Warriors vs. Nuggets Series Odds & Betting Preview: The Dubs Are Back
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors.
The Golden State Warriors have felt deprived of their rightful place among the NBA’s elite since the weight of five consecutive NBA Finals runs collapsed on them in the spring of 2019. They had a tanking year for rest and recuperation, then last year’s injury-plagued reconfiguration that ended in the Play-In Tournament.
Now they’re back. Sort of. The Warriors were world beaters the first two months of the season. Then injuries beset them and they half-coasted, half-stumbled to the finish line. But they’re whole now, with Stephen Curry returning for Game 1 (albeit on a minutes limit) and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson ready to go.
Reading the quotes out of San Francisco, the tone is absolutely that the Warriors believe they’re primed for a title run.
In their way first is the Denver Nuggets, in very much the opposite position. The presumptive two-time MVP Nikola Jokic may very well be the best player in this series, but part of the reason Jokic will likely take home that award again is because of what he accomplished with so little help.
Michael Porter Jr. is unlikely to play in this series, and while Jamal Murray hasn’t been ruled out, there’s no reason to believe he’ll return either.
Jokic, right now, is the best player in the series, but Curry remains the most impactful offensively simply because of the terror he strikes in the hearts of opponents. Then the next three best players are likely all Warriors (Green, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson) before Aaron Gordon gets his due.
Still, Denver is 12-12 ATS in the Malone era vs. the mighty Warriors, and 11-7 as the dog.
Can the Nuggets keep this series competitive? Or is this the first step in an inevitable title return for the Warriors? And how do we profit off it?
Let’s bet Nuggets-Warriors.
The Warriors’ Matchup Advantage: Cuts inside
Everyone thinks of the Warriors’ offense as nothing but splash. That’s understandable when you have the two best shooters on the planet. Additionally, the Warriors are actually 24th per 100 possessions in points in the paint. They’re not a dominant inside team.
What they are, however, is an extremely opportunistic one. The Warriors run a constant stream of back cuts that require perfect communication to manage. On top of that, the Nuggets can’t go small and switch-all, which has been the go-to tactic against Golden State through the years. They have to play at the level vs. Curry.
The problem is if you do that, now you’re in a 4-on-3 situation, and the Warriors are so crafty you end up with plays like this:
The Nuggets, on the other hand, give up the ninth-most shots at the rim and the highest percentage at the rim in the league.
Denver’s also small, which makes getting over screens difficult. They also struggle with switching off-ball, which causes issues.
Golden State’s offense has been pedestrian this season, due to a number of factors including injury and Curry not shooting his normal standards. But the Warriors should be able to space out Denver, who lacks a rim protector, and attack inside.
The Nuggets’ Matchup Advantage: Nikola Jokic
That’s really just about it. I can’t find much of an edge for the Nuggets anywhere else.
Even Jokic is in an uphill battle. Green holds him to 3 percentage points worse than his average eFG% over the last three seasons in half-court matchups.
But ultimately, Jokic is matchup proof. He’ll punish the Warriors for doubles, and he’s able to face-up and hurt Green with shots like this:
Green will win a lot of the post-ups because as a smaller defender, he’s able to get away with more.
But if Jokic can figure out how to win those post-up matchups vs. Green by the end of the series, it forces doubles, and the Warriors don’t want to be in rotation.
The Warriors will try and disguise their help defense on Jokic. When they don’t, they give up plays like this:
I asked coach Michael Malone this week what the strength of their team is in this matchup, what they needed to focus on offensively. His answer?
“Get the ball to Nikola Jokic.”
The Warriors’ Matchup Disadvantage: The Whole Show
There is a fine line between playing “at the level” in pick and roll with the big at the level of the screen, and really showing hard, applying pressure and scrambling back. The Nuggets have used both but when they play at the level vs. the Warriors, they give up 1.13 points per possession.
When they show hard, however, they’ve held the Warriors to 0.71 points per possession. The big reason for this is that both Curry and Jordan Poole are smaller guards. If you can negate the pass to the roll man and then crowd the other side, you have a chance of walling things off and containing Golden State.
That scheme applies pressure, gets the ball out of Curry’s hands (but of course, then you have to worry about the relocate), and increases the odds of a turnover.
That’s the kind of containment Denver needs, a desperate, aggressive pressure at the point of attack with multiple defenders because they don’t have the ability to defend 1-on-1.
The Nuggets’ Matchup Disadvantage: Let me count the ways.
Denver can’t switch the 1-5 with Jokic, so that’s inherently an issue; switching is the only proven strategy to disrupt or slow down Golden State.
The Warriors on the other hand will switch everything, and Denver is 21st in points per possession against switches.
The Nuggets have a big rebounding edge, but the Warriors don’t rely on 2nd-chance points and allow just the 7th-least 2nd chance points on their own despite switching smalls onto bigs.
The biggest disadvantage, however, is turnovers. The Nuggets don’t just give up a high number of turnovers, they give up live-ball turnovers that result in the 5th most points off turnovers allowed per 100 possessions. The Warriors create the 6th most. They’re going to blitz, double, and skirmish Jokic and force him into turnovers, then run off those for transition threes.
In short, the Nuggets don’t really have many ways to apply pressure on Warriors weak spots.
Trends You Should Know
Michael Malone is 2-5 ATS in Game 1 of a series, and 0-3 as a dog. However, in all other games, the Nuggets are 15-9-1 ATS as a dog and 20-14-2 overall. In other words, despite his reputation, the Nuggets get better as a series goes along.
The Warriors are just 10-9 ATS as a Game 1 favorite under Steve Kerr.
The under in Warriors home games under Kerr is 34-23 (59.6%).
Since Michael Malone took over, the Nuggets are 12-12 ATS vs. the Warriors despite all those championship teams Golden State has had. But since the Warriors’ last title run in 2019, Denver is just 3-6 ATS. They are 2-1 ATS as a dog in that spot, however.
Golden State is 19th in spread differential at -1.7 vs. top-10 offensive teams. The Nuggets are eighth offensively.
The Warriors are back.
Golden State’s line of commentary to the media over the last few weeks is that they are a sleeping giant. They started off as the best team in basketball, beat the Suns two out of three times midseason, and then everyone got hurt. Now everyone’s overlooking them.
They seem hungry to reclaim what they feel is theirs.
Denver is gassed. Exhausted. Denver made a deep playoff run in the bubble, a year and a half ago.
Since then they played two more seasons with a second-round playoff run included, and this season have had to play starters heavy minutes early to compensate for both the injuries and a terrifyingly bad bench.
The result is an exhausted team that seems to be reaching the postseason on fumes.
All sorts of Warriors angles.
Warriors -1.5 on the win spread, so Warriors to win in less than 7 is -114. That’s crazy. The Nuggets do not have the firepower. Jamal Murray might return this series. Might. If he does, he’ll be on a minutes restriction, coming in cold to playoff intensity after being out for a full calendar year.
The Warriors have every edge. Green will frustrate Jokic enough, even if the MVP eats. Denver will fall asleep on switches and turn the ball over. Denver needs a huge series from rookie Bones Hyland in a series without home court.
The Nuggets’ guards are small and you have great shooters coming off screens. The Nuggets’ second unit has occasionally been a disaster and Golden State will punish it.
Warriors -2.5 on the win spread is honestly worth a look, I like Warriors in 5.
I’ll be looking for Warriors first quarter Saturday, with the idea that the Warriors, finally ready with all their guys, will be hype, and there’s a tough adjustment period for opponents playing the Warriors’ style of constant ball movement, especially in a loud arena.
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