Nuggets vs. Lakers NBA Odds & Picks: Back Jokić, Denver in Showdown with Los Angeles (Monday, May 3)
C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images. Pictured: Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokić
- Two powers in the Western Conference meet on Monday night in hopes of finishing the regular season on a high note.
- The Lakers have struggled of late and face some injury problems, while Denver is getting ready for the playoffs without Jamal Murray.
- Raheem Palmer breaks down the matchup, delivering picks on the spread and game total.
Nuggets vs. Lakers Odds
|Moneyline||-175 / +145|
|Time||Monday, 10 p.m. ET|
Is there trouble in paradise?
With eight games left in the regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in danger of needing to win a play-in game to make the postseason. They’ve dropped down to the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoff race with a 36-28 record.
Already reeling from an 8-12 stretch without LeBron James, the Lakers haven’t been able to stop the bleeding. They’ve lost six out of their last seven games, and despite having both James and Anthony Davis for the past two games, the Lakers los both games — a 110-106 loss to Sacramento on Friday and Sunday’s 121-114 defeat against Toronto.
Things don’t get any easier for Los Angeles, due to the fact it hosts the MVP favorite Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets. Jokić and his teammates are coming off a 110-104 upset victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday. Nonetheless, oddsmakers have installed the Nuggets as -4-point favorites, with a total of 215.5 in this pivotal Western Conference showdown.
Can the Nuggets complete the clean sweep of the two Los Angeles teams or will James, Davis and the Lakers snap their three-game losing streak as they try to avoid the play-in game?
Let’s find out.
When Jamal Murray went down with a torn ACL in Denver’s 116-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors back on April 12, most people considered that the end of the franchise’s championship aspirations.
However, the Nuggets had other plans, going 9-1 since Murray’s injury, They have moved up to third in the conference standings with a 43-21 record. During this 10-game stretch, Denver is third in Net Rating (7.9); third in Offensive Rating (117.9); and, eighth in Defensive Rating (110) overall.
If it hasn’t already, the #AnybodyButJokic MVP campaign that many media members have continued to push should have received the nail in the coffin in Saturday’s 110-104 win over the Clippers. Jokić finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in the victory.
Even more noteworthy is that Jokić has continued to look like the best player on the floor, even in a game that featured Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Although the Clippers don’t have the bigs to deal with Jokić, the Lakers pose a tougher test given the presence of Davis, Marc Gasol and Andre Drummond.
Still, you have to wonder if Davis has gotten his legs under him and if Lakers have built any defensive chemistry since his return. Nonetheless, with a player as good as Jokić, it’s tough to slow him down. With Jokić averaging 26.2 points, 8.5 assists and 10.9 rebounds, the Nuggets have a chance to win every outing.
If the loss of Murray wasn’t tough enough, the Nuggets are also dealing with hamstring injuries Will Barton and Monte Morris, which should keep both sidelined a few more games.
Fortunately for the Nuggets, they’ve had other players step up in the absence of Murray. Michael Porter Jr. has proven why he was the potential No. 1 pick in the draft before slipping down the board due to injuries. He’s averaging 25.6 points and 6.7 rebounds, while shooting 57.2% from the field and 51.3% from behind the arc.
He now takes on James one game after collecting 25 points, five assists and seven rebounds against Leonard and George. Facundo Campazzo has also taken on the role of starting point guard. Despite being undersized at 5-foot-10 inches, he’s proven he can defend and hit big shots.
One thing we can’t overlook when it comes to the Nuggets is that not only is their offense one of the best in the league, they dominate on the offensive glass creating extra possessions. The Nuggets are second in Offensive Rebound Rate, grabbing 28.4 percent of their missed field goals. It will be interesting to see if they can create extra possessions against the Lakers, who are sixth in Defensive Rebound Rate (76.1%) this season.
The addition of Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline has reshaped the Nuggets, given his ability to score, make plays and defend. Since his first appearance on March 28, the Nuggets are third in Net Rating (6.7); third in Offensive Rating (116.7); and, eighth in Defensive Rating (110.0) overall.
The biggest impact came on the defensive end of the floor, as the Nuggets were 20th in Defensive Rating, allowing teams to score 112 points per 100 possessions prior to the acquisition of Gordon.
Despite the improvement on defense, Denver could have problems stopping the Lakers in this matchup, as they’re dead last in opponent field-goal percentage at the rim (68.2%), which is an area where the Lakers are taking the sixth-most attempts at 36.7% percent.
The Nuggets have done a solid job at limiting attempts at the rim, though, as they’re eighth in frequency of shots (31.2%), so it’ll be interesting to see if they can pack the paint and limit the Lakers from scoring inside.
Los Angeles Lakers
Things aren’t looking good for the Los Angeles. Losing games is one thing, but the Lakers are losing to teams who are dealing with injuries to their best players and trying to improve their draft position for next season.
The loss to Sacramento on Friday was troubling, considering the absences of both De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes. Los Angeles followed that up with a loss against a mediocre Toronto team that was missing Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr. and Chris Boucher.
Nonetheless, with eight games to play, the Lakers are in danger of needing to win a play-in game to get into the postseason, which doesn’t bode well for a team who’s two best players have just returned from injury. Davis missed 30 games and has had a bit more time to get his legs under him given that returned April 22 and played six games.
James, who has played just two games, is returning from the longest absence of his career due to a high ankle sprain he suffered on March 20 that caused him to miss 20 games.
The Lakers need James and Davis to shake off the rust, plus work toward building continuity and chemistry with the rest of the team to avoid the play-in game. Unfortunately, James left Sunday’s game with a sore right ankle in the fourth quarter. He’s is questionable against Denver, so be sure to check his status on the Action Network app.
The Lakers were able to maintain a top-tier defense without both James and Davis, as they were fourth in Defensive Rating in the last 20 games, holding opposing teams to 107.6 points per 100 possessions.
However, since the return of Davis on April 22, this defense hasn’t been as good and he hasn’t made the impact defensive he made prior to getting hurt. Since his return, the Lakers are 20th in Defensive Rating, allowing 113.7 points per 100 possessions and he appears just a step too slow.
Even more troubling is that Davis hasn’t made much of an offensive impact, which was struggling in the absence of him and James. With both out of the lineup from March 21 through April 29, the Lakers were 28th in Offensive Rating and scoring just 105.9 points per 100 possessions.
In six game since he returned, Davis is averaging just 16.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists on 39.4% shooting. He is still getting acclimated after missing 30 games with a calf injury, but it’s clear the Lakers will need more from him if they want to avoid the play-in game.
Reimplementing a high-usage player back onto a team is always tough. James has been an iron man throughout his career, missing an extended period of time just once in his career. That came back in the 2018-19 season when he missed 17 games due to a groin injury.
James has averaged 27.5 points, 9.7 assists and 9.1 rebounds in the first 16 games since his return, but the team went just 5-11 and effectively ended the Lakers’ playoff hopes.
Los Angeles wasn’t nearly as talented, but it’s worth noting it was the fourth seed in the west and looked to be a shoe-in to make the playoffs before the injury to James on Christmas Day.
Is this déjà vu?
Unlike the 2018-19 team, this year’s squad is a legitimate title contender and has another All-Star in Davis, as well as veteran pieces like Dennis Schröder to help carry the load so this team shouldn’t completely fall off.
James is averaging 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists since his return, but it’s clear the Lakers are going to need more from him and given his ankle troubles It remains to be seen how much he can give as he gets his legs under him. He missed a game winning 3-pointer in Friday’s loss, and those are the type of plays he’ll have to make for this team down the stretch.
The Lakers are in desperation mode, but I’m not sure how you can back them at this point. They have two stars who have recently come back from injuries, and they’ve yet to get acclimated or build chemistry with the rest of the team.
In the past two games with James and Davis in the lineup, they’ve scored just 108.9 points per 100 possessions, which is 21st among teams. It’s troubling they couldn’t score efficiently against the Kings and Raptors, who are 30th and 14th in Defensive Ratings respectively.
Nonetheless, it’s no coincidence this spread has been steamed up from 3 to 4-4.5 and the total has been steamed down from 219 to 215-215.5 points across the odds board. I think you must tread lightly with the Lakers having two stars who recently returned from injury, but also because the Nuggets are also dealing with injuries of their own.
The Nuggets are 9-1 in their last 10 games, despite injuries to Murray, Will Barton and Monte Morris, so we’re asking a lot of them to keep playing this well.
My post All-Star break numbers make this game Denver -4.59, with a total of 216 points, so the value lies on the road team and the under in this spot. However, these aren’t plays I feel strongly about.
Picks: Denver Nuggets -3.5 | Total Under 218.5 Points