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NBA Playoff Scenarios Give Nuggets Moneyline Value vs. Jazz

Credit:

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Gary Harris, Donovan Mitchell

  • With Western Conference seeding still in flux, NBA playoff scenarios have created moneyline value on the Denver Nuggets.
  • Matt Moore explains why you should back them against the Jazz (-2.5) on Tuesday night (9 p.m. ET).

The Utah Jazz have murky motivation headed into Tuesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets, even as 2.5-point favorites as of writing (see live odds here). Some of it is matchups, and some of it is timing.

Let me explain.

OK, so the Jazz can’t finish worse than the 6-seed. If they lose out and Oklahoma City wins out, the Jazz can drop to No. 6. But if they win out and Portland loses out, they can clinch the 4-seed and home court against the Blazers in Round 1.

However, things get really interesting if the Thunder knock off the Rockets on Tuesday night.

Houston-OKC tips off 30 minutes after Denver-Utah, so the Jazz have to commit to a strategy without knowing the outcome of Houston-OKC.

If Houston were to lose to OKC, Portland could then win out against the Lakers and Kings and secure the 3-seed, which would then drop Houston into the 4-seed, which means that if Utah beats Denver, the Jazz are locked into 4-5 vs. the Rockets — a much worse matchup than Portland in the first round.

Now, if Utah drops its game to Denver and Houston beats OKC, then Houston is locked in at No. 5 and cannot fall to 4. But a Jazz win removes their ability to maneuver with their final game against the Clippers.

Let me explain a scenario:

  • Utah loses, Houston loses and Portland wins on Tuesday.
  • Then, on Wednesday, Utah can tank against the Clippers to help OKC slide into the 5-seed so the Jazz get Portland in the first round and avoid Golden State and Houston until a prospective Western Conference Finals matchup. The Thunder play the Bucks at 8 p.m. ET before Jazz-Clippers tips at 10:30, so Utah will know whether it needs to win that game to avoid Houston.

But Portland, Houston and Utah all play at the same time on Tuesday, so the Jazz can’t be sure. Losing to Denver would give them options that winning does not.

Now, the Jazz could simply not tank this game regardless; it might just not be in their DNA. But bear in mind they’ve rested several players over the past week just to get them rest. Ricky Rubio has been in and out of the lineup all season. There’s real motivation to rest guys anyway.

Even if Utah were invested in winning on Tuesday night, the line seems to favor Denver anyway. The Nuggets are 1-2 against the Jazz this season, but one of those contests was a throw-away before the All-Star break. The lone Denver win was super early in the season, and Utah’s latest win came in Denver with Rudy Gobert dominating his matchup.

Denver is 12-13 straight up on the road against the West this season and 10-11 against the spread as a road dog.

I think the best play is to bet Denver early in the day.

On Sunday, the Nuggets-Blazers line opened at Portland -1 but moved all the way to -8.5 at close with Denver resting three starters. So If Utah decides to rest starters, that line is going to flip to Denver favored in a hurry.

This time of year is all about seeing the greater motivations for these teams. I feel confident in saying the Jazz won’t pull their starters like the Nuggets did in a game they had tried to lose anyway, but they do have demonstrable advantage in losing this game.

It’s why Denver on the moneyline has the most value here at +125.

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