The Denver Nuggets were the right NBA pick when they met the L.A. Lakers in the bubble. Are they the right pick for Thursday’s game?
Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Lakers
at Staples Center
Who is the best basketball player in the world? For some, LeBron James is the obvious answer – he’s even taken over the top spot in the NBA MVP race, with commentators across the league voicing their support. But if you look at the advanced stats, the best player in the world right now is Nikola Jokic. At press time, Jokic leads the league in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) at plus-2.3, as well as both Player Efficiency Rating (31.3 PER) and Win Shares (plus-4.3 WS). This James-Jokic dynamic illustrates why the Denver Nuggets belong in your NBA picks for Thursday’s road game against the Los Angeles Lakers. James and the defending champions opened as 5.5-point home faves at SBK; with so many people putting their money on the Lakers (16-6 SU, 11-11 ATS) and cheering on their favorite player, Jokic and the small-market Nuggets (12-8 SU, 10-10 ATS) are under-priced at these odds.
As a reminder of how pesky the Nuggets can be, we only need to look at last year’s Western Conference Finals, where Denver gave the Lakers all they could handle despite losing in five games. The two teams split the cash 2-2-1 ATS; the Nuggets covered their other meeting inside the Orlando bubble, losing 124-121 as 5.5-point underdogs – the same NBA odds they’re getting Thursday night at Staples Center. Jokic is playing far better now than he did in the bubble – and he was excellent during the first two rounds of the postseason, before running out of gas against the eventual champs. The rest of the Nuggets have had some issues; Jamal Murray (plus-0.1 VORP) hasn’t turned it on yet as he did in the playoffs, and Gary Harris (minus-0.1 VORP) has been limited by injuries, including the strained left adductor that will keep him out of Thursday’s game. But the Nuggets still have one of the best offenses in the NBA. It’s even better than the Lakers’ offense, outscoring them 113.8 to 110.3 per 100 possessions.
Things are different at the defensive end. Los Angeles may have taken a step back scoring-wise with their offseason makeover, but they’ve gotten even better on defense now that Marc Gasol (plus-0.2 VORP) has joined James (plus-1.7 VORP) and Anthony Davis (plus-1.4 VORP) in the frontcourt. The Lakers lead the league at 102.4 points allowed per 100 possessions; Denver, as they were last year, are in the middle of the pack defensively at 109.9 points allowed. The Nuggets aren’t staunch defenders, but they do operate at one of the slowest paces in the league, seeing just 99.4 possessions per game. That will make it even harder for the Lakers to build enough of a lead to cover. It’s possible the NBA lines for Thursday’s matchup will move even further towards James and his teammates before tip-off, so time your bets appropriately, and enjoy the show.
NBA Pick: Nuggets +5.5 (–110) at SBK