The Nuggets have the best record in the NBA since March 10; the Lakers had more trouble than many expected with the Rockets. LA has home court advantage, and that may be the difference.
The Los Angeles Lakers had a tougher time that expected to advance to the Western Conference Finals, while the Denver Nuggets have been off a week since knocking out the Dallas Mavericks in five games.
Still, do not lose sight of the fact that the Lakers had the best record in the West, and we got the impression that they coasted a bit vs. the Rockets, knowing that they can turn it on whenever they felt like it against them. This was pretty evident in the last two games in Los Angeles, where the Lake Show won by 40 in Game 5 and then smothered Houston defensively in Game 7.
You can bet that the Lakers will not make that same mistake vs. a Denver team that has the best record in the NBA since March 10, and that has been the most impressive team in the West during the playoffs. Los Angeles will show the Nuggets a lot more respect than they showed a Yao-less Rockets club, bringing their top effort every game.
Now, do the Nuggets have a chance to beat the Lakers in a four out of seven series? Well, the answer is yes they have a chance if they can steal a game in Los Angeles. That may be easier said than done however.
The Lakers won three of the four regular season games straight up, although the home teams did go 4-0 against the spread in those games. Furthermore, the Lakers non-covering win at Denver came all the way back in November, well before the Nuggets hit their stride. To be fair, one of the LA home wins also came in November, so these clubs have only faced each other twice in calendar year 2009.
The first encounter came in Denver on February 27, when the newfound Denver defense held the Lakers to their worst shooting performance of the season (28 for 94, 29.8 percent0 in a 90-79 victory. The last meeting however may be the most significant one in the mindsets of these clubs coming into the series.
As we mentioned, the Nuggets have the best record in the NBA since March 10, now at 22-5 (20-7 ATS) including the playoffs. They had won eight consecutive games and 13 out of 14 when they traveled to Staples Center on April 9, and the Lakers came away with a handy 116-102 victory in a game that Denver treated as a playoff game.
Kobe Bryant scored 33 points in that game and Pau Gasol scored 27, as the Lakers were able to solve the Denver press much better than they were in the previous meeting in Denver. What this game showed was that as great as the Nuggets were down the stretch, they are still one notch below the Lakers when the chips are down in LA.
Conversely, the Nuggets are simply unbeatable at home right now, where they can beat anyone n the league including the elite, top clubs. They have won 16 consecutive home games by an incredible average margin of +15.2 points, and only one of those 16 wins was by single-digits.
They have won their six playoff home games by an average of +17.5 points, with the smallest winning margin being by 12 points over the Mavericks in Game 2 in a game that was not as close as the score would indicate. Remember that the Nuggets go nine deep, so that gives them an added advantage when they play in the altitude, as they are still relatively fresh late while their opponents are gasping for oxygen.
So, how do we see this series? Well, we actually see this as an easy call. The Lakers have proven to be the better team at home in a big game already, and they know that they cannot afford a loss at home here like they had in Game 1 vs. the Rockets, assuring that you will see a full-out effort every game.
At the same time, the Nuggets remain untouchable at home, and we do not see that changing here either. While that 29 percent performance by the Lakers the last time they played here may have been an anomaly, Denver did go on to prove that their defense is legitimate the rest of the season, and we feel they have what it takes to beat LA in the altitude in their raging current form.
The bottom line is that we look for the home team to win every single game in this series, so if our Math is correct, that would mean the Lakers win it in seven.
Prediction: Lakers in 7