The Damian Lillard hype train makes the Denver Nuggets a solid NBA pick when they visit the Portland Trail Blazers for Thursday’s Game 6.
Denver Nuggets vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Thursday, June 03, 2021 – 08:00 PM EDT at Moda Center
Tuesday’s game between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers was one for the ages. It was a close-fought contest, as you might expect between the Nos. 3 and 6 seeds in the Western Conference; in the end, the Nuggets needed two overtimes to put Portland away 147-140 as 2-point home faves on the NBA lines, taking a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven first-round series. Nobody was talking about Denver after their victory, though. The post-game media coverage was all about Damian Lillard, who forced both overtimes with a pair of classic “Dame Time” threes. Lillard definitely has a nose for the spotlight, but as long as the betting public is focused on his shooting and nothing else, the Nuggets will continue to be the right NBA pick for this series – including Thursday’s Game 6, where they’re getting five points on the road at SBK’s online sportsbook.
Indefensible There’s a lot to like about Lillard and the Blazers. They went on an epic late-season run to make the Western playoffs, thanks in no small part to the return of starting center Jusuf Nurkic from the injured list, and the acquisition of two-way wing Norman Powell at the trade deadline. Lillard, though, is the engine that makes Portland hum; he’s one of the most gifted scorers in the game, providing 28.9 points per 36 minutes while dishing out 7.6 dimes. It’s the other end where Lillard’s flaws show up – if anyone cares to look. Defense is very hard to pin down with metrics, but Basketball Reference is trying anyway with their Defensive Box Plus/Minus stats, where Lillard posted a minus-1.6 DBPM during the regular season. So did Carmelo Anthony, another one-dimensional volume scorer and a proto-Lillard both on and off the court. Lillard’s backcourt partner, C.J. McCollum, was a minus-1.5. Reserve center Enes Kanter (minus-1.5 DBPM) and back-up guard Anfernee Simons (minus-1.8 DBPM) were also negative contributors on defense according to the analytics.
The Truth Hurts Casual basketball fans hate analytics, of course. And that hatred seems to boil over when it comes to certain NBA stars like Lillard and Anthony. On the flip side, nobody wants to give Nikola Jokic his props. Denver’s do-everything big is almost certainly going to win this year’s regular-season MVP award, but at press time, the top sportsbooks‘s NBA odds have Jokic priced at +2500 to win Finals MVP. Compare and contrast to LeBron James, who’s available at +1000 even though his hobbled Los Angeles Lakers are down 3-2 to the Phoenix Suns in their Western quarterfinal. For that matter, look at what back-up point guard Facundo Campazzo (plus-1.0 DBPM) has been able to do for Denver since replacing the injured Jamal Murray (minus-1.0 DBPM) in the starting
lineup. Campazzo isn’t nearly the offensive creator that Murray is, but with Jokic in the middle, he doesn’t have to be. All this boring defense from boring players who don’t saturate TV and social media with their personae? It might not make the headlines, but it has Denver up 3-2 SU and ATS in this series. No sense in betting otherwise.
Pick: Nuggets +5 (–108) at SBK