This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
After holding on for a 114-106 Game 3 victory, the Nuggets will look to roll that momentum into Thursday's Game 4 and even the Western Conference Finals at two games apiece. The Lakers jumped out to a 2-0 series lead, but the top seed has looked far from dominant over the last two games. The Lakers needed an Anthony Davis buzzer-beater to bail them out of an otherwise-pedestrian performance, and Game 3 was a virtual no-show until midway through the fourth quarter.
As pivotal Game 4 approaches, Nick Whalen and Alex Barutha discuss their spread and total picks, as well as some of their favorite prop bets:
All odds via the DraftKings Sportsbook
Favorite: Lakers (-6.5)
Underdog: Nuggets (+6.5)
Total: 214.5 points
Barutha: Nuggets +6.5 (-110); OVER 214.5 (-109)
The Nuggets did an excellent job of exposing the Lakers' flaws on both sides of the ball in Game 3 en route to securing a 114-106 victory. The most glaring issues continue to be the Lakers' lack of depth and subpar three-point shooting. Los Angeles is desperate for Rajon Rondo to be its third best player. I'm completely out on Kyle Kuzma ever showing up, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green can only do so much.
Meanwhile, Denver's depth and versatility constantly keeps the Nuggets in games. Jerami Grant was excellent in Game 3, Michael Porter can catch fire, Monte Morris is steady – the list goes on. Ultimately, I don't believe the Lakers are 6.5 points better than the Nuggets, and that's a line where I'll always be comfortable taking the points.
In terms of the total, these teams are averaging a combined 222.6 points per game, and I don't anticipate that slowing down any time soon. The Nuggets are pace-controllers who can catch fire on offense and also have a tendency to play bad defense, which is a combination that obviously leads to both teams getting up and down the court.
Whalen: Nuggets +6.5 (-110); OVER 214.5 (-109)
As we saw in Game 1, the Lakers have the horses to dominate games from start to finish. They clearly took their foot off the gas in Game 2, and that leaked into Game 3, which was nowhere near as close as the final score would indicate. While LeBron James is yet to have one of those games in this series, I'm not sure that's a given. James had a great second half Tuesday, but he continues to struggle shooting the ball, which plays right into Denver's hands. When James can't get to the rim and finish or kick to open shooters, the Lakers have an incredibly difficult time generating quality looks in the halfcourt.
The Lakers – and James, in particular – have also struggled to get to the free throw line, allowing Denver to hang around even when it's not shooting particularly well from three. Based on how careless – and, at times, clueless – the Lakers have been over the last six quarters, it's tough for me to believe they'll win Game 4 comfortably. I don't know that Denver can even the series, but I think it'll at least be a close game.
Part of me wants to make a case for the under for the sake of differentiation, but I can't do it. Two of three games in the series have gone well over 214.5, including a Game 1 that finished at 240 points. The biggest difference for the Lakers over the last two games has been a lack of free throw attempts, but turnovers and poor bench play have also been a major issue. Some of that should turn around in Game 4, while the Nuggets also have room to improve in terms of taking care of the ball. Game-to-game, the pace has been nearly identical, hovering around 98.0 possessions per 48. If both teams can slow down the turnovers at even a marginal rate, Game 4 should go over.
Nikola Jokic UNDER 9.5 rebounds (+100) and Jokic to not record a double-double (+125)
While Jokic was dominant on the boards against the Clippers (13.4 RPG) due to their lack of size, his rebounding against the Jazz in the first round was down, and it's down again this round against the Lakers. Facing the Jazz and Lakers, Jokic is averaging only 7.9 rebounds per game against the bigger frontlines. I expect that trend to continue in Game 4, and getting plus money on the under also makes the wager more enticing. You can also get Jokic not to double-double at +125, which I also think makes sense and offers some more profit. He's averaging just 5.3 assists per game in the series. - Alex Barutha
This bet fascinates me. There's virtually no juice for Caldwell-Pope, and he's averaging nearly three times as many points (13.7) as Harris (5.0). The Lakers also have significantly fewer options on offense than the Nuggets, who have survived just fine without Harris shooting well. Harris is bound to start shooting better eventually but I don't think it's enough to make up the gap. - Alex Barutha
Anthony Davis OVER 40.5 points + rebounds + assists
Davis was astonishingly bad on the glass in Game 3 and was a major reason the Nuggets out-rebounded the Lakers by 19. That's not happening again. In terms of scoring, I'm comfortable penciling Davis in for roughly 30 points, which means just an assist or two would push him over 40.5. Davis hasn't done a ton of play-making in this series – just three assists over his last two games – but he did record at least four assists in five straight games from Game 2 against Houston through Game 1 against Denver. - Nick Whalen
Kuzma has been a disaster in this series, and that was never more true than late in Game 4, when he followed up a bricked, wide-open three-pointer with a horrendous turnover that essentially killed the Lakers' chances to complete a wild comeback. Through three games, Kuzma has six turnovers and just two made threes. When he's not shooting the ball confidently, he offers very little offensively, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Lakers lean more on Markieff Morris over Kuzma off the bench in Game 4.
Porter, meanwhile, has played well in fairly limited opportunities. The Nuggets rarely funnel the ball through him, but his J.R. Smith-ian mindset has enabled him to average 8.0 field goal attempts for the series. Unlike Kuzma, Porter always shoots with confidence, and he's more active as both a cutter and offensive-board-crasher. - Nick Whalen
Nikola Jokic: top point-scorer (+750)
Obviously this isn't a great matchup for Jokic, but he's still the third-leading scorer in the series (24.3 PPG). It's tough for me to imagine this series going seven games without Jokic being a leading scorer in at least one contest, which is what makes me believe +750 is quality value. His best scoring effort in this series was Game 2, where he scored 30 points on 20 shots, which seems replicable. In the playoffs as a whole, he's recorded five 30-point efforts out of 17 games. - Alex Barutha
LeBron James UNDER 2.5 made three-pointers
James' shooting has come and gone over the course of the playoffs, but he's just 4-of-14 from deep in the series. It was clear from the onset in Game 3 that James wasn't fully settled in, as he missed badly on several jumpshots that barely grazed the rim. Denver is plenty comfortable allowing James to hoist shots from outside, but to his credit, he's done a good job of not taking the bait. James took only two threes in Game 1 (0-2) and finished with only four attempts in Game 3 (1-4). Over the course of his career, James has proven he can heat up in a hurry, but until he starts shooting with his usual level of confidence, I'm inclined to take the under on 2.5 makes. - Nick Whalen