NBA Playoffs Betting Odds, Picks & Predictions: Nuggets vs. Lakers Game 1 (Friday, Sept. 18)
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis
- The Western Conference Finals tip off with Game 1 between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
- The Nuggets rallied back to win their last two series after falling behind 1-3, but can they afford to do that against the Lakers?
- Brandon Anderson explains why there's value on the Denver to jump out to a hotter start against LeBron James & Co.
Nuggets vs. Lakers Game 1 Odds
LeBron James! Anthony Davis! Kawhi Leonard! Paul George! It’s the L.A. vs. L.A. series we were all looking forw… record scratch …wait, what?
If you’re just now tuning in, you’re probably wondering how the Nuggets even got here.
After entering the bubble without three starters and a superstar recovering from COVID-19, they opened the playoffs down two starters and fell behind 3-1 in their first series. All it took to survive that deficit was a historic three-game shooting stretch from Jamal Murray. Then ho hum, another 3-1 deficit, three double-digit second-half comebacks over the reigning Finals MVP — yada yada yada — Denver is in the Western Conference Finals.
As for the Lakers? Well, they have LeBron and Davis.
Now let’s dive into this matchup.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers haven’t played for a week and didn’t even go that hard in the last couple games of their series against Houston — call it their own version of load management.
You already know about LeBron and Brow. They’re really, really good and are definitely the best two players in the playoffs overall. James likes to feel out the series early on and ramp up his aggression as things progress. If he’s not the playoff MVP so far, it’s because Davis is — the duo is averaging 57 points, 22 rebounds and 14 assists.
More importantly, they’re playing stifling defense, and that’s really the only area they’re getting help in from the rest of the scalawags wearing purple and gold. So far the Lakers have been content just getting one or two of those guys to step up each night. Markieff Morris and Alex Caruso have had moments. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is defending well. Danny Green is … out there, I guess.
Two key factors blew the Houston series open for L.A., and it’ll be very fascinating to see whether either continue in this series.
First, the Lakers pretty much took Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee out of the rotation entirely, playing “small” with Davis at center. That duo averaged 35 minutes between them in four Denver games this season. If L.A. does play big, can those centers hang with Nikola Jokic, and who do Davis and LeBron guard?
The second factor was Playoff Rondo.
Rajon Rondo was a revelation against Houston, hitting 44% of his 3-pointers while adding two steals and seven assists a game. If he’s the fifth-best player in this series against Denver, it’s a wrap. But he was uniquely suited to defend Houston, playing aggressively against overwhelmed Rockets iso dribblers. What will Rondo look like in a very different matchup with the Nuggets?
The Nuggets are a very, very different team than the Rockets.
The Nuggets have a player taller than 6-foot-8 and they’re playing beautiful team basketball, sharing the rock and splaying the ball around the court hitting cutters and open shooters. This will take a completely different scheme from the Lakers.
Still, team ball or not, the Nuggets are heavily reliant on Jokic and Murray for their offense.
How will Jokic fare against Davis? That certainly feels like a key pivot of the series, though I wonder how much we’ll actually see the two go head-to-head. Both teams need these guys playing offense, not picking up defensive fouls. And while it’s tempting to think Davis can shut down Jokic, I’m not sure how much Davis will guard Jokic and don’t see any real pattern to their recent matchups.
The Lakers may need Davis to defend Jokic sooner than later, not because of Jokic, but because of the two-man game with Murray.
Murray is the X-factor in the series, which is kind of crazy to say about a guy averaging 27 points a game on 50-49-91 shooting, but it’s true. His 49% shooting on 3s is the key. So are his 7.7 attempts per game behind the arc. Murray’s leap this postseason is thanks to how aggressive he’s been taking and making 3s off the dribble. The Nuggets need him to keep taking them.
Keep a close eye on that attempt number. Murray attempted at least eight 3s in eight games so far this postseason — he’s averaging 33.6 points in those spots. When he doesn’t get to that number from behind the arc, though, he’s averaging just 18.3 points per game.
The Lakers will miss Avery Bradley in this particular series. They really don’t have a guard who can stay with Murray and, unlike the last two series, they can’t just blitz Murray and force the ball out of his hands or Jokic will shred them.
The Nuggets are playing beautiful team ball. Gary Harris and Jerami Grant are D-ing up, Paul Millsap is doing his veteran thing and Michael Porter Jr. has his moments. But make no mistake about it: The Nuggets are where they are because they’ve had not one, but two superstars this postseason.
If they want to have any chance of moving on, that has to continue.
Betting Analysis & Pick
I’ve outlined some of the key things I’ll be watching in this series above, but let’s hit the bullet points again here:
- Do the Lakers start and stick with McGee and Howard at center? If I’m Denver, that’s a win. I don’t want Davis defending Jokic, and those centers clog up the L.A. offense.
- What does Rondo look like against a very different opponent? Will he stay engaged on defense against Denver’s cutters? Can he defend Murray, like, at all?
- How aggressive will Murray be? Keep an eye on that 3-point attempts number. Denver needs Murray hunting that molten lava shot.
Denver lucked into a second rest day for the first time since the playoffs started. Considering how turgid the Nuggets looked in Game 1 against the Clippers, that’s huge.
The Nuggets have a chance to get off to a big start here. I expect the Lakers to start with their centers — advantage Nuggets — and L.A. has lost both Game 1s this postseason.
For the Nuggets to win the Western Conference, they need Jokic to win the Davis matchup, Murray to be the fourth star of the series and Playoff Rondo not to be a thing. And I think they have a better chance at doing that than folks are giving them credit for, so there might be some value on the Nuggets here.
At +250, the Nuggets have a 29% implied chance to win this game. That’s a bit low in my opinion — they’re playing confident, beautiful team ball while the Lakers are rusty and slow starters in series.
I don’t mind biting the moneyline, but I’ll play it safer and grab Denver first-half +4.5. I like some of these early advantages to go the Nuggets’ way but won’t be surprised if they get tired in the second half after back-to-back seven-game series, or if LeBron just does LeBron things late.
Denver can’t afford to go down 3-1 again. Look for the Nuggets to come out strong and play that first-half line. I think they can make this a series, and I think they think they can, too.
PICK: Nuggets 1H +4.5 (-115)