It was all but over for the Denver Nuggets in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal series with the Los Angeles Clippers. With 1:27 left in the third quarter, Torrey Craig was guarding Lou Williams at the top of the key when Clippers big Ivica Zubac set a screen allowing Williams to go to his left. Jerami Grant was cheating in near the elbow to cut off the Clippers guard, so Williams kicked it to Kawhi Leonard along the wing. Leonard drained a 3-pointer, which gave Los Angeles a 13-point lead.
In that moment, the Nuggets had a 0.2% chance to win the series. Nine quarters and 90 seconds later the Nuggets were walking off the floor, on their way to the Western Conference Finals.
On the surface, it seems like the Los Angeles Lakers caught a break. They not only avoid the highest power-rated team in the league, but they get an improbable opponent who had to overcome consecutive 3-1 series deficits. An opponent that has won six straight elimination games. An opponent against which they are 3-1 against in the regular season.
A speed bump on the way to the NBA Finals, right?
The market seems to think so.
After opening as a -500 favorite to win the series on Tuesday night, the price was adjusted to -625 at DraftKings and PointsBet. The current series price carries an implied probability of 86.2%, but is that too high?
Sure, Los Angeles is 3-1 SU against this Denver team, but it is only 2-2 against the spread in those three games. Even more intriguing is the fact that the Lakers actually have a negative net rating (-3.2) despite taking three of four from the Nuggets.
Denver is quite the enigma. The Nuggets have a negative net rating for the postseason, getting outscored by 1.5 points every 100 possessions. Their two postseason opponents, Utah and Los Angeles, combined to shoot 38.1% on 34.3 3-point attempts per game, by far the worst percentage of the remaining four teams, and Denver gives up a 65.3 shooting percentage at the rim, (22nd in the league this season). The Nuggets are, without question, the worst defensive team among the four remaining.
The Lakers will be able to take advantage of this, since they are the best offensive team within four feet of the hoop, taking 39.8 percent of their attempts at the rim and shooting 68.8%. LeBron James leads the best transition offense, a unit which averages 1.29 points per play in the fastbreak.
Los Angeles has the statistical edge in almost every category on offense and defense in this series, but that does not mean this is another five-game romp for the Lakers. The net rating of the regular season series says it all. Despite 1-3 head-to-head record, the Nuggets have a double-digit win in the regular-season series, and two of their losses to the Lakers were within a single possession.
The market might be undervaluing this Nuggets team ever so slightly. In their four matchups, the Lakers never laid more than 5.5 points. Now, they’re catching seven in Game 1, and the Nuggets are healthier with Gary Harris now back in the lineup.
Los Angeles is favored for a reason, and should advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since the 2009-2010 season. However, if the market thinks this Nuggets team is seven points worse and will roll over along the way, they have another thing coming. It is pretty clear Denver is transcending their statistical profile and just balling.
Bet I like: Nuggets + 7 in Game 1