Nuggets vs. Lakers Preview: Creative Ways to Back LA

Matt Moore previews Sunday's NBA matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers and shares his best bet.

Nuggets vs. Lakers Odds

Nuggets Odds -3.5
Lakers Odds +3.5
Over/Under 230.5
Time 3:30 p.m. ET
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

Look, I feel we have to ask: do the Lakers really want to be here anymore?

LeBron James returned Friday alongside Anthony Davis in a huge game, only for the Pelicans — the 34-43 Pelicans — to outlast them down the stretch. Los Angeles is now one back in the loss column from the Spurs and they have tiebreaker (thanks to conference record the Lakers can’t catch them on).

So, does James really want to try and drag this team through two high-stress, high-intensity play-in games only to then have to face the Suns? He knows Los Angeles isn’t good enough, as he’s said as much.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets are reeling. They won in unimpressive fashion Monday and Wednesday, then lost the biggest game of the season at home on Friday to give the Timberwolves life to catch them for the sixth seed.

Denver needs any combination of three wins or Minnesota losses to secure the sixth seed. Now, the Nuggets are on the road for a Sunday matinee in a Los Angeles nightlife spot.

Between teams not at their best — or in the Lakers case, without a best at all — who comes out on top?

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Denver Nuggets

Vlatko Cancar, Zeke Nnaji, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray are listed out.

Head coach Michael Malone made the first optimistic comments he’s made all year about Murray and I wouldn’t be surprised if the starting point guard returns sometime this week, especially with the Nuggets at home, but likely not on the road.

Denver’s offense behind Nikola Jokic continues to cook, but its defense has fallen off a cliff. The Nuggets are bottom five in the league over the last month-plus of games.

Most of it comes down to simple point-of-attack defense. The Nuggets can’t stop the ball on the perimeter. This is a problem against the Lakers in theory, with James, Malik Monk and, yes, Russell Westbrook. However, Los Angeles is 28th in spot-up points per possession, including drives and catch-and-shoot.

Denver will sacrifice Aaron Gordon at the alter of James and hope to contain the rest of his underwhelming supporting cast.

Jokic will do what he always does, put up points and rebounds and assists. However, bear in mind the Nuggets have been outscored with Jokic on the floor in six of their last 12 games. That’s how bad the starters have been.

Jokic’s rotation is to play until around the two-minute mark of the first and third quarters, then return for the final seven minutes of the third and fourth quarters. This matters because the Lakers stagger James; he plays the beginning of the 2nd quarter.

There’s probably value on the Lakers’ first-half spread as a result, even on a tight line. If James just goes nuclear in that second-quarter stretch before Jokic returns, that might be the difference.

Los Angeles Lakers

Carmelo Anthony is day to day. James (ankle) and Davis (foot) are listed as questionable.

The latter two not playing on national TV after the Pelicans loss would be a significant white flag. You should wait until you’re sure both players are in before betting this game.

The Lakers have the 25th-ranked offense and 26th-ranked spread differential against bottom-10 defensive teams. They’e simply not consistent or talented enough in any area.

The good news is Davis’ dominance. In games where AD has played, the Lakers are 9-3 straight up and 6-5-1 against the spread against the Nuggets. Maybe Davis is able to feast in this matchup and carries them in the way he never has during his Los Angeles tenure outside of the bubble.

But ultimately, it’s difficult to trust the Lakers.

Nuggets-Lakers Pick

Neither one of these teams is trustworthy, but the matchup definitely skews toward the Lakers. It’s not about who’s the better team, but the LeBron minutes vs. non-Jokic situation could be massive and Davis’ overall success against Jokic matters as well.

I’d avoid the game total, as the Lakers’ offense and the Nuggets’ defense are both so bad as to make it a stay-away situation.

Pick: Los Angeles — 1H | Los Angeles — 2Q | Los Angeles — 4Q