Lakers vs. Nuggets Game 2: Denver's Adjustments Will Benefit Porter Jr.

Andrew O'Connor-Watts previews how to bet Lakers vs. Nuggets, including updated odds, picks and predictions for Thursday's NBA Playoff game.

Lakers vs. Nuggets Odds

Lakers Odds +5.5
Nuggets Odds -5.5
Over/Under 226.5
Time 8:30 p.m. ET
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

The Western Conference Finals are upon us. And if the matchup looks familiar, you’re not going crazy, it’s an exact rematch of the Conference Finals from the 2020 Bubble season on both sides of the conference bracket.

The Denver Nuggets looked poised to blowout the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 behind a massive game by Nikola Jokic who ended the game with 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists.

Second-half adjustments by Lakers head coach Darvin Ham brought the Lakers within three points near the end of the game, resulting in a 132-126 Lakers loss. L.A. managed to cover the closing line of seven as part of their late-game surge, but will look to even the series on Thursday night.

Let’s breakdown the odds, and I’ll give out some picks in the Lakers vs. Nuggets Game 2 preview.

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Los Angeles Lakers

If not for a late push by L.A., the Nuggets may have maintained their immaculate ATS record (7-0 before Tuesday’s game), but LeBron James and Ham had other plans. In-game adjustments were the key to the Lakers second-half push.

James made it a point to target Jamal Murray in pick-and-rolls, singling him out and bullying him in the paint every chance he got. The Nuggets failed to send adequate help on defense resulting in a massive game for James who finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists on 9-of-16 shooting. Expect him to continue that approach in Game 2 and continue his massive playoff rebounding output. I’ll take a look at his points and rebounds.

On the defensive end, Ham put Rui Hachimura on Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis on Aaron Gordon. This allowed Davis to play free safety and patrol the paint area, blocking shots and lurking in the passing lanes, picking up three steals and two blocks in the process. A look at his steals and blocks prop could be a smart play for Game 2.

Another rotational trend we saw in Game 1, is with Jarred Vanderbilt. In the first nine games of the playoffs, he saw at least 15 minutes of playing time, but in the past four, he’s averaging just nine minutes per game, seeing just four in Game 7 against the Warriors.

Since his minutes decreased, his shot attempts have fallen from 5.6 per game, to just one over the last four games. He didn’t take a single shot in Game 1 and he’s averaging one point, 0.5 assists and 1.3 rebounds in that span. I like his unders, even as low as they are.

Denver Nuggets

In 2020, the Lakers were the No. 1 seed with home-court advantage against the lower-seeded Nuggets. This season, Denver owns the top spot in the West, which is in part a result of its massive home-court edge playing in altitude. That advantage has been significant in these playoffs as it was during the regular season. The Nuggets are undefeated at Ball Arena and up until Game 1, had a perfect record against the spread.

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone made minimal adjustments in the second half of Tuesday’s game, but made it clear he wasn’t concerned by the shift for Game 2. Malone told Nuggets reporter Harrison Wind, “Much is being made of them putting Rui Hachimura on Nikola Jokic like we’ve never seen that before.”

Michael Porter Jr. backed Malone’s lack of concern, hinting that adjustments would be made in preparation of Thursday’s Game 2. I can only speculate about what those adjustments will be, but my best guess would be to pull Gordon away from the dunker’s spot where he was standing all second half with Davis guarding him.

Instead, a likely move would be to put him in the corner ready to spot-up when the defense collapses on Jokic in the paint and bringing Davis away from the rim to make a choice about which area he wants to guard. Gordon failed to connect on three attempts from deep in Game 1, but he’s a good enough shooter that things could change for him Thursday.

Lakers-Nuggets Pick

For such an up-and-down game, the statistical element was relatively uniform in most categories. Their shooting percentages were almost identical and assists, steals and fouls were almost completely even.

The key factors for Denver came in transition — a result of its massive rebounding advantage. The Lakers were out-rebounded 30-47 with the Nuggets scoring 14 points off turnovers to the Lakers’ five. I expect L.A. to counter in some way to improve on the glass, but I still like a small bite on a Porter Jr. to record a double-double. He had 10 last game. Shop around and you should be able to find +600.

As I mentioned, look to Davis defensive props, but until the Nuggets prove they can stop him on offense, his points and rebounds prop is also an appealing option at 37.5 although I wouldn’t go too much higher before pivoting to just points. I’ll also play James over points + rebounds as he should look to target Murray again in an extremely favorable matchup.

Next, if we get Vanderbilt props, I’ll take almost any of his unders with under 2.5 points being my favorite if/when they eventually pop up. Follow me in the Action App to see how I play Vanderbilt closer to game time (@AOWatts).

I was on the Lakers in Game 1 and I’m tempted to take them again in Game 2, but for now, let’s have fun and sprinkle some half-unit player props.

Picks: Anthony Davis over 37.5 points + rebounds, up to 38.5 (-110, DraftKings) to win 0.5 unit | Davis over 3.5 steals + blocks (-120, play to -135 Bet365) to win 0.5 unit

Pick: LeBron James over 34.5 points + rebounds (-108, Caesars) to win 0.5 unit

Pick: Aaron Gordon over 0.5 3-pointers (-115 or better, Bet365) to win 0.5 unit

Pick: Michael Porter Jr. double-double (+600, Bet365, play to +450) to win 1 unit