In a year of tight competition among the Western Conference, the 11-8 Los Angeles Lakers and 13-7 Denver Nuggets have both performed admirably. The teams are seventh and third, respectively, in the conference and have established themselves as likely playoff squads.
The Lakers and Nuggets will meet in Denver today (9 p.m. ET Tuesday on NBATV). The Lakers are coming off a disappointing loss to the Magic, but have performed well in the past few weeks overall. The Nuggets are currently on a three-game winning streak to recover from a bad stretch of six losses in seven games.
Will the Lakers’ transition game on offense frustrate the Nuggets or will it be Denver’s crisp ball movement that rises to the forefront? Let’s preview this game both from a matchup and betting standpoint before making our picks and Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets predictions.
Can Nikola Jokic Find His Shooting Stroke?
Jokic is possibly the best offensive big man in the NBA. His best skill is his passing, but he is also a dangerous post scorer who can step out and hit threes on the regular.
Recently, though, his outside shooting has faltered. In his past three contests, he has shot 11-of-40 (27.5 percent) from the field and 1-of-17 (5.9 percent) from three-point range. It doesn’t take an expert to realize that those numbers are really bad.
The Lakers’ main centers (JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler) both prefer to defend the interior. They aren’t extremely adept at stepping out to challenge opposing big men who like to shoot threes. Jokic needs to make them pay by rediscovering his shooting touch.
Will the Lakers Clean Up Their Turnover Numbers & Free-Throw Shooting?
The Lakers are 2-1 in their last three games but they haven’t put their best effort on the floor during the stretch. In those three contests, Los Angeles has averaged 18.7 turnovers per game to their opponents’ 11.7 turnovers per game.
The team has also made just 51 of its 77 free-throw attempts (66.2 percent). Those attempts are nice and high, which shows that the team is driving aggressively, but that accuracy is just not acceptable.
Denver has been a very strong defensive team this season but the Nuggets’ weakness on that end is that they put teams on the free-throw line too easily. Los Angeles needs to protect the ball better and relax more at the free-throw line.
Who Can Guard LeBron James?
The Nuggets’ biggest weakness, in my opinion, is that they don’t have a big wing who can play lots of minutes and compete hard on the defensive end. So many of the best players in the league, such as James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George and Jimmy Butler, are perimeter guys with great size and skill.
Who do the Nuggets have to go head-to-head with those guys? Especially in this matchup against James, it could be tough. Torrey Craig is a good defender but he is a clear negative on offense and is a bit small for James. Paul Millsap is also good on defense and has the size to check James, but he’s not nearly quick enough. Every other candidate to guard James is either too small or too slow.
LeBron had an efficient 28 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the Lakers’ win over the Nuggets a month ago. Can Denver get a handle on him this time?
Our Preview’s Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets Betting Picks & Predictions
LeBron is going to be a problem for the Nuggets, but I think Denver has an advantage in overall depth and Nikola Jokic can really find a groove again playing against paint-bound defenders.
Denver has been great at home this season, boasting an 8-3 record with a point differential of plus-11.4. Los Angeles is 5-4 on the road with a plus-3 point differential. I like the Nuggets’ chances at holding off the Lakers by a margin of five to 10 points.
- The line here with the main U.S. sports betting firms seems to underestimate the Nuggets a bit, as they aren’t a very big favorite at home despite being the better team this season. Bet on the Nuggets -4pts on the spread @ -110 with Bovada, Intertops or BetOnline.
- The stage is set for LeBron to carve up the Nuggets’ defense and for Jokic to bounce back. Plus, the pace of play is often fast in the Mile High City. For the total points, the bet of over 216pts @ -110 with Bookmaker or Intertops looks a good one.