The Los Angeles Lakers kick off the 2023-24 NBA season against the reigning champs Denver Nuggets this Tuesday (10/24/23). Get Lakers vs. Nuggets moneyline and spread odds, as well as predictions, starting lineups, injuries, and key matchups.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets Prediction
The Denver Nuggets lost sixth man Bruce Brown and veteran Jeff Green during free agency, so they are relying on a plethora of rookies and sophomores to hold the line. Denver’s volatile bench is a mystery at the moment, and they meet a deep Lakers bench riddled with players that could start on numerous teams, such as Gabe Vincent, Rui Hachimura, and Christian Wood. Therefore, isolating the first quarter mostly removes the benches from the equation and solely focuses on the starters.
When Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokic shared the court across 706 minutes last regular season, they produced a historic 124.3 offensive rating and 13.1 net rating. For context, the 1996 Chicago Bulls own the largest regular season net rating ever at a 13.4 mark per StatMuse. Due to this lineup’s dominance, the Nuggets ranked fourth in first quarter net rating. Against Los Angeles in the Western Conference Finals, they barely slipped to an 11.3 Net Rating.
Denver’s offense will wreak havoc on Los Angeles through Jamal Murray-Nikola Jokic high pick-and-rolls. Murray is an elite outside shooter with the ability to both pull-up for a jumper or drive to the basket, which gives him the versatility to exploit Los Angeles’ defensive decisions. The Nuggets can force D’Angelo Russell into countless actions and take advantage of his poor screen navigation. Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic’s absurd efficiency and shot-creation will force Anthony Davis to completely stick to him at all times. Davis cannot assume his optimal role as a roamer because an open Jokic jumper is a gimme.
The parts surrounding this duo perfectly complement them. Porter Jr (41.4 3PT%) and Caldwell-Pope (42.3 3PT%) horizontally stretch the court, which deters defenders from sagging. On the other hand, Aaron Gordon provides vertical stretching through his timely cuts and thunderous dunks. Because of these three, the Lakers will find it extremely difficult to offer help to the pick-and-roll defenders. Nikola Jokic’s all-time passing and court vision will find the open man too and immediately punish a shading defense.
On the other end, Denver possesses the tools to slow down Los Angeles’ attack. LeBron James and Austin Reaves lead the charge in terms of playmaking and creating desirable shot quality for others. However, Gordon and Caldwell-Pope are excellent defenders that can pressure them in isolation while blowing up the action. Jokic’s smart drop defense and Porter Jr’s evolving rim protection also help limit a Lakers team that loves to drive to the rim.
Anthony Davis is the key to breaking through Denver’s defense. He’s a talented scorer and roller, but his lack of aggression routinely curtails his overall impact. Davis asserting himself highlights Los Angeles’ best path to winning this quarter.
Overall, Denver’s starting lineup remains a notch above Los Angeles’ in terms of talent, fit and matchups. Factor in home-court advantage (including altitude), and the Nuggets should take the first quarter here.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets Prediction: Nuggets 1st Quarter moneyline (-148 FD)
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Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets Best Odds
The reigning champs Denver Nuggets are favored by nearly 5 points. It’s worth noting that they beat the Lakers by 6, 5, 11, and 2 points during their Western Conference Finals sweep. For Los Angeles’ +180 moneyline to have a positive expected value, they must win here about 36 percent of the time.
Los Angeles Lakers Starting Lineup
Denver Nuggets Starting Lineup
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets Injuries
Nuggets forward Vlatko Cancar tore his ACL in August and may miss the entire season, while 29th overall pick Julian Strawther is questionable with an ankle injury. For the Lakers, Jarred Vanderbilt and 17th overall pick Jalen Hood-Schifino are both questionable to play.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets Key Matchups
LeBron James vs. Aaron Gordon
Aaron Gordon’s postseason defense was remarkable; he defended names like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Anthony Edwards at a high level. Gordon possesses the strength and athleticism to wall off LeBron James’ drives, which is the foundation of his shot-creation. With Gordon marking him, James becomes more of a passer and less of a scorer. That’s ideal for Denver because he remains the top scorer for this Los Angeles offense.
LeBron James will maintain his efficiency, but Gordon can cut down on his attempts and make him fight for every shot. His defense is a key reason behind why I have Denver winning the first quarter in my Lakers vs. Nuggets prediction.
Season Opener Shooting Rust
It’s common for players to struggle with efficiency and conditioning early on in the season because they are getting back into game rhythm. Therefore, offensive shot quality is more important than ever with players not hitting tough shots at their usual rate. Enter the Nuggets, who led the NBA in adjusted offensive shot quality (per ShotQuality) due to Jokic’s passing and patience. Denver never settles for a decent shot and instead looks for the optimal shot, which will behoove them here. In addition, they are accustomed to Denver’s altitude, so they hold a massive conditioning advantage over Los Angeles. Overall, the game context favors the Nuggets.