Nuggets vs. Lakers Odds & Picks: Back Nikola Jokic and Denver’s Surging Offense
AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images. Pictured: Nikola Jokic (15) of the Denver Nuggets.
- The Denver Nuggets go on the road to face the Los Angeles Lakers in a marquee matchup on Thursday night.
- The Nuggets are hitting another gear at this point in the season, while the Lakers are coasting. Still, the Lakers enter tonight's games as 5-point favorites at home.
- Kenny Ducey explains why there is betting value on the road dog in tonight's matchup.
Nuggets vs. Lakers Odds
|Moneyline||+160 / -195|
|Time||10 p.m. ET|
About two weeks ago the Denver Nuggets were sitting below .500 outside of the top eight in the West standings and struggling to win close games.
But in typical Nuggets fashion, they manage to thrive with their backs against the wall and have ripped off six wins in their past seven games behind the stellar play of big man and MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic.
On Thursday night they face another test they saw in the postseason last year: LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. James and Co. have won and lost some ugly games recently and could use a statement win against a team that is pushing its way into the the top four in the West.
So where’s the value tonight? Let’s dig into the data and matchups to find out.
The Nuggets will be missing a pair of key guards for this one in PJ Dozier (hamstring) and Garry Harris (adductor), who were both ruled out on Wednesday’s injury report. Harris’ is the more recent — and relevant — of the two, seeing as he’s started every game this year and averaged nearly 31 minutes.
Following his exit just eight minutes into their game on Sunday, the Nuggets opted to give Harris’ minutes to starter Will Barton and bench guard Facundo Campazzo, who both had very efficient minutes.
Though he’s adding a lot of value on offense — Denver’s scoring is getting a slight one-point boost per 100 plays with Barton on the floor this season according to NBA Advanced Stats — the defense has taken a huge hit, allowing 4.3 more points.
Defense is a hot-button issue for the Nuggets. All season long, they have struggled with rotations, failing to contain their opponents to the tune of the 18th-ranked Defensive Rating (110.9) in the NBA.
They’ve been particularly abused from the 3-point line, where opponents have shot at a 37.5% clip. The defense already took a hit with the loss of Dozier — he ranks second among Denver’s rotation with a 102.6 Defensive Rating — and now it should see another slight dip with more minutes going to Barton.
Despite all of this, the offense has simply been so good for the Nuggets that it hasn’t mattered. Denver’s won six of seven, and in that span they’ve boasted the fourth-best offense in the league with nearly 119 points per game.
Though they’ve beaten two top-10 defenses during their run in the Suns (twice) and Jazz, the Lakers — the league’s best defense — will present Denver’s biggest test. Its offense will need to once again answer the call.
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Los Angeles Lakers
Surprise, surprise. I probably shouldn’t even bring it up at this point, but LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (calf) are listed on the injury report for this one, just as they have been every single game. That hasn’t stopped from James playing in all 22 games this season, or Davis playing in 19.
Both are probable, and Action Labs currently projects they’re more-than likely to suit up tonight. So, there’s no real injury news to report for Los Angeles, which is a good thing.
LA’s run as the best team in the league is being contested nightly these days. After covering the spread in six of seven games, the Lakers have just one ATS win in their past five games and now will be laying five points against one of the NBA’s hottest teams and most potent offenses.
Over that span, the Lakers — who lead the league in defensive efficiency this season — rank just ninth with 109.1 points allowed per 100 possessions, suggesting this once impenetrable defense is the slightest bit vulnerable.
It may be boring, but the thing to look out for here will be the battle in the paint. The Lakers are currently running post-ups at a higher rate than anyone in the league at 10.6%, according to Synergy, while Denver sits third. Both are scoring a near-identical amount out of the plays, with a difference of just .03 points per possession.
On defense, however, there is a larger discrepancy. The Lakers are allowing 1.03 points per post-up, which rates fifth-worst in the NBA, while the Nuggets have ranked around the median with 0.92 points allowed per play, and have just a 45.5% field goal percentage against in these situations.
It’s no surprise considering the three biggest names in this matchup — Nikola Jokic, LeBron James and Anthony Davis — all rank in the top 30 in post-up frequency and are known for their prowess on the block, but it’s certainly noteworthy that the team with the stronger overall defense has had the weaker post defense on these plays.
The Nuggets seem to be surging at the moment, and with the lofty expectations we’ve long had for this club, it feels more like the beginning of sustained dominance in the West rather than a fling. The offense has come together in a big way for Denver, and even in its previous five games, it’s done a much better job on the defensive side of the ball with a top-five rating.
The same can’t be said for the Lakers, whose defense is suddenly slipping and whose early-season roll has seemed to slow just a bit.
Do I expect the Lakers to put forth one of their better performances of the early season in a nationally-televised game against one of the top teams in their conference? Absolutely. I’m just not sure that’s going to matter with how easily the Nuggets are scoring, and I’m certainly not convinced LA will roll and snap out of its ATS funk with such a tough matchup.
Nikola Jokic has shown us time and time again this season that he is truly unstoppable, and considering Anthony Davis (1.08 points allowed per play) and the Lakers as a whole have struggled against post-ups, I think Jokic should be able to cook down low just as he did last week against one of the league’s strongest defenders in Rudy Gobert. That is only one facet of the Nuggets’ offense that can beat you, of course; their shooting has been other-worldly time and time again this year.
I think the Nuggets have a real chance to win this game, so I will look at sprinkling some on the moneyline. That means I’m especially inclined to take the points here with Denver.
Pick: Nuggets +5