Five things to watch (with some betting tips) for Lakers vs. Nuggets


It’s not easy to get a feel for this series because, while it is a rematch of the 2020 Western Conference Finals from the bubble, both teams are very different.

Even this season’s games are not helpful. All four regular season meetings between the Lakers and Nuggets occurred before the NBA trade deadline, when the Lakers revamped their roster. Those games are largely useless in predicting what happens starting Tuesday night in the Mile High City. While the Lakers had the best record in the West after the All-Star break (16-7) the Nuggets had run away and hid from the rest of the West by that point, took their foot off the gas and coasted in, all while maintaining the No. 1 seed. In the playoffs, they have stepped on the gas again and been impressive.

Here are four things worth watching, plus some betting advice from Vaughn Dalzell of NBC Sports Edge.

1) Nikola Jokić vs. Anthony Davis

The two best big men still playing will go head-to-head for much of this series, and that likely decides it.

Jokić has been a force these playoffs averaging 30.7 points with a 62.6 true shooting percentage, plus 12.8 rebounds and 9.7 assists a game. As Draymond Green correctly noted on his podcast, if the Lakers let Jokić be a scorer and a facilitator they will lose, they have to limit him. Davis and the Lakers did that in the bubble where Jokić put up numbers — 21.8 points and five assists a game — but it was not enough.

However, there are two reasons it will be hard for the Lakers to repeat that bubble success. First, Jokić is a better player now than three years ago. He is a much more diverse threat. Also in the bubble, the Lakers had other traditional bigs (Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee) who could body up Jokić, now a lot of that falls to AD and Jokić has traditionally overpowered him.

Second, he has shooters and cutters around him everywhere now. Once the help comes, he will find the open man. Maybe the Lakers are willing to live with that, but don’t confuse these Nuggets with a Warriors team where Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson struggled — Denver’s shooters are hot and there are no guys to hide on. Also, the Lakers struggled early in Game 4 last round when the Warriors started Gary Payton II, leading to Davis covering Green and having to come out to the level of the ball on screens, then the Warriors carved the Lakers up with back cuts and good passing. That’s what the Nuggets do every game, and they are deeper than this year’s Warriors.

On the flip side, the Nuggets will have difficulty slowing Davis and the Lakers’ offense.

Expect the Lakers to run a lot of pick-and-roll with Davis as the screener and try to force Denver to switch — LeBron will blow by Jokić — or they will have to deal with Davis as a roll man. The Lakers also now have shooting everywhere with Austin Reaves, D'Angelo Russell and on down the line. The Lakers are going to score. The question is, do the Nuggets play a drop coverage and do their best to clog the lane — they are not a great rim-protecting team but they have good size — and let LeBron, Davis and the rest take their two-pointers and think they can just win the math problem by being an offensive force on the other end.

This is a clash of strengths: The Nuggets have a league-best 118.7 offensive rating in the playoffs, while the Lakers have a league-best 106.5 defensive rating this postseason. Which side wins that battle?

2) Can either team slow down dribble penetration?

If this becomes a Jamal Murray series Los Angeles is in trouble.

The Lakers have struggled to stop guard penetration all season long — even after the trade deadline — and Murray is playing much more like pre-injury bubble Murray, slashing into the paint. Davis will not be able to drop back in deep coverage because Jokić can shoot the three and would just carve that defense up.

This is not the Warriors, who struggled to consistently hit the 3, especially on the road (the Warriors shot below 30% from 3 on the road last series). The Nuggets are shooting 37.9% from 3 this postseason and all their starters and rotation players can shoot — leave Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Bruce Brown and they will knock the shot down. Michael Porter Jr. is hitting better than 40% from 3 this postseason. Aaron Gordon is a threat. You get the idea.

On the flip side, the Lakers are not Phoenix, which had two guys who could put the ball on the floor and create and nothing after that. Reaves, Russell, Dennis Schroder can all get into the paint as shot creators for themselves and others. If/when the Nuggets have to help on LeBron and Davis, the Lakers will move the ball and the help defense of the Nuggets is not elite.

We have seen big games from the Lakers supporting cast these playoffs and this series sets up for more of those games.

3) Are the Nuggets ready for this moment?

All season long, even as the Nuggets cruised to the No. 1 seed in the West, there has been an attitude from basketball fans (and many pundits) of, “That’s nice, but you have to prove it in the playoffs.”

Through two rounds, Denver has proved it. They are in the conference finals and have looked like the best team in the West doing it.

Now the lights get brighter — LeBron James and the Lakers as an organization are used to this stage. As LeBron likes to say, he and his teams are comfortable being uncomfortable. They are going to play well.

Will Denver? They look ready for this moment, but what happens when they are in it? The Nuggets as an organization are not used to being here, and Jokić and company only did it in the one-off experience of the bubble.

As sports fans, we often have a “you can’t do it until you’ve done it” attitude with players and teams. A quarterback can’t win the Super Bowl until we see them win the Super Bowl. We haven’t seen Denver do it at this NBA level, so we’re skeptical. Are the Nuggets ready to flip that narrative?

4) Vaughn Dalzell’s Lakers vs. Nuggets betting tips

During this postseason, the Nuggets are 6-0 at home, while the Lakers are 7-0 at home. With that factored in, the favorite for the series length is seven games at +175 odds. You are better off betting the Lakers in 7 at +650 or Denver in 7 at +310, both better payouts and easy hedges.

Is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP) the Denver Nuggets X-Factor for the series? KCP was a large part of the Lakers 2019-20 Championship team, averaging 12.8 points per game in the NBA Finals. This postseason as a Denver Nugget, KCP’s averaged 10.5 points per game in the playoffs.

(Check out more from Dalzell and the team at NBC Sports Edge.)

5) Can LeBron and Davis keep it up for another series?

“I may have looked like I was conserving my energy but I was dead tired after every one of them games. Same with tonight,” LeBron said after the Lakers eliminated the Warriors in Game 6. “You know, you really don’t have the opportunity to conserve your energy versus a Golden State team because they always keep you on your heels.”

So does Denver.

LeBron and Anthony Davis got three days off between Friday’s win and Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday, but now this series goes every other day and with the first couple of games at altitude.

Davis has had some duds this postseason (Game 5 against Memphis being the most glaring), but against this Nuggets team the Lakers can’t just give one away. LeBron and Davis have been resilient and found wells of energy to tap into when needed, they will need more of it in this series because the Nuggets offense will test their defense like no team has yet. LeBron and Davis have not worn down this postseason, can they keep it up for one more series?

Prediction: Nuggets in seven. This was not an easy pick, the Lakers could win this in six (and I do trust LeBron more in a Game 7, even on the road, than anyone else in this series). This feels like a 55%/45% Nuggets series, although I think I could be selling the Nuggets short and they are as good as they have looked. That said, this Lakers team has won me over, I just don’t think they can slow this Denver offense enough to win the series.

Report: Mavericks have no interest in Irving sign-and-trade with Lakers that brings back Russell

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving may say he doesn’t want to be in the middle of NBA free agency speculation, but when he sits courtside in Los Angeles at a couple of Lakers’ playoff games he has to know that will spark talk.

LeBron James has sent his not-so-subtle message he wants more help, and the rumors he’s open to a reunion with Irving are nothing new. All of that has driven a lot of speculation in recent weeks of a Lakers’ sign-and-trade to reunite the core of the Cavaliers’ 2016 title team. While Irving is a free agent, the Lakers have made clear they intend to re-sign Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura as restricted free agents, making signing Irving directly off the table (unless he wants to take a massive pay cut and play for the midlevel exception, which his actions indicate he does not). If Irving comes to the Lakers, it’s on a sign-and-trade.

Then who goes back to Dallas in this trade? The speculation centered on free agent D'Angelo Russell signing and trading to play next to Luka Dončić. However, the Mavericks have no interest in that, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

A popular topic all week, in the wake of Denver sweeping the Lakers out of the Western Conference finals, was the notion that L.A. could emerge as a potential sign-and-trade destination for Dallas’ free agent-to-be Kyrie Irving.

While we await a clear indication about the Lakers’ intentions there, with no verifiable signal to date that pursuing Irving is among their offseason priorities, league sources say that the Mavericks would have no interest in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers that features D’Angelo Russell as the primary Dallas-bound player. All indications are that the Mavericks remain intent on re-signing Irving

While the questions of fit between Dončić and Irving remain, when the Mavericks traded for Irving they committed to this path, both financially and on the court. If Irving walks in free agency Dallas has no way to replace him, and they are better off with him than without him. Irving is a much better player than Russell and with Dončić on the roster the Mavericks are a win-now team. Their preference is clear.

As for Irving, he wants to get paid (remember he opted in with the Nets rather than leave to play for less, then pushed for a trade when Brooklyn would not give him the extension he wanted). There is logic for both Dallas and Irving to work out a new contract and, if this marriage doesn’t work out, trade him down the line. The only questions are money, years, and does Irving really want to be in Dallas (he has said he does).

League sources have told NBC Sports that the Lakers’ front office’s primary focus is not on Irving. While the Lakers could clear as much as almost $30 million in cap space, free agency is not the path the Lakers appear to be walking. Re-signing Reaves and Hachimura and putting them next to LeBron and Anthony Davis — both of the Lakers stars make more than $40 million next season — plus rounding out the roster has the Lakers quickly pushing above the cap and into the tax, and the second tax apron is within sight. The Lakers are more likely to make moves like picking up the $16.5 million team option on Malik Beasley and trading him and or other players for the shot creation and shooting they want. A Russell sign-and-trade is certainly in play, or they could bring him back, just not on anything near the max Russell likely wants (more likely a deal starting around $20 million a year). Russell was good for the Lakers in the regular season and had a 31-point playoff game to close out the Grizzlies, plus a 21-point game against the Warriors, he just was in a bad matchup against Denver.

Irving to the Lakers is a long shot. But if LeBron wants it, and Irving wants it, nothing is off the table.

Reactions from NBA players to White’s game-winning putback for Celtics


It was an all-time classic game, one that could be part of a legendary chapter in Celtics’ lore. Boston was on the verge of being sent home for the summer by the Miami Heat when Derrick White‘s putback as time expired won the Celtics Game 6 and forced a Game 7 Monday night.

NBA players were as stunned and excited as fans everywhere. Check out the reactions from players around the league — and a few others — to the Celtics’ dramatic win.

Three takeaways from wild night where Celtics force Game 7 thanks to Derrick White


You were not alone in being stunned, blown away or whatever other description you can conjure up for the finish to Game 6. Look at the reaction from around the NBA.

The Celtics won 104-103 on a dramatic putback from Derrick White to force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

1) What. An. Ending.

When was the last time any of us saw a game this entertaining, this dramatic? Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, highlighted by the LeBron James chase-down block on Andre Iguodala? Game 7 of the 2019 second-round series between the Raptors and 76ers, the one with Kawhi Leonard‘s corner shot that bounced around on the rim three times before falling? There are others on the list, but whatever game you choose, this one enters the conversation of all-time greats.

On a night where they struggled from 3 — 7-of-35 for the game — the Celtics were still up 10 midway through the fourth quarter and seemingly in control. Then Boston gave it all away, slowing the pace down and not executing — or Miami seized the moment, depending on your perspective. While the Celtics got tight and struggled with their shot in those final five minutes, the Heat went on a late 15-4 run sparked primarily by Jimmy Butler (15 points in the fourth) and Duncan Robinson, with Miami attacking and pushing the pace, drawing fouls and getting to the line. It was a stunning turnaround.

Those drawing fouls included Butler drawing a three-shot foul on Al Horford with :03 seconds remaining. Butler drained all three free throws to put the Heat up one. Boston called a timeout to set up the final play, which didn’t go to plan — Marcus Smart took a turnaround 3 — but worked out thanks to Derrick White.

“I was passing it in. [Gabe] Vincent was on me, and he kind of was up top denying [Jayson Tatum], so I couldn’t get him the ball,” White said of the play. “And they did a good job of denying [Jaylen Brown], too and [Marcus] Smart flashed, hit him, and there really was nobody on me, so I just spaced to the corner, and when he shot it just tried to crash. Ball came to me, I made the shot.”

If Boston wins Game 7, White’s putback will be remembered in Boston sports lore like Dave Roberts stealing second for the Red Sox in their legendary 0-3 comeback against the Yankees. It was that kind of moment, that kind of play which capped off the wildest of nights.

2) The Heat will need more from Butler, Adebayo in Game 7

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. They were going to win because their role players stepped up — Caleb Martin (starting over Kevin Love) was the Heat’s best player on the night scoring 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting with 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

All of that made up for the fact Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not good enough for the first 43 minutes of this game. The two Heat stars shot a combined 7-of-35 up until that late run where Butler got a 3 to fall and got to the line a few times. It was almost enough, but the Heat need Butler to set a better tone in Game 7.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

“Jimmy leads with everything — his spirit, his soul, his competitive nature,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler pregame. “It’s all out there on his sleeves. That’s what we love about him.”

Butler looks a little tired and a little less explosive, but give the Celtics’ defense credit, they have packed the paint and cut off Butler’s drives, and their length clearly bothers his shot inside. Joe Mazzulla, who drew the wrath of Celtics fans early in this series, deserved credit for his adjustments.

Butler and Adebayo have to rise above them in Game 7. Caleb Martin can not again be the best Heat player on the floor. Spoelstra is right, everything with the Heat starts with Butler and he has to summon up one more elite game.

3) Jayson Tatum owned the first half as Celtics’ best players stepped up

While Miami’s best players struggled, Boston’s best players stepped up.

At the front of that line was Jayson Tatum, who 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting with two assists in the first half. While he wouldn’t score in the second half until some free throws midway through the fourth, Tatum hit some clutch shots down the stretch and finished with 31.

Jaylen Brown added 26 points despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart finished with 21.

All of that made up for a dreadful night shooting from 3, the Celtics were 7-of-35 on the night. Shoot 20% from 3 in Game 7 and they will lose, that Boston got away with a win on an off-shooting night like that is lucky.

However, their stars are used to stepping up in elimination games, they have just done it three times in a row, and they did it in Game 7 against these same Heat a year ago. Do Boston’s stars have one more great game in them?


Watch Derrick White putback force Game 7 as Celtics edge Heat


What. A. Game.

In the best game of these playoffs — as good as one in any postseason — it looked like the Miami Heat were going to get a culture win on a night their star Jimmy Butler was off his game until the final minutes. Three Butler free throws with :03 remaining put the Heat up by one, but the Celtics got one last chance. Marcus Smart short-armed that chance, but Derrick White was hustling along the baseline.

Miami gets the 104-103 win to even the series 3-3 and force a Memorial Day Game 7 back in Boston.

This was the kind of ugly, gritty game the Celtics tend to give away. They were certainly not at their peak in this one, shooting 7-of-35 from 3 as a team — usually a stat that leads to a loss for this Celtics team, which leans into the 3-pointer.

What saved them was a brilliant first half from Jayson Tatum, some solid play from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart in the second half, and an off night at the worst time for the Heat stars.

The first half was the Tatum show as he scored 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with 11 free throws and a couple of assists. He was attacking and aggressive, and the rest of the Celtics offense flowed off that and they got the lead up to 11.

However, the Heat closed that lead down to four at the half, 57-53, thanks largely to 9-of-15 shooting from 3.

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not the stars the Heat needed — they shot a combined 7-of-35 until the final minutes of the game — but the Miami role players stepped up. Caleb Martin got the start over Kevin Love and was the Heat’s best player on the night with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting plus 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

With their stars off their game the Heat struggled to score in the third, starting the quarter shooting 5-of-24 (20.8%), yet by the time the quarter was over the Heat were still only down seven. Miami was hanging around in a game they should have been blown out of.

That’s because the Celtics shot 5-of-25 from 3 through 3 quarters, plus Boston had 11 turnovers through three (compared to four for the Heat).

Tatum finished with 31 points to lead Boston, Jaylen Brown had 26 despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart added 21.

Boston had a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter but gave it away with missed shots and sloppy play under pressure. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler hit a big 3-pointer, kept attacking, and got to the free throw line with the chance to put his team ahead in the final seconds. And did. It looked like a classic, gutty, Heat culture win.

And then Derrick White happened.

And now there is a Game 7.