Lakers vs. Nuggets Betting Picks, Odds & Predictions (Dec. 3): Should L.A. Really Be Underdogs?

Lakers vs. Nuggets Betting Picks, Odds & Predictions (Dec. 3): Should L.A. Really Be Underdogs? article feature image

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Nikola Jokic

  • The Los Angeles Lakers visit Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night (9 p.m. ET). The latest betting odds for the matchup make the Nuggets a slight favorite (spread: -2.5) with the over/under set at 207.5.
  • Will the Nuggets have their way with LeBron & Co. at home? Or is there value in picking the Lakers as underdogs?
  • NBA expert Matt Moore analyzes two key angles and makes his betting picks for the matchup.

Two angles based on matchups and trends for Tuesday’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets…


OK, so let me take you back two years ago.

The Nuggets are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, and have been the past three years. This, to head coach Michael Malone, was like waking up every single day with his arm asleep. Just annoying beyond belief.

So going into the 2018-19 season, the Nuggets fundamentally shifted their coverage. It turns out that the best way to effectively use Nikola Jokic was to put him at the level of the screen in pick and rolls, hedging the ball-handler until the guard could get over the screen. When done perfectly, it forces the ball-handler to pick up his dribble, hesitate, and allow for backside defenders to catch.

Even when not executed perfectly, it gives the backside defense time to catch up because passes have to be made over Jokic which takes longer, and it stops the primary pick-and-roll ball-handler.

Here’s a great example, twice within a possession, of what they’re looking for.

However… this also means that you’ve got two players, one of them a big, way up the floor. Which means if you do get the ball out…

It is not a coincidence that the Nuggets are 27th in points per game allowed to the pick-and-roll screener, and dead last, 30th in points per game allowed, on cuts. Jokic isn’t a leaper to begin with, isn’t in great shape, and their backside defenders are all undersized.

Even when Jokic isn’t involved in the screen action, it’s a problem. Jokic has always struggled with pogo-stick leapers who can just dunk over him. As long as you throw the lob high enough, there’s nothing he can do to contest. Clint Capela, JaVale McGee, Deandre Ayton — all of these guys have big games vs. the Denver scheme.

Oh, yeah, and the Lakers have Anthony Davis to go along with McGee and Dwight Howard.

Per Yahoo Sports, the Lakers are No. 1 in the league in alley-oops, and on pace for a historic mark in that category. The Lakers are also No. 1 team in points per game from the roll man in pick and roll, and the No. 1 team in the league off cuts. So the Lakers are literally the best in the league at the thing the Nuggets are the worst in the league at.

Denver’s defense is legit. They attack the ball-handler, make great rotations, give multiple efforts, and funnel the ball to the spot-up shooters they will live with taking shots. Some of their success is luck; via, the Nuggets have almost a 3 percentage point differential between their expected opponent eFG% and actual. But some of that is also disruption of rhythm and how hard they run shooters off the line.

Overall, however, the Lakers present a specific challenge to how Denver has built their defense.

Denver can also go into a drop scheme, but this doesn’t solve much; the lob threat is still there, and it allows LeBron James to get a head of steam to the basket or to pull-up uncontested.

The Lakers’ offense started slow but has been lights out the last 10 games. Denver’s a great defensive team, but this matchup against a team total number as low as 103.5 for LA puts rare value on such a public team.

THE PLAY: Lakers Team Total Over 103.5

[In New Jersey? Bet now at PointsBet]


The Bulls have been one of the most disappointing teams this season. Yet, they are also tied in our system for the most games where the money has come in at a 10% higher rate than the ticket count, which means bigger money bets are gravitating to Chicago. (The Pelicans are No. 1, by the way.)

What does this mean? It means the sharps are typically betting teams likely to regress to the mean. The Bulls have been one of the worst teams in the league in regards to their expected eFG% (54%) vs. their actual (49%). They should have been much better offensively to start the season than they have been.

What does this have to do with the Nuggets and Lakers? The Nuggets are exactly that kind of team. They’ve been a top-five offense each of the past four seasons, yet are currently just 18th in offensive rating.

I don’t know what the sharp bettors are thinking here, but they are very much on Denver in this game. After the Nuggets opened -1.5, it immediately moved to -2 and we’ve tracked two Steam Moves on Denver.

Denver was killer last year at home, going 27-19. The public nature of the Lakers means the line is always a little tilted in their favor; this should probably be closer to Denver -3, given Denver’s homecourt advantage in altitude. 538’s RAPTOR rating has this game Nuggets -6.

So now that I’ve given you all these reasons to back Denver, let me tell you why I’m on the Lakers, beyond the above analysis.

The tricky thing with regression obviously is that over time, sure, it’s going to come. But in the meantime, you’re trying to get ahead of a likely event that has yet to occur. The car hasn’t started six times in a row, and yes, the odds are that if the car’s actually in good condition, it’s going to start that seventh time.

But NBA offenses, in particular are trickier than that. They’re about rhythm, confidence and energy, and those things are hard to quantify. Denver’s offense had finally started to look like it was humming last week, before it ran off a pier and into a bog on Sunday vs. the Kings. Even over the past five games when things looked better, Denver still ranked 20th in offensive rating.

Are you betting on a trend self-correcting? Or on a trend holding pace?

One more thing: The Nuggets aren’t like Chicago; they’re not creating good looks that they’re simply missing. They have the third-worst expected eFG% via They are sixth-worst in actual eFG% at 50.42% … and that’s actually better than their expected mark! Their terrible shooting is overperforming expectations!

Denver won’t be this way all year. Jokic will find his lungs, the team will work out some of the new rotation issues. And certainly, Jamal Murray could get loose tonight and go off to shape the game. But there’s nothing in the eye test to make you believe in this Nuggets’ offense, especially against this Lakers’ defense, which remains very good in the eye test.

I’m fading the sharps.

THE PLAY: Lakers moneyline +110

[In New Jersey? Bet now at PointsBet]

Matt Moore is 621-621-16 (50%) overall betting on the NBA. You can follow him in our free app.

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