2023 NBA Playoffs: Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves series preview

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Opening Price (via DraftKings): Denver Nuggets (-500) Minnesota Timberwolves (+370)

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The betting market is not as high on the Denver Nuggets despite it controlling the top seed in the Western Conference, and this series price is evidence of that. Denver opened as -500 favorites in its series with Minnesota, and while that does carried an implied probability of 83.3%, it is nowhere near the price that Milwaukee or Boston had on their opening series prices with their respective opponents. The Nuggets seem to be a vulnerable top seed, but does that show itself in this series with the Timberwolves?

These are divisional foes so bettors got to see four games of this series in the regular season, but Nikola Jokic played in just three of those contests. In those three games Jokic averaged 25.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 12.7 assists per game on 60.0% shooting from the floor. However, it is worth noting that Rudy Gobert played in only one of those Denver victories and Karl-Anthony Towns participated in none, meaning we cannot take much from the regular season series between these two teams.

Towns being available for this series does change the dynamic, because the pairing of him and Gobert has had some excellent defensive returns. When those two were on the court together in the regular season Minnesota allowed just 100.5 points per 100 possessions. Those numbers are with D’Angelo Russell filtered out to give us a better idea of what this team has been like since the trade deadline, and the result is a very strong defensive team with not much on offense. 

Those same lineups only outscore opponents by 5.2 points every 100 possessions. On the surface that is a very good net rating, but with such a low defensive rating that means the Timberwolves are only averaging 105.7 points per 100 possessions on offense with this pairing on the floor. That works when limiting opponents to such miniscule offensive ratings, but there is no guarantee that will happen in this series.

Minnesota used its overwhelming size to snuff out Oklahoma City in the play-in game, but it does not boast the same size advantage in this series with Denver. The Nuggets are also not a team that is as reliant on getting to the rim as the Thunder, so over the course of a seven-game series the Timberwolves’ elite rim protection (58.9% allowed) is somewhat negated by the jump shooting ability of their opponent.

Minnesota also cannot exploit their opponents biggest weakness: transition defense.

Denver ranked 28th in the regular season in transition defensive efficiency off live rebounds (126.6) and 23rd in overall transition defensive efficiency (129.8). With both Towns and Gobert on the floor the Timberwolves start a miniscule 10.6% of their possessions with a transition play, and those lineups rank in the fifth percentile in transition offensive efficiency off live rebounds (95.0).

Betting Analysis

It is easy to understand why the betting market would be down on Denver. It finished the regular season 7-10 SU and ATS with a -0.8 net rating in non-garbage time. Its defense is inconsistent, and has an extreme weakness in defending in transition. Smaller teams will likely pick the Nuggets apart, but this is not a smaller opponent.

This series price is cheap for Denver, so bettors should look to alternate markets to take advantage of that mispricing. DraftKings and other shops offer alternate series spreads, and taking the Nuggets at +110 to cover 2.5 games in this series offers a return that is greater than it should be.

Bet Recommendation: Nuggets -2.5 Games (+110)