NBA Western Conference finals preview and pick

NBA Western Conference finals preview and pick

NBA Western Conference finals preview and pick
By ASHTON GREWAL

Denver Nuggets (+240) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (-270)

No need to cue up the DE-FENSE chants. The Western Conference finals is a battle of two of the league’s most explosive offenses and, more specifically, two of its best scorers.

Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony finished the season third and fifth in the league scoring, but while Bryant scorched Nugget defenders (31 points per game on 48 percent shooting) Anthony struggled to find his touch.

The former Final Four champion averaged under 15 points in four games vs. Los Angeles (Lakers going 3-1 straight up and 2-2 against the spread) and didn’t get to the line at his usual clip.

Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza form the perfect two-headed monster to contain Melo. And while the Lakers are not a particularly strong defensive club, this matchup advantage could be the difference in the series.

Chauncey Billups is getting all the credit for Denver’s success and rightfully so. His coach, George Karl, can’t complete an interview without praising his point guard.

The trade to his hometown has rejuvenated Billups, who was complacent in Detroit. The former NBA Finals MVP has lost in five consecutive Conference finals and doesn’t want to be remembered as the Buffalo Bills of the Association.

“I come to win, man,” Billups told the Denver Post. “I try to do the best I can every night for one reason. That’s to win. Not for anything else, but to try to help my teammates win.”

While Denver’s season story is a surprise, the Lakers arrival in the third round has long been expected. Kobe’s crew has taken heat for its overconfidence and inconsistent performances in the playoffs (Charles Barkley told TNT viewers the Lakers' “half-assing” performances pissed him off). The club’s too-cool-for-school attitude has cost Purple and Gold backers throughout the postseason.

One way Phil Jackson could spark his squad would be inserting Jordan Farmer into the starting lineup. If the Zen Master wasn’t so loyal to his veterans, Derek Fisher would have been sitting most of the Houston series and the Lakers would have moved on to the West finals a week ago.

Denver has the advantage at the point position, but Fisher’s slow feet will have an easier time keeping up with the 32-year-old Billups.

The battle in the paint will be fun to watch. The Lakers bring talent and finesse while the Nuggets counter with strength and toughness. How will Pau Gasol react the first time Keyon Martin delivers a hard blow to the Spaniard’s tetherball-pole-like frame?

It all comes back to the stars. Denver lacks a defensive stopper (or even a perimeter pest) to slow down Bryant. The Nuggets will win Games 3 and 4 at home but won’t take one at the Staples Center.

Watch the totals in this series. The big men on both sides like to run and score on the break. If oddsmakers post a total below 205, bet the farm on the over.

Pick: Lakers in six.

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Re: NBA Western Conference finals preview and pick

Lakers-Nuggets Preview
By Chris David

**No. 1 Los Angeles vs. No. 2 Denver**

Series Price:
Los Angeles -260 Denver +240

Series Format: 2-2-1-1-1

Skinny:


The Lakers and Nuggets tangle for the second straight postseason but instead of meeting in the first round, the pair clash in the Western Conference Finals. The Nuggets have looked sharp in the playoffs, dismantling New Orleans and Dallas each in five games. The Lakers' path featured a five-game triumph over the Jazz before a surprising seven-game set against the feisty Rockets.

Denver's quick finish of the Mavericks in the second round earned the club six days off, while Los Angeles zigzagged with Houston. Will the Nuggets be rested or rusty? Did the roller coaster ride against the Rockets wake up a sleeping giant? Those are two questions that will be answered but the books might have answered those questions for you with their series price.

The Lakers have been listed as favorites over the Nuggets and based on past history and this year's meetings, the price seems fair. Los Angeles captured three of four against Denver in this year's regular season and has won 10 of the 11 last meetings.

Of the three wins during the year, one of the victories came before point guard Chauncey Billups joined the Nuggets. The team's success in the playoffs and for the season can be directly attributed to Billups, who will be playing in his seventh straight conference finals. Unfortunately he was only able to muster up a 2-4 record in those spots during his tenure with the Detroit Pistons but his experience has showed this year in the Mile High City.

The addition of Billups has also taken the pressure off Carmelo Anthony, who is averaging 27 points per game in the playoffs. Denver backers are hoping his hot streak continues, especially since his regular season numbers against the Lakers (14.5 PPG) were dismal this year.

When you combine this duo with a pair of bangers in Nene and Kenyon Martin, you have a very strong foursome. Plus, the Nuggets' bench boasts arguably the most explosive offensive player in J.R. Smith and defensive menace too in Chris Andersen.

After getting beat up a bit against Houston, most would expect Los Angeles to be well prepared for Denver, especially Kobe Bryant. The All-Star just faced two of the best defenders in the league in Shane Battier and Ron Artest, so a defensive drop-off in this series is expected. Kobe had his way in the four meetings against Denver this year, averaging 31 PPG while shooting close to 48 percent. He averaged almost five points less against the rest of the league, so you can see he thrives playing against the Nuggets.

The key to the Lakers will be their frontcourt, which some believe is the best in the league. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom are all athletic and but their softness was shown in last year's finals against the Celtics. They need to toughen up on the glass and rebound or the Nuggets will light up the scoreboard with fast-break points, two categories they dominated Dallas with in the second round.

Gambling Notes:

The line in Game 1 (Lakers -7) tells you a lot about the series and also lets you know what the public is thinking in this matchup. Denver is the hottest team in the playoffs versus the number, going 10-0 against the spread. During the regular season, Denver was just 21-20 on the road and those trends continued into the playoffs. The club went 2-2, but both losses came by two points apiece. Fortunately, they did barely cover the numbers as pups. The Nuggets are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games as road underdogs.

Looking ahead to Game 3 and 4 from Pepsi Center, the number will come back down according to oddsmaker Jeremy Ryan of Sportsbook.com. He said, "Denver should be a short favorite or underdog at home, based on its playoff run and ability to blow teams out in Colorado."

Dating back to Mar. 11, the Nuggets have won 16 straight at home and 15 of those victories have come by double digits. The club has gone 12-4 versus the number during this stretch and that includes a perfect 6-0 mark in the postseason. The Lakers are 2-3 both SU and ATS on the road and two of the three losses were by double figures. Trend players following point-spreads should know that the Lakers are 1-5 both SU and ATS when listed as road favorites of 3 1/2-points or less.
   
Offense always steals the headlines and highlights but gamblers shouldn't run to the counter so quickly with 'over' tickets in this series, especially with inflated numbers. Eight of the last 10 have gone 'under' the number, including three of four this season. Most would expect the tempo to be pushed a bit and 'over' players will point to a Denver attack that has busted the century mark in nine of 10 playoff encounters. The Nuggets have watched the 'over' go 6-4 during this run, while the Lakers have seen the 'under' go 8-4 in their 12 postseason battles.

The opening total for the first game is 216 and if you witness a shootout don't be surprised to see a 220 dropped for Game 2 and vice versa with a low-scoring affair.

Outlook:

Top to bottom the Lakers are definitely the most talented team in the league, while the Nuggets are easily the most energetic and exciting squad. Talent usually prevails in a best-of-seven battle, but what happens when they don't show up? The Lakers were blown out not once but twice by a banged-up Rockets squad, while the Nuggets did nothing but bang the Hornets and Mavs.

Denver has become the trendy pick this postseason and deservingly so. We could be talking a different tune if the Mavs got a call in Game 3 at home against the Nuggets, but Denver clearly dominated Game 4, which it eventually lost. Can you see George Karl making a return trip to the NBA Finals? Karl is a sound coach but he's not Phil Jackson. When the Zen Master takes his team to the conference finals, he wins! Jackson has been there 12 times and only got sent packing once, and even then it took the Detroit Pistons seven games to knock off the Chicago Bulls.

The public perception is that the Lakers are ripe for an upset in this series and the so-called pundits on television are often more wrong than right. As well as the Nuggets have been playing, the current matchup doesn't suit the club well.

An upset wouldn't be surprising and hardly a shocker but we believe the Nuggets won't have enough to surpass the Lakers in a best-of-seven series. The Purple and Gold get tested again, yet advance in seven games.

Future Bets:

The Lakers are listed anywhere from $2.50 to $3.00 favorites (Bet $300 to win $100) in this series and that's not a bad price for Los Angeles, who was tabbed the favorite prior to the postseason. It should also be noted that of the 12 series in the first two rounds, only the Mavericks and Rockets were able to notch upsets.

Gamblers looking to back the Nuggets can earn a positive return on the series price, but a better opportunity might be the Exact Games Prop from Bodog.com. Denver has been red-hot at home in the playoffs and if you believe that will continue, then you should look strongly at the props. Picking the Nuggets to win in six games (+600) or seven games (+900) is very doable, but you need Karl's club to steal one at Staples Center. Very risky when you're looking at the past history for Nuggets at Staples Center versus the Lakers, yet the reward is juicy and much more lucrative than the series price!

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Game of the day: Denver Nuggets at L.A. Lakers
By The Prez

Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers (-6.5, 215)

Season series


The Lakers took three of four in the regular season, covering in two of those (both in at home). The most recent meeting was in the second last week of the season, a 14-point Laker home victory. The game marked Andrew Bynum’s return from knee surgery and it snapped Denver’s season-high win streak at eight.

Denver was just 21-20 on the road during the regular season (same record ATS), which is at least six fewer wins than any of the NBA’s other remaining final four.

The Nuggets lone win in the series came Feb. 27 at home, which ended a nine-game losing streak to Los Angeles. The Lakers shot just 29.8 percent from the field that February night, the second-worst performance for the team since it moved to the West Coast. Coach Phil Jackson called it a “garbage” game and he may have had a good case. The Lakers didn’t arrive in Denver until 4 a.m. on the day of that contest.

Kobe Bryant averaged 31 points in the four games against Denver. He surpassed that average against only four teams this season. Pau Gasol averaged 18.3 points and 12.3 rebounds vs. the Nuggets. Denver star Carmelo Anthony averaged just 14.5 points (his lowest average against any team) on 32.8 percent shooting against L.A.

Denver and L.A. also met in the first round of the playoffs last season, a Laker sweep.

2009 postseason

Kobe summed up the Lakers’ uneven playoff effort against undermanned Houston perfectly with two words: "We're bipolar."

After going 4-0 against Houston in the regular season, the Lakers were surprisingly stretched to seven games by the Rockets. They will have had just one day off before starting this series, while Denver finished off Dallas on May 13.

"Our preparation time's going to be limited,” Jackson said to reporters. “We may have to go just on emotion and gut level perhaps for the first game, but we want to hold home court that first night."

Denver, in the West finals for the first time since 1985, has lost just twice in these playoffs and is a stunning 10-0 ATS. The Nuggets have won 16 in a row at home, including six in the playoffs. But boy do they hate Staples Center, going 2-17 in the regular season against the building’s good NBA tenant and losing both games in last year’s playoffs.

Anthony has had a breakout postseason, averaging 27.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists. He's shooting 48 percent from the field and 44.7 percent from the 3-point line. In the eight games this season in which he had at least three days’ rest prior, he averaged better than 30 points per game. Melo said the thigh bruise he suffered in Game 5 against the Mavericks was “fine.”

Matchups

Chauncey Billups should have his way with Laker point guard Derek Fisher, who struggled to guard Houston’s Aaron Brooks and shot just 30.8 percent from the field. Dahntay Jones will get the first call defensively on Kobe after coach George Karl said he doesn’t want J.R. Smith to guard Bryant despite a good effort in that one Denver win during the season. The Nugget bench is better than the Lakers’ reserve unit.

The X-factor in the series is Los Angeles center Andrew Bynum. He has been struggling this postseason, and now he will see Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen. If the Bynum, who went scoreless in Game 6 of the Houston series and was pretty much invisible in the first round against the Jazz, doesn’t show up then the Lakers are in trouble. But if the player who had 14 points (6-for-7 from the field), six rebounds and two blocks in Game 7 against the Rockets shows up, then L.A. is in good shape.

“We need that from him consistently,” Gasol said of Bynum’s Game 7. “We're going to need that in the next series against a front lineup that is going to be a lot bigger than Houston's."

This and that

The Lakers got to the free-throw line an incredible 145 times in the four games against Denver in the regular season.

Karl never has won with the Nuggets on the road against the Lakers. The team’s 2007 win in L.A. came when Karl was away from the team for a family matter.

“Birdman” Andersen is now 100 percent recovered from the food poisoning that kept him out of Game 4 of the Mavs series and weakened him for Game 5.

The under is 9-4 in the last 13 meetings in Los Angeles and 6-1 in the past seven meetings overall.

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NBA PLAYOFFS

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(2) Denver (8-2 SU, 10-0 ATS) at (1) L.A. Lakers (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS)


The defending Western Conference champion Lakers, coming off a seven-game series with the Rockets, return after just one day off for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, hosting the streaking Nuggets at Staples Center.

Los Angeles, inconsistent throughout its series with Houston, eliminated the Rockets with an emphatic 89-70 rout Sunday, covering despite being an overwhelming 13-point home chalk. Kobe Bryant put up just 12 shots and scored 14 points, but he added seven rebounds and five assists. His supporting cast did most of the damage, led by Pau Gasol’s 21 points and 18 rebounds, as the Lakers killed the Rockets on the boards, 55-33. L.A. also outshot Houston 46.7 percent to 36.8 percent. The SU winner beat the spread in all seven games of this series, the final six of which were double-digit blowouts.

Denver has had five days off since finishing off Dallas with a 124-110 Game 5 victory Wednesday as a 10-point home chalk, keeping the Nuggets perfect against the spread in postseason play. Carmelo Anthony had 30 points, and Chauncey Billups added 28 points and 12 assists, and three others reached at least 15 points as Denver shot a torrid 58.5 percent, while Dallas shot a respectable 51.4 percent. The Nuggets needed just five games to dispose of New Orleans and Dallas.

The Lakers went 3-1 SU against the Nuggets in the regular season, with the squads splitting the cash and the home team covering in all four meetings. Most recently, L.A. rolled 116-102 as an 8½-point chalk on April 9, and the Lakers are on ATS rolls in this rivalry of 10-2 overall and 13-3 at Staples Center.

Los Angeles is 42-6 SU (24-24 ATS) at home this season, including 6-1 (4-3 ATS) in the postseason. Denver is 23-22 SU (25-20 ATS) on the highway (2-2, 4-0 ATS in the playoffs).

Denver is averaging an NBA-best 111.5 ppg in the postseason and it is outscoring opponents by an average of 16 ppg, with seven of its eight wins coming by double digits. Los Angeles is putting up 101.5 ppg and giving up 93.4 ppg in the playoffs, and its eight victories – all double-digit routs – have come by an average of 16.8 ppg.

Bryant has paced the Lakers through the first two rounds, averaging 28.6 ppg, the third-best scoring average in this year’s playoffs. Gasol is netting a double-double with 18.3 ppg and 10.1 rpg, making him the second-leading rebounder remaining in the postseason field, behind Orlando’s Dwight Howard (16.6). Like Gasol, Lamar Odom (12.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg) is also averaging a double-double.

Anthony is the fourth-leading scorer in the playoffs at 27.0 ppg, Billups is averaging 22.1 ppg and 7.3 assists per contest, and J.R. Smith has put up 16.3 ppg. The Nuggets also have four players averaging at least five rebounds per game – Nene (7.3), Anthony (6.4), Chris Andersen (6.1) and Kenyon Martin (5.1).

The Lakers are on ATS upticks of 7-3 at home and 4-1 as a home chalk of five to 10½ points, but they also carry negative ATS streaks of 1-6 after a SU win, 1-4 after a spread-cover, 1-5 after a victory of more than 10 points and 2-6 when laying five to 10½ points in the playoffs.

The Nuggets are on a 22-5 SU tear, and they are on a bundle of spread-covering sprees as well, including 20-6 overall, 7-0 after a SU win, 4-0 as a playoff pup (all this year, all on the road), 5-0 after three or more days off and 16-5 following an ATS win. That said, Denver is remains on ATS skids of 17-39-1 as an underdog of five to 10½ points and 0-4 as a playoff pup of the same price.

The under for Los Angeles is on surges of 8-2 overall (4-0 in the last four), 4-1 at home, 5-0 in the conference finals, 5-1 after a SU win and 24-9 with the Lakers laying points. The over has hit in Denver’s last four games, but otherwise, George Karl’s club is on “under” stretches of 7-3 on the road, 11-4 as an underdog, 17-5 as a playoff ‘dog and 9-1 with Denver catching five to 10½ points in the postseason.

Finally, in this rivalry, the total has stayed low in six of the last seven clashes overall and nine of the last 13 meetings in Los Angeles.

ATS ADVANTAGE: UNDER

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NBA Today

SCOREBOARD


Tuesday, May 19

Denver at L.A. Lakers (9 p.m. EDT). The Western Conference finals begin with the Lakers having struggled through a seven-game series against Houston, while the Nuggets beat Dallas in five.

WRESTLING WITH THE NBA

The Lakers are scheduled to be at the Pepsi Center in Denver next Monday night for Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. So are a bunch of wrestlers. World Wrestling Entertainment said it is booked at the arena for an episode of Monday Night Raw. Spokesman Robert Zimmerman said WWE secured the Pepsi Center last Aug. 15 and has already sold more than 10,000 tickets for the event.

SEARCHING SIXERS

The Philadelphia 76ers are moving forward with their coaching search, setting up interviews with assistants Dwane Casey of the Dallas Mavericks and Tom Thibodeau of the Boston Celtics. The Sixers already interviewed former Wizards coach Eddie Jordan. The Philadelphia job became vacant when Tony DiLeo stepped down last week and returned to the front office.

NOT INTERESTED

Portland assistant general manager Tom Penn pulled his name out of the running for the Timberwolves’ top front office position and received a promotion to stay with the Trail Blazers. Penn is the third candidate to pull his name out of the race, joining San Antonio Spurs assistant GM Dennis Lindsey and former Miami assistant GM Randy Pfund.

HIGH RATINGS

Game 7 of the Magic-Celtics series was the most-viewed NBA second-round playoff game ever on cable. TNT said Orlando’s 101-82 win Sunday was watched by 8.41 million viewers. The previous record was 7.65 million for Game 6 of Spurs-Lakers in 2004.

SPEAKING

“The fans in Denver had a lot more faith in making the playoffs than the owner.”—WWE chairman Vince McMahon on Nuggets management allowing his organization to book the Pepsi Center for May 25, when Game 4 of the Western Conference finals is scheduled.

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