Moore’s Betting Angles: Key Takeaways From Lakers vs. Nuggets Game 1
Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post. Pictured: Rui Hachimura (28) of the Los Angeles Lakers fouls Nikola Jokic (15) of the Denver Nuggets.
Game 1 of the Western Conference finals was a wild one. There were wild swings from both teams in each half and a near comeback from the Los Angeles Lakers after an adjustment to how the Denver Nuggets were attacking them on offense.
So let’s get into the big takeaways from last night’s series opener and the angles to watch in Game 2.
A “QUIET” 40
Anthony Davis scored 40 points on 14-of-23 shooting. He outscored Nikola Jokic by six.
But in basketball, there are buckets that feel impactful, that shape the game, and ones that don’t. Davis may not have had a quiet 40; his points were instrumental in the Lakers’ second-half comeback.
But every play Jokic made was loud. Every bucket felt like a kick to the gut. Every assist was a slice on the Lakers’ body armor. With Davis, presumed to be the best individual defender remaining in the playoffs, defending Jokic, the Nuggets scored 1.42 points per possession, a mark hotter than the sun.
Meanwhile, despite the 40 from Davis, the Lakers’ offense was actually better in the 6:10 he didn’t play.
The Bishop’s Opening
Jokic’s performance prompted the first big adjustment of the series from Lakers coach Darvin Ham. Ham benched D’Angelo Russell entirely and went to Rui Hachimura at power forward. The Lakers defended Jokic with Hachimura, and used Davis on Aaron Gordon, roaming for backside help.
The results were undeniable. With Hachimura on the floor defending Jokic in the second half, the two-time MVP did not score a field goal. In the second-half, the Lakers allowed just a 103 defensive rating in Hachimura’s minutes.
Hachimura made sure he wasn’t an offensive liability like Jared Vanderbilt can be, scoring eight points on 4-of-5 shooting in the second half. That combination flummoxed the Nuggets and added to the Lakers’ massive comeback.
So the game of adjustments begins.
Coaches have told me in the past that they want to avoid being the first to adjust. You get away from your intended game plan and oftentimes what has gotten you to this point. You also set off a chain reaction. There are reasons why you don’t start with whatever you adjust to; there are costs to them.
With Hachimura it takes ball handling and quickness off the floor. The Lakers don’t sacrifice shooting; Hachimura is shooting 55% from 3 in the playoffs.
But there are ways to overpower Hachimura. It’s a move to go big without going big.
It should be noted that this scheme has given the Nuggets fits before. The Philadelphia 76ers did this in their matchup with Denver when Joel Embiid played in Philly. After losing the first half, PJ Tucker began to guard Jokic with Embiid roaming. The Lakers took a similar approach.
There are counters; the Nuggets will likely look to involve Gordon as a screener for Jokic to, ironically, get Anthony Davis back defending Jokic. Davis is more dangerous as a help defender in this series, and Hachimura better on-ball.
Aaron Gordon will need to present as an offensive threat, however. If he’s a non-factor, the Lakers will just send both Hachimura and Davis after Jokic in pick-and-rolls.
The Lakers have more players to go to in this series, the Nuggets have more ways to use their eight guys they’ll use. The Lakers showed the Nuggets a lot in trying to steal Game 1 and failing. But Denver won’t just solve the Hachimura twist instantly. It’ll take some tweaks. Whether they can do that and win Game 2 is the question.
The Ineffective Infection
When Jamal Murray popped up on the injury report as questionable with a non-COVID illness, Nuggets media murmured. Murray was questionable with the illness in Game 6 vs.Phoenix last week. He’s still sick?
Turns out that Murray developed an ear infection on Saturday.
Then he went out and dropped 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting with five assists in a Nuggets win.
Murray was hunted relentlessly by LeBron James in stagger minutes off switches and Denver will have to find a way to better deny those switches.
Murray was visibly gassed by the end of the night and in the postgame media.
But ultimately, Murray put in a huge performance to help his team win the first game of the conference finals.
The Lakers, for some reason, chose to go under screens consistently on Jamal Murray and dare him to hit jumpers, which he happily obliged.
Expect to see a lot more going over on screens which will open up the two-man game with Jokic more in Game 2.
For Murray’s part, it might not be the Flu Game, but his toughness in this spot should be noted and commended.
You should not overreact to Game 1.
If you liked the Lakers, you should still like the Lakers. You can get a better price on them (+240 in some places) to win the series outright but if you already bet them, you don’t need to jump on it; they are down 1-0 after all.
If you liked the Nuggets, you should feel fine. Yes, they blew a big lead. But the Lakers burned a lot of fuel in that comeback and face a quick turnaround in altitude. There are adjustments to find and many ways Denver can play better defensively.
That’s been an odd narrative in this series and in these playoffs. When the Nuggets play poor defense, that’s just who they are, the story goes, and when Nuggets opponents struggle to defend their offense, it’s some sort of failure. Spoiler alert: the Nuggets offense is elite.
If you had Lakers in five? Yeah, you should probably find a way to bet Nuggets. If you had Nuggets in five? You might be alive but your odds are not good.
All other series bets are fine after Game 1. We learned a lot about the matchups and how this series will play out; we learned very little about the actual eventual outcome.
Game 2 Market
The Nuggets opened -6.5 and that was immediately bet to -5.5. The total moved up to 223.5 at open and was bet up to 226.5. I was on the over in Game 1, but I’m a lot more cautious about the total in Game 2.
The Nuggets ran the ball in the first half and then ground to a halt in the second. Denver was getting into its offense routinely with 10 seconds left on the clock. The Lakers ran more, but still not very much.
Game 2 might be a good under play, as Denver has made defensive adjustments in Game 2 of the first two series.
I’ll be on D’Angelo Russell unders; he just may not be playable in this series. I’ll also be betting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope points overs again. Usually I don’t chase after a big Game 1, but the way the Lakers are guarding dribble hand-offs is going to present consistent looks for a good shooter in Caldwell-Pope.
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