Nuggets vs. Lakers NBA Picks: Potential Playoff Preview

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LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers scores a basket. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP

It could be a first-round Western Conference playoff preview on Monday night when the Denver Nuggets visit the Los Angeles Lakers. Which way to lean at online sportsbooks? 

Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Lakers 

Monday, May 03, 2021 – 10:00 PM EDT at Staples Center

If the NBA playoffs started today, the Denver Nuggets would be the third seed in the Western Conference and would host the No. 6 Los Angeles Lakers in Round 1 of the playoffs. It would be very unusual for a LeBron James-led team to not have home-court advantage in Round 1. The King has never lost a first-round series.  

It’s possible the Lakers could finish as high as fifth in the West but also possible they finish worse than sixth and are forced into the play-in tournament. Denver in theory could get as high as first in the West but that’s highly unlikely. The Nuggets will not fall lower than fourth so they will host a first-round playoff series.  

The Lakers remain +190 favorites and the Nuggets +1100 on the BetOnline NBA futures odds to win the conference. The Lakers and Nuggets have met in the postseason seven times (1979, 1985, 1987, 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2020). L.A. beat Denver in five games in the 2020 West Finals in the Orlando bubble. In fact, Los Angeles has won every playoff matchup.  

Nuggets Not Missing Murray Yet 

This writer believes any chance the Nuggets had of reaching their first-ever NBA Finals vanished when second-leading scorer Jamal Murray went down with a season-ending injury on April 12 at Golden State, but Denver has lost just once since then. 

The Nugs won their fifth in a row on Saturday, 110-104 at the Clippers – meaning the team didn’t have to travel ahead of this one and simply stayed in Los Angeles. Nikola Jokic is the favorite on the NBA futures odds to win league MVP and he showed why with 30 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists – although the team was actually outscored by three points with him on the court.  

Michael Porter Jr., who has really blown up since Murray, went down, had 25 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Yet, the team was outscored by seven points with him on the court. 

The bench was the difference as every Denver reserve had at least a plus/minus rating of plus-9. Austin Rivers, recently signed off the scrap heap, had just three points in 26 minutes but was plus-22.  

In addition to Murray, Denver remains without Monte Morris and Will Barton, both dealing with hamstring injuries. Neither will play here. The Nugs are 2-5 ATS at the top-rated books in their past seven as favorites.  

Second Of B2B For Lakers 

Los Angeles dropped its third in a row Sunday night at home, 121-114 to Toronto in a pretty sizable upset on the NBA odds. LeBron James was listed as questionable with an ankle but did play and had 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes. Still, monitor his status for this one as it’s possible he sits out.  

Anthony Davis looked rusty with only 12 points in 33 minutes. Kyle Kuzma scored a team-high 24 points.  Dennis Schroder was ruled out due to health and safety protocols two hours prior to tipoff, so he’s obviously iffy here. Alex Caruso started for him Sunday.  

The Lakers and Nuggets have split two meetings this season, each winning at home. They last played Valentine’s Day in Denver and the Nuggets won 122-105. Jokic had 23 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, and Jamal Murray had 25 points. That was the game Davis (back now) went down injured. LeBron had 22 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.   

The two teams have met 181 times in the regular season, with the Lakers leading the series 109-72. At Staples Center, the Lakers have a 26-13 regular-season lead. 

With the uncertainty about LeBron and Schroder and the Lakers playing for the second time in 24 hours, we will give the points. L.A. is 1-6 ATS in its past seven at home.  

NBA pick: Nuggets at -3 (-110) with Bovada