, get back in tune. We’ll try and get the same looks that we got tonight.”

This was easily one of the Thunder’s worst shooting performances of the season. They shot 39.8 percent combined from the floor and an even worse 15.2 percent (5-of-33) from 3-pointer. Center Steven Adams was also completely outplayed in the paint by former teammate Enes Kanter.

Westbrook netted a triple-double in the finish with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, while George dropped 26 points, 10 rebounds and four steals in the 104-99 loss.

Kanter delivers on the big stage for the Trail Blazers

One of the most underrated moves of the season was the Trail Blazers signing center Enes Kanter after he was waived by the New York Knicks. Leave it to the Knicks to underutilize a talented player that is capable of thriving in the right situation.

That right situation was in Portland after starter Jusuf Nurkic went down with a season-ending injury. Kanter has stepped right into the lineup and delivered quality minutes for the Trail Blazers, and on Sunday afternoon, he was key in their Game 1 win over the Thunder.

It truly has been a significant role reversal from his time with the Knicks.

“I was on the worst team in the league, and I wasn’t even playing because they thought I was too old to play,” said Kanter, per ESPN’s Kevin Pelton. “The situation and all the drama, it was so frustrating because all I wanted to do was go out there and just win. A couple of days ago, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘Man, I’m blessed to be here with an amazing organization and amazing teammates that trust in me.’ It definitely feels amazing, and it’s definitely a blessing.”

Meanwhile, All-Star guard Damian Lillard continued to prove why he’s the most underrated player in basketball by dropping a game-high 30 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals. It was a standout performance when most expected him to wilt under the pressure of going head-to-head with Westbrook.

Kanter contributed a double-double with 20 points and 18 rebounds, while McCollum finished the game with 24 points, six rebounds and three assists.

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The Thunder were a bit shell-shocked in the first quarter of Game 1, but they did manage to close the gap after digging a 14-point deficit in the first quarter. It’s actually quite encouraging they only lost by five points, despite shooting 5-of-33 from 3-pointer and George clearly not having his best game. That kind of limited production isn’t going to continue throughout the series, and I expect George to respond to the challenge with a strong bounce-back performance on Tuesday.

Teams are always most vulnerable in the first game of the series, particularly when the game is on the road. There is a feeling out process that usually favors the home team. However, there should be no feeling out between Adams and Kanter, who were close teammates in Oklahoma City. Adams doesn’t get a pass here to simply go along for the Westbrook and George ride.

He can’t allow himself to get dominated down low like he did in Game 1. This will be one of the key matches to watch throughout the series, but I expect Adams to answer the call in the rematch. The Moda Center, otherwise known as the sixth-man for the Trail Blazers, will bring their A game, but the Thunder will respond by clamping down on defense earlier and taking the crowd out of the game. This time, however, they’ll put the finishing touches on the Trail Blazers to even things out. I like the Thunder in this game.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder (+2)

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The under is 4-1 in the last five head-to-head meetings between the Trail Blazers and Thunder in Portland. Oklahoma City still boasts one of the better defensive teams in basketball, ranking fourth in the league in defensive efficiency. They’ll come out with more of a sense of urgency in Game 2 to avoid falling behind by two games. The Trail Blazers will continue to counter with a strong defensive effort as well. They are surprisingly a top-15 team in scoring defense. I’ll stay with the under for this game.

Prediction: Under (218)

Written By Jordy McElroy , "Sporty Jordy"

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