Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets: Western Conference Finals, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Lakers vs Nuggets
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets, Western Conference Finals

A third 3-1 deficit was one too many for the Denver Nuggets, who were eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers. Denver could not overcome a hobbled Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic missing most of the first half with foul trouble against the talented Los Angeles roster. LeBron James was a force with 38 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists and Anthony Davis added 27 points as well to push the Lakers back to the NBA Finals. Los Angeles shot 54.5 percent from the floor in the victory and held Denver to just 42.2 percent, including 8 of 30 from behind the arc.

Los Angeles Lakers win 4-1

The Lakers were clearly the better team on paper, but the Nuggets gave Los Angeles every bit of a challenge in this series. Denver should have won Game 2, it won Game 3 and it was very competitive in Game 4, proving that the Nuggets did belong in the Western Conference Finals. The difference in this series was how well the Lakers kept Jokic off the glass because that seemed to be the source of his strength in the postseason. By limiting Jokic’s effectiveness, it put more pressure on Denver’s guards and they couldn’t live up to that. The Lakers will be favored against whoever comes out of the Eastern Conference, but it will be an entertaining series at the very least as well.

Game 1

September 18th, 9:00 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

The Denver Nuggets overcame a 3-1 deficit to deny fans the battle of Los Angeles in the Western Conference Finals, and will face the Los Angeles Lakers instead of the rival Clippers. The Lakers and Nuggets played a fantastic game late in the regular season in the bubble, and the matchups will only be more intense with a spot in the NBA Finals on the line. The Lakers have had a far easier road to this point with a pair of five-game series that didn’t seem to test them at times. Meanwhile, six of the Nuggets’ eight wins in the playoffs have come in a win-or-go-home situation, so Denver is used to being the underdog and under pressure to win.

The Lakers’ offense has just been rolling with six games of making at least half of its shots in 10 contests this postseason. It’s no shock that the two times Los Angeles shot worse than 47.8 percent from the field were the two times it has lost in the playoffs. Defensively, the Lakers still aren’t fully consistent, especially in defending the 3-point arc. The Lakers finally shut down the Rockets’ perimeter shooting in Game 5, but Jamal Murray has found his rhythm again and is someone the Lakers need to figure out how to keep in check or he might win a game or two with his stellar scoring.

Denver’s mental fortitude needs to be respected after winning six elimination games so far this postseason, including two double-digit second-half rallies against the Clippers. The Nuggets continue to find ways to win, but it has started the last three games with their defense holding the Clippers to 42 percent or worse shooting. Denver is more defensively adept than both the Trail Blazers or Rockets, which will provide a different set of challenges for the Lakers, and put more pressure on the players around Davis and James to step up and contribute. The Nuggets aren’t as deep offensively as Portland or Houston, but they can defend much better and that makes a difference in the NBA playoffs.

I’m guessing the New Jersey online sports betting sites haven’t learned yet because most favor this series to be won in five games by the Lakers. All kidding aside, Los Angeles is the clear favorite in this series and it should dispatch of the Nuggets quickly on paper. But Denver is a plucky team that has proven it has the resilience and culture to withstand some of the best teams in the NBA. This feels like a series the Lakers will either sweep or win in six or seven games, and I’d lean toward the latter, so I will bet on this series lasting longer than five games at +100 odds. Ultimately, I think the Lakers are the better team and they’ll win it in six games, so I’ll add Los Angeles winning the series 4-2 in at +350 odds. As such, I’d also add the Nuggets to cover the 2.5-game spread for +102 odds.

The Lakers have lost Game 1 in each of the past two series then went on to win the next four games, so it isn’t outlandish to think the Nuggets could pull off the upset in Game 1. Denver has more rest than it did coming off the first-round series win, and I think they have more confidence after playing well offensively in Game 7 against the Clippers. The Lakers will have nearly a week off since defeating Houston, and you have to wonder if rust will play a factor in this game, particularly early. Los Angeles hasn’t been crisp in the first games of series this postseason, and I think that continues and Denver stays hot with an upset in Game 1 at +245 odds.

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Game 2

September 20th, 7:30 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

The Los Angeles Lakers dominated the second and third quarters to pull away from the upstart Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Anthony Davis led the way with 37 points and 10 rebounds and LeBron James added 15 points and 12 assists for the victorious Lakers. Los Angeles had five players finish in double figures and shot 53 percent from the field while crushing Denver’s hopes early in the middle quarters during which the Lakers outscored the Nuggets by 26 points. Denver shot 49.4 percent from the field in the loss, mainly because it made just 9 of 26 3-pointers in the game.

The Lakers were highly efficient from inside the arc against Denver, exploiting many of the same weaknesses Utah did against the Nuggets in the first round. Davis had a monster game with 37 points and James was his typical facilitator, but everyone else around them had excellent efforts as well. Rajon Rondo again provided a spark off the bench with nine assists, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 18 points and made three of his five 3-point attempts, and both Dwight Howard and Kyle Kuzma reached double figures. If Los Angeles can get those types of contributions throughout the lineup, it will be difficult for the Nuggets to slow down the Lakers enough to win this series.

If you look at the players who played at least 21 minutes for Denver in Game 1, a startingly stat emerges. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray were their typical selves and combined to score 42 points despite sitting out most of the fourth quarter with the game out of hand. It’s the other four players, who shot a combined 31.3 percent from the floor and scored just 33 points that were troubling. The Nuggets are going to need a full team effort to beat the Lakers and that means players like Jerami Grant, Gary Harris and Michael Porter Jr. have to step up and play better than they did in Game 1. It isn’t even about scoring for the role players as much as being efficient and not giving the Lakers extra possessions, especially if Denver continues to struggle defensively.

As expected, the Lakers are heavy favorites on the moneyline in Game 2 at the New Jersey online sports betting sites and are listed as 7.5-point favorites against the spread. What stood out about Game 1 for me was the fact Jokic didn’t attempt a 3-pointer and everyone not named Jamal Murray struggled from behind the arc. I don’t think that was a fluke and more of a concerted effort from the Lakers to deny Grant and others the space to shoot 3-pointers. Denver is going to struggle to contain the Lakers’ offense so it will need to score more in order to win, but the Nuggets missed a lot of 3-pointers and that opens the door for another big Lakers win. I’m going to bump the spread all the way up to 10.5 points, and bet on the Lakers to win and cover that 10.5-point spread for +138 odds.

BET ON LOS ANGELES LAKERS TO WIN

Game 3 (Los Angeles Lakers lead 2-0)

September 22nd, 9:00 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets all the way back from a 16-point second-half deficit, but it was all erased by an Anthony Davis buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift the Los Angeles Lakers to a win. It was a tense final 31 seconds for the teams as Jokic and Davis traded baskets and the lead. Jamal Murray seemingly sealed the game with a block on Danny Green that sailed out of bounds with two seconds left, but that gave the Lakers the time to set up the play that freed Davis for the winner. Jokic still finished with 30 points and nine assists while Davis had 31 points and nine rebounds.

Los Angeles nearly squandered its lead, which is an issue of course, but the fact it won Game 2 is vital to controlling this series. The Lakers did an excellent job guarding the perimeter and holding Denver to just 8 of 24 from behind the arc, notably limiting Jokic and Murray to just 3 of 13 combined on 3-point attempts. If the Lakers can continue to shut down the 3-point arc, it will make it that much more difficult for the Nuggets to get going because they feed off the energy created by those big shots. Murray’s best games have come when he’s efficient and effective from behind the arc, so limiting him on the perimeter is important. It also helped Los Angeles that there was an even workload split between Davis and LeBron James with James dominating the first half with 20 of his 26 points and Davis scoring 20 points in the second half.

One of the bigger concerns for Denver is rebounding because Jokic has been limited to just six rebounds in each of the first two games, and the Nuggets have been beaten badly on the boards. In Game 2, the Nuggets faced a 44-31 disadvantage on the glass, including allowing the Lakers to scoop up 13 offensive rebounds. The other is turnovers as the Nuggets made several foolish plays that allowed the Lakers to run the other way for easy points. Denver finished with 19 turnovers, and although they forced 23 from the Lakers, those 19 are entirely too many when you’re the underdog and less talented team on paper.

This is another risky prediction on my part, but it was hard not to be impressed with Denver’s fight in the second half against the Lakers. This is clearly not a great matchup for the Nuggets, and it’s unlikely Denver can win four of the next five games to win the series, but this team clearly isn’t going down without a major fight. I expect that first punch will be thrown in Game 3 after seeing how close they were to winning Game 2. Jokic might not be able to rebound the ball as effectively but 30 points and nine assists is still very effective. Murray will shrug off a poor shooting night, and you’ll see more from Michael Porter Jr. and the Denver bench. So I’m betting on Denver to win at +235 odds on the moneyline for Game 3.

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Game 4 (Los Angeles Lakers lead 2-1)

September 24th, 9:00 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

The Denver Nuggets were in cruise control for most of the first three quarters, then they had to survive a wild fourth quarter to climb back into the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Nikola Jokic helped get the Nuggets off to a good start, the role players kept the good rhythm going then Jamal Murray finished off the game with two big 3-pointers. The Lakers just never looked comfortable in the game until switching to a zone defense down 20 points in the fourth quarter, and it nearly worked as Los Angeles clawed back to within a possession. But Los Angeles’ poor play was too much for it to overcome in crunch time as Denver found a second wind to pull to within 2-1 in the series.

No one asks how you win, just whether or not you did get the victory. That will certainly be the case for Denver, which had a rough start to the fourth quarter and nearly squandered its entire 20-point lead. But Murray rose to the occasion to help seal the game for the Nuggets and finished with 28 points to lead the charge. Jokic was back to being dominant inside with 22 points and 10 rebounds, but the real story was the much-needed contributions from the Denver role players. Jerami Grant had a career night with 26 points on 7-of-11 shooting and Monte Morris added 14 big points off the bench to help Denver pull away in the middle of the game. It’s that team effort that is going to be the difference in this series for the Nuggets because the Lakers are going to respond and it’ll take more than just Jokic and Murray to weather that response in Game 4.

The Lakers lacked a lot of urgency until the start of the fourth quarter, and by then it was basically too late. Anthony Davis was a non-factor with just two rebounds and one assist to go with the 27 points he scored. LeBron James had a triple-double but his six turnovers were costly as well to the Lakers efforts. The real issue was Los Angeles had no answers for Denver on defense, allowing the Nuggets to shoot almost 55 percent from the field and allowing Jokic to dominate on the interior. It’s obviously just one loss for the Lakers, but they could just as easily be down 2-1 if not for Davis’ Game 2 heroics. Denver is playing with a lot of confidence and Los Angeles needs to assert itself and dampen some of that confidence.

What we saw in Game 3 was just how slim Denver’s margin for error is in this series, and if the Nuggets aren’t locked in for all four quarters, bad things can happen. You’d have to assume the Lakers will bring a different energy to Game 4 to not allow the Nuggets back into the series, but Denver has been so good all postseason at adjusting to its opponent. The pressure is now on Davis to find new ways to assert himself into the game after being neutralized in Game 3, but I have faith in him to do so. The Lakers are too big of favorites to take them on the moneyline at the New Jersey online sports betting sites, so I’ll parlay their win with the under 214.5 points for +180 odds instead.

BET ON LOS ANGELES LAKERS TO WIN

Game 5 (Los Angeles Lakers lead 3-1)

September 26th, 9 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

Jamal Murray scored 32 points and dished out eight assists, but he was locked down in crunch time by LeBron James as the Los Angeles Lakers moved to within a victory of the NBA Finals with a win over the Denver Nuggets. Denver never led in the second half, but Murray kept the Nuggets in the game for most of the third and fourth quarter with timely scoring and assists. James, though, took control over guarding Murray down the stretch and forced the Nuggets’ guard into some key misses that helped Los Angeles seal the game. James had 26 points and eight assists in the win to help supercharge the Lakers’ offense as well.

What stands out about the Lakers’ offensive performance is the six players in double figures, which has been a rarity for Los Angeles. The other thing that stands out is how Dwight Howard’s addition to the starting lineup has changed things for Anthony Davis, who didn’t have a rebound in the first half but was very aggressive in scoring. Davis led the Lakers with 34 points and made 10 of his 15 shots, but he had just five rebounds, leaving the heavier work to Howard in the paint. Rajon Rondo had seven assists and five rebounds as well off the bench, and was a key contributor in pushing the Lakers’ lead to 11 late in the third quarter along with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. That secondary scoring is going to be vital for Los Angeles moving forward, both in closing out the Nuggets and whoever advances out of the Eastern Conference if the Lakers can finish this series.

Denver’s biggest problem in this series has been rebounding, which is a surprise given how well the Nuggets had rebounded the ball in the playoffs. However, a lot of that centers on Jokic, who hasn’t been the double-double player he was in the first two series. Jokic has grabbed 10 rebounds just once in four games in this series, and no surprise it was Denver’s win in Game 3. In Game 4, the Nuggets shot 59 percent from the floor in the first half and 50.6 percent for the game, but the Lakers had an 18-2 advantage in second-chance points by capitalizing on their 12 offensive rebounds. Howard had 11 rebounds and James had nine, both of which were more than Jokic’s team-high seven boards for Denver. Those are the little areas on defense Denver needs to clean up if it wants to accomplish the impossible and come back from a 3-1 deficit for a third time in this postseason.

I won’t be bold enough to say the Nuggets are going to come back from this deficit, but I do think they will win Game 5 against the Lakers. Murray has been sensational in the previous Games 5 in this postseason, dropping 42 on Utah then making 5 of 7 3-pointers against the Clippers in the last round. Jokic has similar monster efforts in Denver’s first elimination games of each series, so both of Denver’s stars should be at the top of their game. The Nuggets have the offense to challenge the Lakers in Game 5, but the question has always been their defense. I think Denver has one last good defensive performance in it, so I’m betting the Nuggets at +205 odds on the moneyline at the New Jersey online sports betting sites.

BET ON DENVER NUGGETS TO WIN

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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