The Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets met each other in last season’s Western Conference Finals. Both are still among the favorites to represent the conference in the NBA Finals this year, but injuries have derailed these teams heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.
The Nuggets, of course, lost Jamal Murray to a season-ending ACL tear. That immediately tanked the team’s title odds, but Denver has won five straight games heading into Monday’s action. The Lakers, meanwhile, recently got both LeBron James and Anthony Davis back from long-term injuries of their own. However, LA is 0-2 since James’ return last Friday, including a discouraging 121-114 setback at home last night to a middling Toronto side.
Los Angeles Lakers
Over 214.5 (-110)
Under 214.5 (-110)
Monday’s game will mark the third meeting of the season between Denver and LA. The Lakers took the first game in blowout fashion back on February 4 at Staples Center, while the Nuggets stormed back with an easy win of their own 10 days later in Colorado.
James returned to action after missing over a month with a sprained ankle. That was the longest injury-related layoff of LeBron’s entire career, but he didn’t look particularly rusty. In 32 minutes against the Kings, he piled up 16 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists while shooting 50 percent from the floor in a 110-106 defeat.
He was in the midst of another solid effort on Sunday (19 points, seven rebounds, six assists) before leaving after playing just 28 minutes. James was reportedly feeling some soreness in his injured ankle, so the Lakers decided against bringing him back into the game. A late rally fell short as the team lost to the Raptors, however, which means the reigning champs are now facing a potential appearance in the play-in tournament at the end of the season.
LeBron James on the play-in tournament: "Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired"
Los Angeles enters Monday’s game at 36-28, which ties them with the Mavericks and Trail Blazers. Dallas owns the tiebreaker edge over LA, while the Lakers and Blazers will play a huge game later this week to determine the winner of their season series. LeBron and a number of Lakers voiced their frustrations with the team’s recent slide, with James going so far as to say that whoever invented the play-in format “needs to be fired.”
LeBron also mentioned that he may have returned from his ankle injury a little early, which makes you wonder whether he’ll even bother risking it on Monday night. LeBron is officially questionable on the injury report, but it would be a bit surprising if he played. Los Angeles certainly wants no part of the play-in tourney, but they also don’t want James to risk making the injury worse just a couple of weeks before the postseason begins.
Nuggets Weathering the Storm
Most declared the Nuggets’ season dead-and-gone when Murray went down, but the team is still on the fringes of the race for the top seed in the West. Denver enters Monday’s game at 43-21 on the year, which puts them three games behind Phoenix and Utah at the top of the conference. Denver has won five straight and nine of their last 10 games overall, so Murray’s absence hasn’t cost the Nuggets much in terms of regular-season wins.
Of course, Murray was one of the driving forces in the team’s unlikely run to last year’s conference finals. It remains to be seen whether other players will be able to fill that void, but Mike Malone has plenty of options. Nikola Jokic will continue to do his thing, but the most important player to Denver’s long-term hopes may be Michael Porter Jr.
We’ve seen glimpses of Porter’s potential over the past couple of years, but he has really stepped it up since Murray was lost for the season. In the month of April, Porter averaged nearly 24 points while shooting an astounding 55.3 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from three-point range. The 22-year-old has scored at least 20 points in each of his last six games, including a 25-point, seven-rebound, five-assist performance in the team’s 110-104 win over the Clippers on Saturday.
Murray was the Robin to Jokic’s Batman in last year’s playoffs. If the Nuggets are to achieve their goals this year, Porter will have to step into that same role.
What’s the Best Bet?
Whether LeBron plays tonight is anybody’s guess. Denver opening as a four-point favorite likely means oddsmakers think James is likely to sit out, but we’ll see. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that LeBron suits up tonight and puts the team on his shoulders when they need it the most.
Just about everything is favoring Denver in this spot. The Lakers just played last night, while the Nuggets haven’t played since Saturday. James may well sit out tonight, which means Anthony Davis will have to have a huge game if the Lakers are going to keep up. It’s also worth mentioning that Dennis Schroder missed last night’s game due to league health protocols, and he’s not expected to return tonight.
The Lakers winning this game and the Nuggets dropping a very winnable one would not be the biggest shock in the world, but I have to side with Denver here. The Nuggets opened as two-point favorites, and the spread has moved to Denver -4. That number may well continue to shift in that direction, so I’d get in on it while you still can. Bet Denver to cover the spread betting option tonight in Los Angeles.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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