Game: Los Angeles Lakers @ Denver Nuggets
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Odds: Lakers +6, Nuggets -6
History is not on the Denver Nuggets’ side. They have never defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in a playoff series, and three of their losses —in 1985, 2009, and 2020—came in the Western Conference finals. In the next two weeks, the Nuggets will be able to cross the NBA Finals off their bucket list if they defeat Los Angeles in the Western Conference finals, which begin with Game 1 in Denver tonight.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the Lakers, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Denver are the only players still active from the 2020 conference finals. Caldwell-Pope spent that year with Los Angeles.
The Lakers were the higher seed in the past three conference final matchups, including the 2020 series that was played in the Orlando bubble. This year, LA is the underdog. Los Angeles quickly changed its lineup, advanced as a seventh seed through the play-in round, and then easily defeated two higher seeds to advance to the conference finals.
The Nuggets enjoy home-court advantage and are the No. 1 seed, a spot they have held for the majority of the season. Prior to their showdown with the Lakers, they won all six of their home playoff games while going 34-7 at Ball Arena during the regular season.
It won’t be easy for the Nuggets to advance to the next round by riding that home-court advantage. Even though the teams split the four regular-season contests, they all happened before Los Angeles made significant trades at the trading deadline.
The additions of Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, and Mo Bamba all contributed to the team’s turnaround to make the postseason. The supporting players will matter, but the stars will decide the series. The Lakers must figure out how to lessen Jokic’s influence. In 11 postseason games, the two-time NBA MVP has been virtually unstoppable, averaging 30.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, 9.7 assists, and he has five triple-doubles. LA’s Davis can match up with Jokic, but it will take more than just him.
Prior to Game 1, both teams are coping with some health issues. Murray was designated as doubtful before Game 6 at Phoenix due to a non-COVID illness. He ended up playing and scored 26 points in 35 minutes.
Bamba returned to Los Angeles on Monday in preparation for a Tuesday follow-up examination of his left ankle. Although he is expected to go to Denver on Tuesday, he is listed as questionable for Game 1.
Denver has won its last eight in a row at home and nine of its last 12 games overall. The Nuggets are 8-4 ATS in those games. At home against the Lakers, Denver is 4-1 SU in the last five games. Los Angeles has won 15 of its last 20 games. The Lakers have also been strong against the number recently, covering five of their last seven games.
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