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Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets

Line: Los Angeles -6.5

Pick: Nuggets +6.5

Calling a game before the Denver Nuggets inevitably have three losses in a series a must win for them is difficult. This team thrives on the adversity of being down in a series. Time and again, finding a way to refuse to be sent home.

That said, tonight is a must win for them.

There’s a big difference between 3-1 and 3-0. 3-1 has happened before in the playoffs and though isn’t ideal, is known to be possible. 3-0 on the other hand doesn’t enjoy those same benefits.

Now if you were to argue that if there was ever a team to come back from that deficit it would be this Nuggets team then, I’m not sure I could disagree with you. But, playing a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, I don’t think even this Nuggets team could do that.

So, that means tonight is a must win for Nikola Jokic’s squad. This playoffs started as the Jamal Murray coming out party for Denver. Two rounds later though and it’s become the Jokic may be a top five player in the league conversation instead.

Jokic is bizarrely clutch, particularly for a big man. In this playoffs alone, he has the series winning bucket versus Utah, outplayed Kawhi Leonard head-to-head in a series and now despite the loss, that final two minutes on Sunday was flat out special. Sure Murray has his moments and has definitely re-defined how we think of him but don’t get it twisted, this is Jokic’s team.

He needs some help though to get over this Laker sized hump in front of them. That starts with the previously mentioned Murray. In a series where he’s being guarded by the likes of Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo, 21 and 25 points probably isn’t going to be enough to beat this team.

The same can be said for the likes of Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant. Those three guys, the non-Jokic/Murray starters, cannot get outplayed by Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green and whatever centre is on the floor.

This Lakers team is built so that they just need a little from their depth that combined with the massive amount they get from Davis and James should equal a win. Denver cannot live in a world where their depth guys and the Lakers go blow for blow so it’s up to Murray and Jokic to outplay Davis and James to win.

LA will take that result every time and so far, it’s easy to see why. The only way someone is going to beat this Lakers team is they are going to have to have their role players outplay the Lakers role players. The Laker’s bet is pretty simple, our top two guys are so good that even though our depth sucks, it’s good enough that they can’t be beaten four times out of seven.

If Denver is going to win tonight, it starts and ends with the contributions they get from guys you probably barely think about. Let’s just say, it’s no coincidence how much closer game two was compared to game one when you look at which game they got those high-level Michael Porter Jr and PJ Dozier minutes.

Jokic and Murray are special but I just don’t think they’re quite special enough yet to go shot for shot with Davis and James for an entire game consistently enough to win the series. What they need is those random bench contributions to keep the game close so that you get to a clutch moment where anything can happen.

Unfortunately Davis made the shot last game. That doesn’t mean their strategy was flawed though. They just need to get into a competitive fourth quarter and let the chips play out where they may.

From a gambling perspective, this game clearly favours the Nuggets and the 6.5 points. Much like last game, I’m not sure if they win. However, there’s a trick to gambling NBA games, pick the team that needs it more.

Tonight there isn’t any doubt. This is a must win for Denver.

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