Many expected the Golden State Warriors to continue their dominance in the 2017-18 NBA regular season, after sweeping through the playoffs last season with a 16-1 record. While the Warriors have had a good season, they haven’t been as dominant as the Houston Rockets.
Houston has easily out-shined any other team up to this point. They come into the 2018 NBA playoffs with a 65-17 record, guaranteeing them home-court advantage throughout the postseason.
Will they dethrone Golden State and face the Eastern Conference champion? Find out as we discuss all the Western Conference first-round postseason series.
2018 NBA Western Conference Playoffs Betting & Matchups
No. 1 Houston Rockets (65-17) vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35)
Paul has been the perfect complement to start shooting guard James Harden throughout the season. And Harden looks like the favorite to win the 2018 MVP award.
Mike D’Antoni’s offense is the best in the NBA. And they also have the sixth-ranked defense, led by shot-blocking center Clint Capela. The only chink in Houston’s armor heading is the playoffs is that they lost Luc Mbah a Moute for an indefinite amount of time.
The Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t coming to the postseason with the same steam as Houston. Jimmy Butler hurt his knee (right meniscus) a few weeks ago, and the team struggled in his absence. They tumbled down the standings and had to win an overtime game against the Denver Nuggets to secure the eighth seed.
Butler opted for a questionable surgery to put him on the court quicker. But Minnesota is certainly glad to have him back, because he led the win over the Nuggets with 31 points.
The Twolves also have other talent in All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns and guard Andrew Wiggins. With Butler, Towns, and Wiggins, this team has no trouble putting the ball in the basket. Their only problem is defense, because they rank in the bottom 10.
Minnesota doesn’t have any chance to stop Houston on a consistent basis. Therefore, they’ll have to trade baskets back and forth. But this team was fourth in the West before Butler’s injury.
That said, Houston draws a little tougher matchup than they normally would in the first round. But I still see the Rockets moving on in five games.
2018 Timberwolves vs. Rockets Playoffs Odds
- Houston -11.5 (-108); moneyline -830
- Minnesota +11.5 (-110); moneyline +600
- Over 216.5 (-109)
- Under 216.5 (-109)
Rockets Twolves Game Schedule
- Game 1 @HOU: 9 p.m. ET, Sunday, April 15 (TNT)
- Game 2 @HOU: 9:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday, April 18 (TNT)
- Game 3 @MIN: 7:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 21 (ESPN)
- Game 4 @MIN: 8 p.m. ET, Monday, April 23 (TNT)
- Game 5 @HOU: TBD, Wednesday, April 25 (TBD)*
- Game 6 @MIN: TBD, Friday, April 27 (TBD)*
- Game 7 @HOU: TBD, Sunday, April 29 (TBD)*
* If necessary
No. 2 Golden State Warriors (58-24) vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs (47-35)
Few predicted that Golden State would end this season so badly. Although they won 58 games and feature a roster with four All-Stars, they’ve also lost six of their last 10 games, including a 40-point blasting in Utah to end the regular season.
The biggest reason why they’re struggling so much is because Steph Curry is nursing a sprained MCL. He likely won’t play in the first round series against the Spurs.
Nevertheless, this team is still expected to defend their crown, especially if Curry gets back on the court and playing at full speed for a possible Western Conference Finals showdown with the Rockets. Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green will have to be enough until then to survive San Antonio.
Speaking of which, the Spurs aren’t exactly entering the series at full strength either. San Antonio has been missing two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard for weeks (right quadriceps). There’s no word on when the perennial MVP candidate will be back on the court.
Gregg Popovich will try to work his coaching magic by using what the team does have. This includes All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Rudy Gay.
San Antonio always plays a great team game that gets the most out of their roster. But they’re not getting much of an advantage by drawing Golden State in the first round. And the subtractions of Leonard and Curry offset each other. I look for the Durant-led Warriors to still take this game in five or six contests.
2018 Spurs vs. Warriors Playoffs Odds
- Golden State Warriors -8 (-109); moneyline -370
- San Antonio Spurs +8 (-109); moneyline +312
- Over 211 (-108)
- Under 211 (-111)
Warriors Spurs Game Schedule
- Game 1 @GS: 3 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 14 (ABC)
- Game 2 @GS: 10:30 p.m. ET, Monday, April 16 (TNT)
- Game 3 @SA: 10:30 p.m. ET, Thursday, April 19 (TNT)
- Game 4 @SA: 3:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, April 22 (ABC)
- Game 5 @GS: TBD, Tuesday, April 24 (TBD)*
- Game 6 @SA: TBD, Thursday, April 26 (TBD)*
- Game 7 @GS: TBD, Saturday, April 28 (TBD)*
No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers (49-33) vs. No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans (48-34)
Damian Lillard has always been a high-scoring guard that the Trail Blazers can count on. But he’s taken his game to an even higher level this season by nailing three pointers left and right and notching plenty of nice assists.
He doesn’t have to do it alone either, because Portland also features strong play from guard C.J. McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic. The Blazers have played especially well in the second half of the season, and they’ll try to carry this momentum into the matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Many wondered if New Orleans’ playoff chances were officially done when center DeMarcus Cousins went down with a midseason injury. But forward Anthony Davis has put the team on his back and carried them into the playoffs.
Case in point, The Brow is averaging 31 points and 12 rebounds over the past 30 games of the season. If the MVP award was strictly based on the most dominant player, Davis would be the winner.
He’s also received help from point guard Rajon Rondo, forward Nikola Mirotic, and guard Jrue Holiday. The latter is finally healthy after years of exiting seasons with various injuries.
New Orleans has made a strong push to land the sixth seed. It’ll be interesting to see if Davis can continue carrying his squad to victory.
But I see them having difficulty with a Blazers squad that’s stepped their game up to a new level this year. Look for Portland to win this series in four or five games.
2018 Pelicans vs. Blazers Playoffs Odds
- Portland -5.5 (-109); moneyline -238
- Pelicans +5.5 (-109); moneyline +198
- Over 217 (-109)
- Under 217 (-109)
Blazers Pelicans Game Schedule
- Game 1 @POR: 10:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 14 (ESPN)
- Game 2 @POR: 10:30 p.m. ET, Tuesday, April 17 (TNT)
- Game 3 @NO: 9 p.m. ET, Thursday, April 19 (NBA)
- Game 4 @NO: 5 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 21 (TNT)
- Game 5 @POR: TBD, Tuesday, April 24 (TBD)*
- Game 6 @NO: TBD, Thursday, April 26 (TBD)*
- Game 7 @POR: TBD, Saturday, April 28 (TBD)*
No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder (48-34) vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz (48-34)
Nobody expected the Utah jazz to be in this position after they lost starting point guard George Hill and All-Star forward Gordon Hayward to free agency. This is, after all, the same spot that the Jazz finished in last year with Hayward and Hill.
But the Jazz have maintained strong play thanks to the rise of rookie Donovan Mitchell, excellent play from Defensive Player of Year candidate Rudy Gobert, and great coaching from Quin Snyder.
Gobert was out for some time with an injury. But the team has been on a tear ever since he returned to the court a few months ago.
Oklahoma City has headlining stars in Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. They also have one of the league’s most-underrated centers in Steven Adams. Westbrook is especially notable here, because he closed out the season by becoming the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double for two years in a row.
That said, it’s no wonder why this team can look like a championship contender on many nights. But other nights, they looked like a collection of All-Stars who don’t know how to play together.
This is easily the toughest series to call in the 2018 playoffs. On one hand, you have the feel-good Utah jazz, who give a strong effort every night. On the other hand, you have a team of bonafide stars that can come together to devastate opponents.
This series comes down to team defense versus a squad that can light it up. I really like how the Jazz shut down opponents, thanks to Gobert patrolling the middle. But I think that they’ll struggle to get much offense outside of the rookie Mitchell.
The Thunder are an inconsistent team that sometimes lacks an identity. And Melo has struggled in a third-option role. But they still have the collective experience and talent to win a close series in seven games. The defining factor comes down to how they have home court for Game 7.
2018 Jazz vs. Thunder Playoffs Odds
- Oklahoma City -3.5 (-106); moneyline -286
- Utah +3.5 (-109); moneyline +242
- Over 213.5 (-113)
- Under 213.5 (-106)
Thunder Jazz Game Schedule
- Game 1 @OKC: 6:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, April 15 (TNT)
- Game 2 @OKC: 8 p.m. ET, Wednesday, April 18 (NBA)
- Game 3 @UTH: 10 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 21 (ESPN)
- Game 4 @UTH: 10:30 p.m. ET, Monday, April 23 (TNT)
- Game 5 @OKC: TBD, Wednesday, April 25 (TBD)*
- Game 6 @UTH: TBD, Friday, April 27 (TBD)*
- Game 7 @OKC: TBD, Sunday, April 29 (TBD)*