Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Lakers Game 1 Preview and Pick

Denver Nuggets +6.5 at L.A. Lakers -6.5 9 PM ET Tuesday May 19, 2009 on ESPN
By Jason Green at

Tonight the Denver Nuggets are in La La Land to play the L.A. Lakers in the first game of the Western Conference finals. The Nuggets have had 6 days to rest while the Lakers finally ousted the pesky Houston Rockets in game 7 on Sunday. The Nuggets have never been to the NBA Finals while the Lakers are trying to get back to the finals for the second straight year.

The Nuggets have flown under the radar all year and they can prove they are legit with a win in this series. That will not be easy against a Lakers team that is stacked. It’ll all depend on if the Lakers are motivated, as when they are not they lose like they did to a Yao-less Rockets team a few times in the conference semis.

The Lakers lost game 1 at home in that series and came back, but they do not want to do that again tonight against a tougher Nuggets team that boasts a better inside game than their recent opponents. In the last 2 seasons the Nuggets are 1-10 against the Lakers including getting swept in the playoffs last year. The Nuggets have not won in L.A. since the 2004-2005 season.

Online Sportsbooks have the Lakers as 6.5-point favorites with a total around 215. The Lakers are posted at -270 as home favorites in this game and the Nuggets are posted at +210 as road dogs.

The Lakers come into this game after beating the Houston Rockets in game 7 on Sunday 89-70. The high scorer in that game for the Lakers was Pao Gasol going for 21 points on 10/19 shooting and the 7-foot Spaniard also grabbed 12 boards. For the game the Lakers shot 35/75 for a FG% of 46.7%. On D the Lakers clamped down, as they held the Rockets to 28/76 shooting for a FG% of 36.8%.

The Nuggets come into this game after beating the Dallas Mavericks in game 5 of that series 124-110 on Wednesday night. The high scorer in that game for the Nuggets was Carmelo Anthony going for 30 points on 13/22 shooting. For the game the Nuggets shot lights out going 48/82 for a FG% of 58.5%. On D the Nuggets allowed the Mavs to shoot 38/74 for a FG% of 51.4%.

This season the Lakers ranked 3rd in scoring (106.7 ppg) and the Nuggets ranked 6th (104.3 ppg). On D the Nuggets allowed 100.9 ppg and the Lakers gave up an average of 99.1 ppg. This season the Nuggets had a rebounding differential of +1.4 and the Lakers were at +2.6.

This season the Lakers were 42-39-1 ATS and the Nuggets were 45-35-2. In terms of Over/Under games the Lakers were 41-39-1 this season and the Nuggets were 42-39-1.

On the injury front neither team is reporting any significant injuries.

Even though both teams ranked in the top 6 in scoring this season this series may come down to which team can play some D. That may be easier for the Lakers, as they stepped up on D in their closing game against the Rockets holding them to 36.8% from the field, while the Nuggets allowed the Mavs to shoot 51.4% in that series closing game.

Kenyon Martin and Nene have to not only give the Nuggets offense, but they have to keep Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom off the boards. Speaking of Bynum, he did not have a great series against the Rockets, but if he is solid inside for the Lakers in this series it will give them a huge advantage.

Chauncey Billups and Melo will have to have big scoring games for the Nuggets to win this game.

Kobe only had 14 points in game 7 against the Rockets but they Lakers still won. In the games he Lakers lost in that series he took a lot of shots. If he limits his shots and Gasol and Odom help him out in the scoring department the Lakers will be tough to beat.

Gasol may be the key to this game, as if he can score and hit the boards the Lakers should have no problem winning this game.

The Lakers should be motivated tonight and they learned their lesson against the Rockets, as it will be surprising if L.A. does not bring their A game tonight at home.

Jason’s Pick: Bad draw for the Nugs. The Lakers win tonight by double digits.