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If the Los Angeles Lakers are going to get back to the top of the mountain in the NBA, they’ll have to first climb a mile high to face the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

Los Angeles is a road underdog in Denver for the series opener, taking on the top-seeded Nuggets on Tuesday night.

While LeBron James brings plenty of star power to the West finals, this series is headlined by a battle between two of the top big men in the NBA, with Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis dueling in the paint.

Denver and L.A. clashed four times during the regular season, with the teams splitting those four encounters SU and ATS, but those meetings all came before Los Angeles’ roster revamp in mid-February, which sparked the team’s NBA odds-defying late-season surge and playoff push.

I run down the point spread and Over/Under total for Game 1 and give my best NBA picks and predictions for Lakers vs. Nuggets on Tuesday, May 16. Be sure to also check out my Lakers vs. Nuggets Western Conference Finals betting preview for even more insights ahead of tip off.

It’s been a while since “LeBron James versus Whoever” wasn’t the marquee matchup of an NBA Playoffs series. But with the Nugqgetsmarching out Nikola Jokic to the middle of the key, all eyes are on Lakers big man Anthony Davis.

Davis has been a two-way force for Los Angeles. You could make the case that behind Jokic’s bonkers stat lines, Davis’ postseason performances rank No. 2 in the tournament (we see you, Jimmy Butler). He’s averaging more than 21 points, 14 rebounds along with 3.3 blocks and 1.7 steals in the playoffs.

Davis is the toughest challenge for Jokic on both ends of the floor so far in the postseason, and vice versa facing the two-time MVP. The Game 1 player modeling does paint a clash of the titans atop the Rocky Mountains, with Davis’ point projections bouncing between lows of 21 points and highs closer to 27 tonight.

My number is a little more level, but ends up on the lower end of Davis’ scoring forecast at 23.75 points, which is still plenty to clear his modest point prop of 22.5 points (Over -115).

This 22.5-point total is the shortest points prop AD has been tabbed with all postseason and a few factors are working to whittle this number down from previous scoring Over/Unders highs of 25.5 points.

For one, the matchup. Jokic may not have the defensive chops of Davis, but he’s a master at drawing whistles and seeing his checks ushered to the bench with foul trouble, as he did to Suns center Deandre Ayon and T-Wolves big Karl-Anthony Towns.

Davis’ previous scoring output has been below expectations as well. He’s played below his scoring prop in five straight playoff games and is 2-7 O/U versus his projected points going back to Round 1. That said, he did score 23 points or more in four of the six games with Golden State and has surpassed this current total in half of his dozen postseason performances so far.

He played three games against the Nuggets this season, but you can’t put any weight into those meetings. Back in December, he lasted only 17 minutes and scored 10 points before leaving with a foot injury that would follow him throughout the schedule. The other two games came in a home-and-home set in October in which Davis scored 22 and 23 points with an entirely different roster around him.

This total is pretty much on the fence between those two outputs and ticking up at some sportsbooks. The Over 22.5 is juiced as high as -143 and some books have moved off the 22.5 and to 23.5 (Over -120). Shop for the best price on the lower end of the total as the projections get much tighter at the taller 23.5

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