By the time the Portland Trail Blazers take the floor against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night, they will likely know if they are going to the playoffs or whether they will have to emerge victorious in what is their last regular season game. And so will BetAnySports patrons.
The best they can hope for is not a free pass into the post-season, but instead a leg-up in the two-game "play-in" series that the NBA has prescribed between the #8 seed and the #9 team, provided the ninth-place squad is within four games of eighth spot. In Portland's case, things are so tight at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff queue that such a thing is a certainty. The only thing that is not certain is who will be doing battle in that.
The Nets entered the bubble not assured of anything, and in fact rather insecure, considering they were only a half-game ahead of Orlando for seventh place in the East and without seven players who would have been essential parts of the mix. But thanks to interim coach Jacque Vaughn and sheer resourcefulness, they have not only survived with a skeleton crew, they have thrived, winning five of the seven games they've played, while Orlando has tanked, losing all but one of their regular season contests in the bubble.
As a result, Brooklyn (now 35-36 SU, 36-35 ATS) pulled away and is the 7-seed, getting set to play Toronto in their first-round matchup, while the Magic - which has #8 locked up because the Washington Wizards have tanked even worse than they have - can look forward to a likely first-round elimination against Milwaukee.
So technically, this is one of those "meaningless" games for the Nets, while for the Blazers, it could literally mean everything.
And that is reflected in the NBA odds on this contest, as they are posted by BetAnySports:
Portland Trail Blazers -9.5
Brooklyn Nets +9.5
Over 236.5 points -110
Under 236.5 points -110
In case anybody was wondering, Vaughn, who is still in doubt as to whether he'll be kept on as coach next season, has indicated that he will play his starters in this contest. How long they'll play is another question. The conventional wisdom was that with all their player attrition, the Nets would come up very short in terms of depth, and we would not necessarily assert that they are stacked on the bench.
The COVID-19 hiatus has been good to the Blazers (34-39 SU, 32-38-3 ATS), because it gave them a chance to get healthier up front. This is not a team that plays "small ball" too much, so getting back Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins was quite a relief. But there was no time to ease them into the lineup, because the Blazers were among a cluster of teams that had to battle for the eighth and ninth spots in the conference.
And isn't it ironic that the guy who really didn't want to be there is the one leading the charge for this team, and in a very big way? Damian Lillard almost did not go to the bubble, but here he is, and it can be argued that he is the MVP of the seeding games.
In this desperate attempt to keep his team in the race, Lillard has scored 51 and 61 points in consecutive games, hitting 33 of 60 shots from the field, including thirteen triples. That's just dominant. And it represents vindication, as he missed two key free throws that made the difference between victory and defeat previous to that against the Clippers.
They will ride him - there's no two ways about it. But just about all hands will be on deck for this team that is fourth in Offensive Rating and third in three-point percentage (37.8%). How bad is that for Brooklyn?
Well, the injury report includes some people who you would otherwise expect to play, including forward Donte Hall, guard Chris Chiozza and guard Jamal Crawford. Will "thin" be in?
The one thing the Nets have done consistently here is to defy expectations, with the whole greater than the sum of its parts. I'm actually tempted to grab them with the points, although the OVER might work better with more second unit people likely to play.
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