NBA on ESPN Picks ATS: Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets

L.A. Lakers at Denver

Time: 9 PM CST (ESPN)

Spread: LAL -3.5

Total: 221

Odds c/o 5dimes

The Los Angeles Lakers have won its last two games to improve to 40-12 on the season and it leads No. 2 Denver by three games in the Western Conference standings. Denver hosts the Lakers in the second half of an ESPN doubleheader, and the Lakers are 3.5-point favorites according to oddsmakers at 5dimes. The over/under is set at 221 total points.

LAL NEWS & NOTES:

The Los Angeles Lakers are now 40-12. It is currently seated atop the Western Conference with a three-game lead over the No. 2 seeded Utah Jazz. The Lakers have won two straight and six of its last 10.

It appears the gamble to wager so much young talent to obtain Anthony Davis has paid off thus far. Davis leads the team in scoring, providing a powerful punch that LeBron James has done little more than feast from.

The Lakers rank No. 8 in the Association in scoring at 113.7 points per game while possessing a defense that limits teams to just 106.1. The Lakers also rank No. 7 in the league in assists per game as a team, tallying an impressive 26.1 per game.

James, of course, ranks highest in the assist category, even with the dime-dropping Rajon Rondo coming in to play alongside him. James is averaging 10.9 assists per game, to go with his 25.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks/steals per game. Davis is leading the way with 27.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists while coming up with 1.4 steals and 2.5 blocks per contest.

The missing thing, if anything, has been the Kyle Kuzma that Los Angeles is used to seeing. Kuzma has played 25 games this season since returning from injury, but he has only started one of those. He averages just 23.8 minutes per game, and his shooting percentages are mediocre at 42 percent field goals and 35 percent triples. Kuzma averages the third-most of any Laker at 12.2 per game, but he really should be over at least 15 points per game. Avery Bradley is the No. 6 scorer at only eight points per game, though Bradley is known to be a defensive pest and that is his primary focus while on the court.

Kuzma, meanwhile, is known to be a shooter but not really excelling in that lone aspect of his offense. Rondo, as mentioned, comes off the bench to play 21 minutes a game, picking up nearly six assists in those limited minutes. The biggest pleasant surprise has undoubtedly been Dwight Howard. While his numbers are far from eye-popping, he has embraced the role of a defensive-minded presence whose job is to protect the rim and grab boards.

Howard has averaged just under 20 minutes a game, providing just under seven points, seven rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. He has rotated well on defense, communicated, and been something of a second-unit leader. The Lakers are pleased with their low-risk investment in Howard, which drew more than its fair share of criticism even though the Lakers were not contractually bound to the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

To be sure, he is not the “same guy” that averaged over 21 points per game for the Orlando Magic. That All-Star form is firmly in the past, but Howard’s defensive energy is partly responsible for the Lakers’ overall turnaround as a team on the defensive end. Davis is, naturally, an even bigger part of this picture, but the Lakers were expected to be a slow team on defense, and that has been nowhere close to true, even with Davis often playing the 4-spot.

In fact, so many things have fallen into place that other than getting better play out of its No. 3 scorer in Kuzma, it is hard to find any other areas of overt weakness in the Lakers approach thus far in 2019-20.

DEN NEWS & NOTES:

The Denver Nuggets are playing better, and as one would guess it mostly relates to a turnaround on the part of its star center Nikola Jokic. 

Some have criticized Jokic for his poor conditioning, but it is hard to ignore the fact that he continues to play good basketball overall while using his immense skills to more than makeup for his slow feet. Jokic is averaging 19.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and a team-leading 6.4 assists per game while posting a PER of 24.80. He also recently posted a 47-point game, so while Jokic may never appear to do anything too quickly, he does make the right moves and can be a dominant center in an era that does not even favor big men.

The Nuggets are led in scoring by Jamal Murray, who many expected to make a still-bigger leap following his outstanding postseason performances in 2019.

Instead, Murray is the second-leading at 17.6 points per game, and ranking No. 2 in assists at 4.6 per. Will Barton continues to look like a poor man’s Kevin Durant, providing a lot of shooting on the wing and a fearless trigger. Barton averages 14.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game and is one of five Nuggets with a PER above the league average of 15 (17.17).

The Nuggets are a deep team on paper, but it is still really not testing out the talents of Michael Porter Jr that much, and Malik Beasley saw a role reduction before being dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Gary Harris and Barton both see over 32 minutes per game, leaving the backups to fight over the remaining minutes, leaving some good talents to sit, naturally. Juancho Hernangomez has had his role decline and he too was jettisoned to the T-Wolves, though he did average four points per game in just 13 minutes a night. Michael Porter Jr. led the Nuggets in scoring last game with 19 points, and if he is able to come on strong and stay healthy, Denver could be “scary good.”

The Nuggets will eventually likely decided on a shorter rotation, but for the time being there are 11 Nuggets who play at least 14 minutes per game. It is a team loaded with talent, but both of its top scoring options are probably not true No. 1 options on a contending team, and that includes Jokic. The Nuggets have great team chemistry, but one wonders if its lack of true star power might not hurt it. While Nikola Jokic and Murray function quite well as a tandem, it seems Denver would be better delegating more responsibility to one or the other, to develop a true 1A option, especially late in games.

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