“Put some respect on my name.”
This was Damian Lillard’s message on the floor of his most recent masterpiece in Orlando. Portland improved to 5-2 straight up/5-1-1 against the spread in the bubble Tuesday night, dragged to victory single-handedly by Lillard’s career-high-tying 61 points. Dame D.O.L.L.A. now has 112 points over his past two games, and Portland controls its destiny in the race for the final seed in the West.
The Trail Blazers have garnered the respect of the betting market as well since play began in Orlando. Before the seeding games began, the market viewed Portland as one point worse than that Dallas team they faced Tuesday, but it closed as 2¹/₂-point favorite prior to their victory. The increased power rating is warranted, as the level of play for the Trail Blazers is vastly improved from the regular season. But is it sustainable?
Portland’s explosion in Orlando has many believing it could push the top-seeded Lakers — who have struggled in the bubble — to six or seven games, or even pull a rare first-round upset. However, a deep dive into the statistical profile of the Trail Blazers paints a picture of unsustainable play that could work against them in a best-of-seven series.
First, the offense. Portland leads the Orlando teams in offensive rating, averaging 121.6 points every 100 possessions. In more traditional metrics, the Blazers are shooting 47.8 percent from the floor, and 42.6 percent from deep on 36.9 attempts per game. Portland is a great shooting team, and on the season it shoots 37.8 percent from distance on 34.1 attempts per game. To shoot nearly 5 percentage points better from 3-point range on nearly three more attempts per game is something that likely won’t be sustainable.
Then there is the performance of Lillard himself. Not only the 112 points scored, but he’s also a combined 33-of-60 (55.0 percent) from the floor in those two contests. That is an insane line, but remember the Trail Blazers won those two games by three points each. What is he going to have to do in a playoff series against the Lakers?
This brings us to the main issue with Portland, which is defense. Despite having the best offense in the bubble, the Trail Blazers have a 2.3 net rating, meaning they are outscoring opponents by just 2.3 points every 100 possessions. Portland is allowing 119.3 points every 100 possessions, the 21st-ranked defense in Orlando. It is tied for last in opponent 3-point shooting percentage (43.5 percent), and is 20th in opponent field-goal percentage (48.5 percent).
This is the team that is going to potentially eliminate the top seed in the Western Conference?
Just think about their recent slate of opponents. The Denver Nuggets benched their starters in the fourth quarter, yet still took the lead from Portland twice in the fourth quarter of the Trail Blazers eventual win. The Clippers third string closed out their game last Saturday, and eventually took the game from Portland. Joel Embiid was lost to an injury in the first quarter, and the Trail Blazers escaped with a single possession win over the 76ers.
This is not the profile of an eight seed that can upset the best team in the conference. Yet the betting market has immense respect for the Trail Blazers. This leads to an opportunity for bettors though. Should Portland win the final seed in the Western Conference, there is a chance the betting market makes this series price between the Lakers and Trail Blazers cheaper than it should be. If that’s the case, then it is an opportunity to pounce.
Lillard deserves all the respect in the world for what he has done in Orlando, and he will likely be named the MVP of the seeding games. However, the Trail Blazers clearly do not deserve the respect the betting market has given them.