LeBron James won two consecutive NBA MVP awards (2009-10, 2012-13). Nikoa Jokić did it in 2021-22 and finished second this season.
Superstars will take center stage when LeBron’s Los Angeles Lakers take on Jokić’s Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. Game 1 is Tuesday in Denver.
The Lakers have put together one of the most improbable runs in recent history. Los Angeles started 2-10, made several midseason roster moves and qualified for the postseason by advancing to the play-in round. And LA just eliminated the defending champion Golden State Warriors in six games.
The Lakers became the fourth NBA team to go as many games under .500 and reach the conference finals since the conferences were formed after the 1970-71 season.
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The top-seeded Nuggets are back in the Western Conference Finals for the first time since losing to the Lakers in 2020 on the bubble in five games.
Jokić is coming off a historic performance as he averaged a triple-double against the Phoenix Suns (34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 10.3 assists).
Jokić’s performance against the Suns was the second-highest scoring average, while he averaged a triple-double in a playoff series behind Russell Westbrook’s 37.4 points per game in the first round of the postseason in 2017
Jokić had three triple-doubles in the last four games against the Suns, joining Westbrook, Jason Kidd, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to have three triple-doubles in a single playoff series.
Los Angeles has won all seven postseason series against Denver.
We look at the series from a betting perspective, with odds via FOX Bet and an expert’s pick for the series.
The Nuggets eliminate the Suns with a 125-100 win in Game 6
Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe discuss who is most to blame for Phoenix’s Game 6 collapse.
Lakers at Nuggets, 8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, ESPN (series opener)
Distribution of points: Nuggets -5.5 (Nuggets favored to win by more than 5.5 points, otherwise Lakers cover)
Moneyline: Nuggets -227 favorites to win (bet $10 to win $14.41 total); Lakers +160 underdogs to win (bet $10 to win $26 total)
Total Over/Under Score: 222.5 points scored by the two teams together
Los Angeles Lakers
Nuggets -167 (bet $10 to win $15.99 total)
Lakers +115 (bet $10 to win $21.50 total)
Series times and scores (all times at 8:30 p.m. ET):
Game 1: Lakers at Nuggets, Tuesday, ESPN
Game 2: Lakers at Nuggets, Thursday, ESPN
Game 3: Nuggets at Lakers, Saturday, ABC
Game 4: Nuggets at Lakers, Monday, ESPN
Game 5: Lakers at Nuggets, May 24, ESPN *
Game 6: Nuggets at Lakers, May 26, ESPN *
Game 7: Lakers at Nuggets, May 28, ESPN *
* = if necessary
Regular season results
Oct. 26: Nuggets 110, Lakers 99
Oct. 30: Lakers 121, Nuggets 103
Dec. 16: Lakers 126, Nuggets 108
Jan. 9: Nuggets 122, Lakers 109
LeBron and the Lakers advance to the Western Conference finals
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers eliminated the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Pick through the FOX sports betting analyst Jason McIntyre:
As noted in this space earlier in the playoffs, this is a complete Nuggets team with no discernible weaknesses. They will have advantages all over the court, just like they did against Phoenix. The Jokić/Anthony Davis matchup is fascinating, and it will be the first time in these playoffs that AD will face a true center. Jokić is averaging 30.7 PPG, 12.8 RPG and 9.7 APG while shooting 54 from the field and 47 percent on 3-pointers. He will keep the AD away from the hoop and they will expect to run a layup like the Warriors did at times.
From a matchup perspective, do the Lakers put Jarred Vanderbilt over Jamal Murray? Vanderbilt was good against Stephen Curry early, but after making adjustments, he barely played and his minutes went to Dennis Schröder. Expect Aaron Gordon to go up against LeBron, and when the King goes hunting, it will likely be for Michael Porter Jr., who won’t be able to handle LeBron on the block.
Two things working against the Lakers in this series: the schedule, where there is no extra day off, and the altitude, where the Nuggets had the second-best record in the NBA. Denver is 6-0 at home, winning by an average margin of 14.1 points. On the other hand, the Lakers are 7-0 in the postseason at home if you include the play-in win.
I picked the Warriors in large part because I had never seen them lose to anyone in the West in the Steve Kerr era. Many will pick the Lakers because they haven’t seen Nikola Jokić reach the NBA Finals. This is a tough, physical Denver team that mixes youth — rookie Christian Braun, Jamal Murray and 26-year-old Bruce Brown — and former LeBron teammates Thomas Bryant, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jeff Green.
If you think the Lakers will steal one from Denver, you want to bet their series price (+130) right now. If you think Denver jumps out to a 2-0 lead, wait until you catch the Lakers.
The Lakers won both meetings in Los Angeles this season, but neither came this calendar year. The role player question will be huge for the Lakers. At times this postseason has been Rui Hachimura, Schröder, Austin Reaves or even D’Angelo Russell. Part of the beauty of their team is that all they need is one of those guys to complement LeBron and AD.
Ultimately, I have the Nuggets winning this one in what should be an epic series.
As for player props, I’ll be looking to support Porter Jr. at home and fade it out on the road.
PICK: Nuggets to win series in seven games (+300 Bet Boost at FOX Bet, bet $10 to win $40 total)
GAME 1 PICK: Michael Porter Jr. More than 14.5 points (-133 on FOX Bet, bet $10 to win $17.52 total)
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