- LA Lakers face upstart Denver Nuggets in Western Conference Finals
- Denver has won two series these playoffs coming back from 3-1 down
- Read below for odds, analysis and our Game 1 prediction
There won’t be an all-LA showdown after all.
You can thank the Denver Nuggets for playing the role of party crashers.
Now, the Lakers face the bubble’s most resilient squad in the Western Conference Finals, with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.
The series begins Friday, and the Nuggets vs Lakers odds suggest Denver will continue its current role of massive underdog.
Nuggets vs Lakers Series Odds
|Team||Spread at FanDuel||Moneyline||Total|
|Denver Nuggets||+6.5 (-110)||+220||N/A|
|Los Angeles Lakers||-6.5 (-110)||-270||N/A|
Odds taken September 15. Game 1 Tip-off is Friday at 9pm
Have the Lakers learned their lesson from their Game 1’s the last two series? Or is Denver’s recent onslaught of success carrying into the West Finals?
Lakers Rolling In The Postseason
So much was said about LeBron having to navigate the Western Conference. In his maiden playoff voyage: so far so good.
James’ Lakers have trampled through to the Final Four. They first crushed the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in five games, a team many thought would wreak havoc against LA, with the bubble’s best player going at the time in Dame Lillard.
LeBron James & Anthony Davis have combined for 542 PTS, 212 REB & 129 AST in their first 10 playoff games together. The only other duos in NBA History to eclipse 500+ PTS, 200+ REB & 100+ AST in first 10 playoff games are:
Oscar Robertson – Jack Twyman
Elgin Baylor – Jerry West pic.twitter.com/hdh5jxlgxG
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) September 13, 2020
From there, they bounced the NBA’s MVP tandem of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, thoroughly dismantling the small-ball Rockets and ending that series in five as well.
The Lakers’ formula has been pretty simple: find out what they’re up against — they have dropped both openers in each series — then proceed to grind the opposition to dust with a punishing offensive style and a dominating defense.
LA is second in the bubble in defensive rating, helped by their playoff-leading six blocks a game. Of the four teams left in the bubble, they surrender the fewest points in the paint at 36.6.
El block party de LeBron frente a Houston 😍 pic.twitter.com/h0PiruI4He
— LeBron James en español (@El23DeLosCavs) September 14, 2020
Offensively, they make their mark inside, leading the playoffs in field goal percentage at 49.6%, while also topping all teams in paint points, dropping 49.6 a game. The next closest team still alive are the Celtics, who are putting up 39.6.
The engine, as always, has been James. He is averaging 26.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists a game in the playoffs, while shooting a blistering 55.3% from the field and a crisp 37.1% from three-point range. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Anthony Davis riding shotgun, especially as he’s averaging 27.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game.
Nuggets Are Formidable Foe
There’s no way you can bounce an NBA Championship favorite and not be considered legit.
The Denver Nuggets not only bounced the LA Clippers after falling behind 3-1 in their series, but they did it by stealing their souls. LA had a 16-point second half lead in Game 5 and a 19-point second-half lead in Game 6 and dropped both. In Game 7, Denver turned a seven-point halftime deficit into an 8-point lead and never looked back, bulging the lead to as many as 20 in a demolition of a Game 7.
“They gotta worry about us too.”
-Murray, Jokic and the Nuggets are ready to face the Lakers pic.twitter.com/mcqKcMhgpL
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 16, 2020
Their formula rests in the hands of Nikola Jokic, the Serbian big man who owned Game 7. He finished with 16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 dimes, picking apart LA any way he wanted.
Nikola Jokic (16 PTS, 22 REB, 13 AST) becomes the first player in NBA playoff history to record a 20+ rebound triple-double in a Game 7!@nuggets advance to the Western Conference Finals vs. LAL starting Friday at 9pm/et on TNT. pic.twitter.com/rU5Vazyf2Z
— NBA (@NBA) September 16, 2020
He’s flanked by budding star Jamal Murray, who finished with 40 points, five rebounds and four assists in the closeout game.
The two are each averaging 26.1 points per game, and they come with a wildly underrated supporting cast. If the role players can hold their own and hit timely shots like they did against the other LA team, Jokic and Murray are confident enough right now to go toe-to-toe with anyone, even the bubble’s best duo going.
What’s the Best Bet?
The Nuggets have now gone the distance in two 7-game series and won after trailing 3-1, becoming the first team in NBA history to ever to do that in the same playoff run. While that’s remarkable, at some point, you have to expect them to run out of gas. Can their defense hold up as well? The Nuggets held the Clippers to 33 second-half points in Game 6 and 35 in Game 7.
If you're wondering why the Rockets have only attempted 12 threes, this is why.
Even when the Rockets successfully collapse the defense, the Lakers are closing out so fast, it doesn't matter. pic.twitter.com/UGyQdeCeC4
— Salman Ali (@SalmanAliNBA) September 11, 2020
The Lakers downsized to ground the microball Rockets, but their big-man rotation will be called upon and put to the test by Jokic. JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard will have to hold their own until AD takes over in the crunch. And LA will have their hands full running Denver off the three-point line. The Nuggets are shooting 39.1% from deep, the best mark of the final four.
Don’t worry too much about the Lakers faltering in Game 1. After getting past Utah in seven games, Denver was clubbed by the Clippers handily. Expect the same here.
The pick: Lakers -6.5 (-110)
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