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Lakers vs. Nuggets prediction: Bet on a lengthy Western Conference finals

Best-of-7 clash between top-seeded Denver, No. 8 seed Los Angeles likely will go the distance

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and Los Angeles Lakers power forward Anthony Davis battle for a rebound during their first regular-season meeting in October. The two big men will duke it out in the best-of-7 Western Conference finals starting Tuesday. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and Los Angeles Lakers power forward Anthony Davis battle for a rebound during their first regular-season meeting in October. The two big men will duke it out in the best-of-7 Western Conference finals starting Tuesday. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)Read moreJamie Schwaberow / Getty Images

It’s been less than three years since LeBron James led the Lakers to their 16th world championship and 11th since the franchise relocated from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.

The last time the Denver Nuggets won an NBA title? Never happened. The last time the Nuggets reached the NBA Finals? Never happened.

Given that historical backdrop, it’s a bit jarring to see that Denver is favored to defeat the Lakers in the best-of-7 Western Conference finals that tips off Tuesday.

But when you narrow the focus to just this season, the NBA Western Conference finals betting odds make total sense. After all, the Nuggets are the No. 1 seed in the West and needed just 11 games to eliminate their first two postseason opponents. Los Angeles is the No. 8 seed and needed an overtime victory at home to survive a win-and-advance play-in game.

But does this mean the wagering value for the series lies with the favorite? Not necessarily.

Here are our three best bets for what should be an intriguing — and long — Lakers vs. Nuggets series.

Odds updated as of 2 p.m. ET on May 15.

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NBA Western Conference finals prop: Total number of games

  1. Prediction/odds: 7 games (+180)

  2. Where to bet: FanDuel

The Nuggets and Lakers split their four regular-season meetings, with the home team posting a double-digit victory in each contest.

But that’s not why we’re forecasting a long, competitive Western Conference finals series. Because the first two meetings took place four days apart in late October, and the other two were on Dec. 16 and Jan. 9.

That means all four were played before Los Angeles completely retooled its roster with a flurry of moves around the NBA trade deadline in mid-February.

Those moves took the Lakers from playoff afterthought — their NBA championship odds were as high as 200-to-1 at one point this season — to the NBA’s final four.

Los Angeles barely got past the Timberwolves in the opening play-in game, then took the exact same path to beating No. 2 seed Memphis and No. 6 seed (and defending champion) Golden State.

In each series, the Lakers scored a road upset in Game 1; lost Game 2; won Games 3 and 4 at home; lost Game 5 on the road; and won Game 6 at home.

Meanwhile, Denver was one overtime loss away from sweeping Minnesota in the first round, then took out Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and the Suns in six games in the second round.

So neither team has been pushed to the limit in these playoffs. But we expect that to change in this series because these teams are far more evenly matched than their seeding suggests. They’re also collectively 13-0 at home (that includes L.A.’s play-in win).

Going back to the regular season, the Lakers have won nine in a row and 12 of 13 on their court. The Nuggets have won eight in a row and 10 of 11 in Denver.

So we like both teams to hold serve at home for the first six games and for this series to come down to a Game 7 in the Mile High City.

» READ MORE: Conference finals MVP prediction: Why LeBron James will add another trophy to his collection

NBA Western Conference finals prop: Game 1/Series parlay

  1. Prediction/Odds: Nuggets to win Game 1/Lakers to win the series (+330)

  2. Where to bet: Caesars Sportsbook

Denver will come into this series with one extra day of rest, having knocked out Phoenix on Thursday while the Lakers took out Golden State on Friday.

One day may not seem like a big deal, especially with Los Angeles having three full days off heading into Game 1.

However, the Lakers’ first 13 playoff games have been played in cities — Memphis, San Francisco and Los Angeles — with a combined elevation of 692 feet.

Now they have to play the first two games of this series at an altitude of 5,276 feet. That’s going to be a significant advantage for Denver in Game 1 (and potentially in Game 2).

By the time a potential Game 7 rolls around, though, the Lakers should have their mile-high legs under them. And we really like their chances to win such a winner-take-all contest for this reason: They have LeBron James.

As a four-time NBA champion (with three different squads), James knows how to deal with the pressure that comes with playing a Game 7 on the road.

Yes, Denver has won a few Game 7s since superstar and two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic joined the squad. But it also lost Game 7 at home to Portland in the second round of the 2018-19 playoffs as a 5.5-point favorite.

There’s also that dubious history hovering over the Nuggets: They’ve played for one championship in franchise history, and that was back in 1975-76 when they lost in the finals during their last season in the ABA.

If this series gets to a seventh game, Denver will have an enormous weight sitting on its collective shoulder. And as good as this year’s Nuggets are, we fear they’ll crumble under that weight.

So rather than take the +135 odds on Los Angeles to win this series in any fashion, we’re recommending this combo bet that calls for the Lakers to lose Game 1 but ultimately win the series — a bet that would pay nearly 3.5-to-1 at Caesars Sportsbook.

NBA Western Conference finals: Leading rebounder in the series

  1. Prediction/Odds: Anthony Davis (+125)

  2. Where to bet: FanDuel

Jokic was extremely consistent in the rebounding department in four regular-season games against the Lakers this season. He had 13, 14, 11 and 11.

Jokic also has delivered on the glass in the playoffs, finishing with double-digit boards in nine of 11 games. That includes a four-game stretch spanning the end of the Minnesota series and the beginning of the Phoenix series when he had 17, 19, 16 and 17 rebounds.

Still, the 2021 and 2022 MVP enters the Western Conference Finals in third place among leading rebounders in the postseason at 12.8 per game.

The glass cleaner perched atop that leaderboard? Davis, who is averaging 14.1 rebounds per playoff outing.

The Unibrow has finished with 14 or more rebounds six times, including bookending the Golden State series with 23 boards (Game 1) and 20 (Game 6).

Davis played in the first two games against Denver in late October and had 14 and 15 rebounds. He only nabbed four in the Dec. 16 meeting, but he left that game after 17 minutes because of an injury, then missed the next 20 games — including the final matchup with the Nuggets.

If Davis stays health — always a big if — he and Jokic figure to go toe to toe (and elbow to elbow) for most rebounds throughout this series.

So we’ll snag the plus money that BetMGM is offering in this head to head matchup.

» READ MORE: Full sports betting coverage from The Philadelphia Inquirer

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