The Pick: Trail Blazers 105-92
The Trail Blazers are a team I am very comfortable in taking for the first 50 or so games of the regular season and potentially even beyond that if their improved depth can play as well as I believe they are capable of. Damian Lillard leads a backcourt that can fill up the stat sheet in a hurry. Perimeter based players are scoring an average of 62.7 points on 45.5 percent shooting, making nearly nine triples nightly. They all shoot at least 75 percent from the free throw line and have a cumulative assist to turnover ratio north of 2.0. How are the Celtics going to combat this?
They can’t. Avery Bradley is a nice defender but struggles with consistency on offense (a starting point guard who averages just as many steals as assists and is shooting 22 percent from distance is far from ideal) while Jeff Green and Jordan Crawford play major minutes for their offensive upside: upside that comes up short when being compared to Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wes Matthews, and the rest of the third most efficient offense in the league.
In my opinion the advantage in the backcourt is enough to justify picking the Blazers in this one, but don’t worry, they also have a decided edge in the front court. LaMarcus Aldridge might be the most underrated star in the NBA as he is cut of the Tim Duncan mold. He isn’t flashy, just insanely productive. He’s averaging 21 points, again (fourth straight season). He’s grabbing eight boards a night, again (fifth straight season). He’s playing 37 minutes per game, again (fifth time in six seasons). You know exactly what you’re getting from Aldridge on a nightly basis which is something the Celtics lack in their front court. Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, and a pair of rookies (Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani) make for a potentially bright future, but can they slow down the production machine that is Aldridge? Truth be told, if I had to pick a young big man (25 years old or younger) to build around, it would be the Blazers’ Thomas Robinson. The man-child from Kansas has begun to show signs of comfort (averaging 25.3 points and 20.2 rebounds per 48 minutes on 51.5 percent shooting) in Portland, theoretically allowing him to tap into his tremendous potential sooner rather than later. Robin Lopez starts at center for the Trail Blazers, the perfect situation for the hustler who lacks a fluent offensive game. He’s notched three straight double-doubles and gives Portland 30 minutes of toughness every night.
The Trail Blazers relied on their starting unit as much as anyone last year, and while the bench has improved my main concern when targeting Portland is fatigue. That shouldn’t be an issue tonight, however, as they are playing only their second road game in nearly two weeks.
Fun fact: The Trail Blazers have been winning games despite struggling to stop their opponent’s star player. Portland is riding a four-game winning streak and hasn’t had the game’s highest scorer once in that stretch. On the flip side, the Celtics are 0-2 when their top scorer (Green) records a game-high point total. I think the Celtics are over-matched here, and if those stats hold not even a strong performance from their best offensives weapon will be enough to win.
Both of my picks covered last night, time for you to get paid. Looking for more of my work? My fantasy articles and NBA picks against the spread are published routinely and I’m always fielding questions @unSOPable23