Western Conference – No. 7 Lakers vs. No. 2 Nuggets

In the 2 vs. 7 matchup in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets clash in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. Keep reading for a preview and prediction for this series. And make sure you check out our NBA Playoffs Betting Guide, which will serve as the hub for all of our postseason betting content! Also, check out our NBA Playoffs Betting Primer, which features tons of in-depth analysis for the entire postseason.

Lakers vs. Nuggets Series Preview

The Lakers were able to hold off a ferocious comeback from the New Orleans Pelicans in the Play-In Tournament. Los Angeles now has a rematch with a Denver team that swept them in last year’s playoffs. And while this year’s Lakers team is better than last year’s, it’s hard to see Los Angeles getting the better of Denver this year.

 

One of the most impressive stretches of the season for the Lakers was the final 15 games of the regular season. Los Angeles went 11-4 in that span and had a net rating of +5.4. But Denver had a +8.6 net rating in that same span, despite dealing with Jamal Murray being in and out of the lineup. And the Nuggets are one of only four teams in the league that is top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, according to Dunks & Threes. The Lakers are outside the top 15 in both. The reality is that the very best of Los Angeles just isn’t as good as Denver’s B- game. So, even if the Lakers play uncharacteristically well in this series, the Nuggets should still be able to get this done rather easily.

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I know people are quick to point out that last year’s sweep was full of competitive games, and Denver just happened to come out on top in all of them. But that’s not exactly something that should be used to pick the Lakers. Part of what makes the Nuggets great is their ability to win close games, and that has only gotten better as the team continues to build on its already impressive continuity. And last year’s sweep wasn’t the only sweep for Denver. The team also went 3-0 both straight-up and against the spread against Los Angeles this season.

The Lakers aren’t going to be an easy opponent, so don’t take this as any sort of slander. Los Angeles was undoubtedly the best team in the Play-In Tournament, and the Western Conference Playoffs are going to be a gauntlet. But it helps that the Nuggets have one of the better big wing defenders in the league in Aaron Gordon. He should be able to handle the LeBron James assignment as well as anyone. And Denver will also be able to throw Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on D’Angelo Russell, who has come up big in key moments for the Lakers this season. Also, while people don’t think of Nikola Jokic as a defender, he’s very good at getting himself in the right defensive positions. So, he’ll make it difficult on Anthony Davis to score around the basket. All of that will put a lot of pressure on Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura to play well in this series. And while both are capable of having moments, it’s hard to see them consistently playing well enough to knock off the defending champions.

On the other end of the floor, the Lakers will do an adequate job of defending the Nuggets pick-and-roll game. That just comes with having Davis on the court. He worked his tail off defensively in last year’s playoffs. But overall, Jokic has too much size and strength for Davis around the basket. So, the big man should get his offensively here. And the Lakers have a few too many defensive liabilities scattered throughout their rotation to take care of these Nuggets. There’s just nobody in the Denver rotation that can be left open.

On top of all of that, Denver is one of the hardest places to win for a road team. So, not only are the Lakers facing an uphill battle when it comes to everything else, but they also have to do so in a rough atmosphere. And it should also be noted that Mike Malone has cemented himself as one of the best head coaches in basketball, while Darvin Ham is viewed as one of the worsts. So, the game-to-game adjustments should favor the Nuggets. With that in mind, look for Denver to win this series in six games or less.

Lean: Nuggets -1.5 Games (-140)

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