The Western Conference finals continue on Tuesday night with the direction of the series on the line. The Los Angeles Lakers have a chance to take a commanding 3-0 series lead and stay firmly in the driver’s seat, while the Denver Nuggets need a win to give themselves a realistic chance to pull off the series upset.
Here is a preview for Game 3 between the Lakers and Nuggets. The Lakers are -6.5 point favorites on the spread and -270 on the moneyline.
Although Denver entered their first Western Conference finals in 11 seasons fresh off of a dramatic upset against the Clippers, the Lakers squashed their momentum from the start. After being down by two at the end of the 1st quarter, Los Angeles out-scored Denver 67-41 over the next two quarters, leading them to a comfortable 126-114 victory in Game 1.
Anthony Davis led the way for L.A. with 37 points and 10 rebounds, as the Lakers were up by as many as 27 points in the game. LeBron James also scores 15 points, all of which came in the first half, but dished out a game-high 12 assists.
In Game 2, it was Davis again who was the hero for the purple and gold. Down one, Davis hit a three at the buzzer over the out-stretched arm of Nikola Jokic to give the Lakers a 105-103 win. This game had all the makings of another blowout, with the Lakers up by as many as 16 in the second quarter.
But the Nuggets stormed back, taking the lead with as little as 30 seconds left, as Jokic finished with a 30-6-9 stat line with Jamal Murray also putting up 25 points. But the Lakers managed to get it done, once again thanks to Davis and his 31 points as well as James’ 26 and 11 night.
Keys to Victory
Los Angeles will win if their role players continue to step up. The superstar duo of James and Davis is what drives the Lakers, but the role players are what’s making L.A. impossible to beat. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is an example of one of those players, as the guard has drilled three three-pointers in each of the last two games. The veteran Danny Green also hit a trio of threes on Sunday, with Markieff Morris doing the same in the first game of the series.
Twenty-nine of L.A.’s 105 points in Game 2 came from the combo of Caldwell-Pope, Green, and Alex Caruso, the latter playing a significant role on both sides of the basketball as of late. You know that Davis will get his points, and James is dominant, but when their depth gets going like this, it makes them favorites to beat everyone in the NBA.
Denver will win if Jamal Murray goes off. Several things have to happen for Denver to win this game and also the series. The defensive rebounding needs to improve after allowing the Lakers to grab 13 offensive boards in Game 2, including on their final possession just before Davis’ game-winner.
They also need more depth and to continue to get to the line more than the Lakers. But to combat the Lakers and their stars, Denver needs a star of their own to take control in this one.
A big difference in the first two games was the performance of Murray. In Game 1, Murray put up 21 points, but only attempted five threes and four three throws. Game 2 saw a more aggressive Murray, as he doubled his free throw attempts and put up nine threes.
He was also a remarkable +16 despite his team losing by two points, showing how important he is when he’s on the court. Jokic has been tough to stop for the Lakers, so adding another star performance from Murray to the mix is Denver’s best chance to win.
Both teams are coming off of games they’re not used to having this postseason. The Lakers’ next slimmest margin of victory during the playoffs is eight points, while the Nuggets conversely have had just two of their eight postseason losses be by fewer than six points.
That bodes well for the Lakers to cover the -6.5, as I think the crushing defeat of Game 2 and the number of things the Nuggets have to do right to be in a position to win again is just too much for them to overcome.
Pick: Lakers -6.5