Moore: The Denver Nuggets Still Offer Value as 0-2 Underdogs in Game 3
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets shoots the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers.
- The Denver Nuggets are accustomed to overcoming deficits, both in individual games and in full seven-game playoffs series.
- Matt Moore explains how far back this trend goes and why it matters against the Los Angeles Lakers for his Game 3 bets.
On May 3, 2019, the Denver Nuggets lost an absolutely brutal game. In a semifinals series tied at one game apiece, in their first playoff run with a young core, the Nuggets faced the Portland Trial Blazers on the road in the confines of one of the most raucous arenas in the league.
Game 3 went to overtime. And then another. And then another. And then… another. Four overtimes, on the road. The Nuggets had a weird out of bounds call go against them, and then a jump ball was thrown horribly. Nikola Jokic played 64 minutes in that game. Jamal Murray played 55 minutes. Every sling and arrow that could be suffered was in that game.
They lost by three points. It was heartbreaking and brutal and exhausting and no one thought they had anything left, especially on the road.
But the Nugget won Game 4.
One of the most popular chestnuts constantly thrown around in this year’s Western Conference finals is that the Los Angeles Lakers are not the LA Clippers, nor are they the Utah Jazz — and that’s absolutely true. The Lakers have a better collective identity and heart than the Clippers, and better top-end talent than the Jazz. They are the best team remaining in the playoffs, no doubt.
However, the idea that the Nuggets can’t possibly get up from Anthony Davis’ Kobe-esque game-winner in Game 2 ignores the very recent history of this team.
Not only did the Nuggets bounce back in Game 4 against the Blazers last postseason, they responded after the Jazz broke their hearts in their 129-127 Game 4 loss that put them in a 1-3 hole in Round 1 this postseason. The defense profoundly changed from that point forward.
In short: the Nuggets respond better to close losses than many expect.
This sample isn’t large, I get it. But if you’re at all considering that the emotional letdown of Game 2 will bury Denver, it’s simply not what their DNA has shown in their young playoff careers.
Also consider this: the Nuggets have been down 2-1 in all four playoff series it has played with the Jokic-Murray core. The San Antonio Spurs won Games 1 and 2 in the first round last year, the Trial Blazers won Game 3 to go up 2-1. The Jazz blew out the Nuggets, who played one of the worst playoff performances I’ve ever seen to go up 2-1 this year, and the Clippers took a 2-1 lead all the same.
Denver hasn’t been down 3-0 yet.
Now, again, they aren’t playing the Spurs, Blazers, Jazz, or Clippers. This is LeBron James and Davis and some other guys (and Alex Caruso who everyone loves!).
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But there’s also something to take away from Game 2. The Nuggets had been thoroughly dominated through a game and a half. It was looking closer to a sweep than any sort of competitive series. (And a sweep is still possible.) But in the second half, the Nuggets figured out a number of things.
In the second half, Denver managed to not only hold the Lakers to a 95.7 offensive rating while putting up a 115 on their own. Jokic found ways to combat Dwight Howard and win his matchups. Murray came alive to score 15 of his 25 points.
The Davis-at-5 lineup was all the rage coming in from commentators outside of Denver. Analysts closer to the team knew that Howard and JaVale McGee presented more of a problem.
In Game 2, the Lakers were only +3.2 per 100 possessions with Davis at the 5, and in nine minutes, that lineup was outscored by eight in the second half.
These are slices of slices of slices to find trends, for sure. But the bigger key is that no one knew if the Nuggets could actually compete with the Lakers. They managed to compete in Game 2 and lost on a catch-and-shoot game-winner from a career 30% 3-point shooter who hit 33% of his 3s in the regular season (39% so far in the playoffs).
Some teams might be crushed by coming that close to the summit and getting knocked down. The Nuggets are not a team that does it the easy way. They are not a team that has won games or series from the start. It takes them time to figure a team out, to slowly take things away from their opponents and find advantages where they can apply pressure.
If you’re going to bet Game 3, I wouldn’t go halfway with the spread. The moneyline for the Nuggets is listed between +215 and +230 depending on the book. The Lakers have been told they are amazing for two weeks. The Nuggets have proven to be stubborn to say the least.
I think the Lakers win this series, maybe even in five. I don’t believe it’ll be a sweep. Not yet anyway, despite this being a terrible matchup for Denver.
But I like the Nuggets to win Game 3 outright.