It's the easiest trick to fall for in all of sports gambling. When you expect a certain matchup to materialize and it doesn't, your instinct is always to assume that the team that was supposed to be there is automatically going to beat the team that wasn't. As the Denver Nuggets just proved, every matchup is unique. The Los Angeles Clippers were championship favorites for a reason. But they ran into an opponent that could exploit their specific weaknesses, and now, they're home while the Nuggets continue their pursuit of a championship.
Take the Nuggets seriously. If you think the Lakers are going to cruise to a win in this series, make sure you have a better answer than "they are the better team." In fact, one of today's best bets places quite a bit of faith in the Nuggets.
Lines via William Hill Sportsbook
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets: Nuggets +7
The Lakers are 0-2 in Game 1's in this postseason. LeBron James, for his career, is only 27-20 in Game 1's. While impressive on paper, that 57.4 winning percentage is his lowest in any single playoff game, and in series that didn't end in sweeps, as we'd assume this one won't, he is 15-18 in Game 1's. For whatever reason, he needs a game to feel out his opponent. From there? He destroys them.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets: Under 211
As LeBron goes, the Lakers go. James has averaged 21.5 points on 45.7 percent shooting in Game 1's this postseason. Impressive in a vacuum, but remember, he's averaging 26.6 points on 55.3 percent shooting overall in this postseason. The gap there is vast. Game 1 shouldn't harm your confidence in the Lakers in the series, but don't expect the best version of LeBron from the start.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic under 6 assists
Nikola Jokic's easiest path to assists is likely out the window in this series. The Clippers used 29 post doubles in their second-round series against the Nuggets. The Lakers use 67 all season. Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee are going to take turns guarding him one-on-one, and if the Lakers can hold up elsewhere, Jokic's easy assists are gone. He may still rack up a few, but the Lakers will be committed to limiting what he can do as a passer.