Why the Nuggets and Suns should easily overcome the Lakers and Warriors

The 2023-24 NBA season has officially arrived, and, boy, is it starting off with a bang. The night begins with a grudge match between the defending champion Denver Nuggets and their Western Conference finals victim slash championship parade punching bag, the Los Angeles Lakers. Then, we move even further West to San Francisco, where Chris Paul makes his Golden State Warriors debut against his former team, the Phoenix Suns.

As exciting as these matchups figure to be on their own, the opportunity to profit just adds even more fuel to the opening night fire. So let’s dive into Tuesday’s two-game slate and make some picks for the beginning of the 2023-24 season.

Lakers vs. Suns: 4 bold predictions for Round 1 matchup in NBA playoffs

Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets

There aren’t many safer bets in basketball than going against opening-night LeBron James. The four-time NBA MVP is 0-5 on opening night as a Laker and 7-13 for his career as a whole. All five of those Laker losses have come by at least seven points. Meanwhile, the emotion of ring night tends to have a very beneficial effect on the reigning champions. Ever since James won his first championship in 2012, defending champions that did not employ him are 6-1 on opening night. Expect these trends to continue on opening night with a resounding Nuggets victory. The Pick: Nuggets -5

Jarred Vanderbilt is considered unlikely for opening night as of this writing, and he is by far the best perimeter defender the Lakers have. If they wind up starting Taurean Prince in his place, their two realistic options for guarding Jamal Murray in the starting lineup are Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell. Murray tore both of them to shreds last postseason, averaging 32.5 points per game in the Western Conference finals. Backup Gabe Vincent will get plenty of cracks at Murray as well, and the Miami Heat held Murray to a much more respectable 21.4 points per game in the Finals, but considering how hard it will be for the Lakers to align their minutes with Vincent coming off of the bench, a big Murray night seems likely. The Pick: Murray Over 22.5 Points.

A strategy the Lakers frequently employed in their desperate bid to slow down Nikola Jokic last postseason was to have Anthony Davis “guard” Aaron Gordon so that he could sag off of him and provide extra support near the basket. Gordon responded to these openings by making eight 3-pointers in four Western Conference finals games. He’s going to have those looks again on Tuesday, and while he may not make a high percentage of them, the line here is so low that you almost have to take it even if it means sacrificing a bit of profit. The Pick: Gordon Over 0.5 3-Pointers

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns Game 3 odds, picks, predictions

Phoenix Suns at Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are 22-23 without Draymond Green over the past two seasons. For comparison, they are 22-22 without Stephen Curry in that same period. Green’s absence won’t move the line nearly as much as Curry’s would, but it’s very nearly as impactful in a regular-season setting. That is especially important against Kevin Durant, whom Green has held to just 41.8% shooting from the field in the three games they’ve played since Durant left the Warriors. Phoenix has some injury concerns as well, but the Suns are “hopeful” that Devin Booker and Bradley Beal suit up as of this writing. The Pick: Suns -1

Green’s absence is obviously going to affect Golden State’s defense, but a 235-point over/under is still enormous. The average NBA game reached 229.4 points last season. That 5.6-point gap is more significant than it looks. Remember, the Warriors figure to play slower with Chris Paul in place, and the Suns are operating at less than 100% with Booker and Beal banged up. This could be a high-scoring game, but this line is simply too high. The Pick: Under 235

With Green out and a relatively small Phoenix front line waiting for him, Kevon Looney should have plenty of minutes and little competition on the glass. Looney hasn’t faced Jusuf Nurkic since 2021, but in their last three matchups, he’s averaged roughly one rebound for every three minutes of court time. On that trend, you’d expect Looney to hit the over if he reached 33 minutes, far above his typical workload. Notably, however, Looney’s career rebounding rate over the first six years of his career (when he faced Nurkić somewhat frequently) was 14.6%. He’s at 20.1% over the past two seasons. Against an older, limited Nurkić and with no Green in his way, expect a big night on the glass for Looney. The Pick: Looney over 10.5 Rebounds

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