Insider Insight: Denver hoops guru Zach Bye says Nuggets-Lakers Game 2 should be a doozy

May 17, 2023

If LeBron James or Anthony Davis had to vote for the NBA MVP this morning, smart money says Joel Embiid would not be their choice.

In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was dominant against the Lakers. Jokic was not only the first player to post 15+ points and 15+ rebounds in the in the first half of a playoff game since Tim Duncan did it in 2002, but his stat line was a cool 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assist when it was all said and done.

Denver took a 1-0 lead in what looks like it could be an incredible series.

“I think the Nuggets took about 90% of what the Lakers best shot is,” says Denver talkshow host and SuperBook Sports Hoops Insider Zach Bye. “That last 10% is a more aggressive and efficient LeBron James – combined with a better team effort on the glass. The Lakers need LeBron to be in the 30s, not the 20s. And the battle of the boards won’t be that one sided when their very best punch is thrown.”

The Nuggets outrebounded the Lakers 47 to 30.

Despite being up by 20 points at various points during the game, the final score of 132-126 didn’t necessarily tell the whole story. One thing is for sure, nobody in the Mile High City is completely comfortable.

The line for Game 2 opened up at Denver -6, moved quickly to -5.5 and could continue to move prior to Thursday’s tip as money comes in on the Lakers.

“I’d have Nuggets -5, not -6, with the expectation of seeing everything in the kitchen sink from LeBron and L.A.,” says Bye.

Ironically, thus far in the playoffs, the Lakers have seen a major dip in their scoring effort between Game 1 and Game 2 – an average decrease of 26 points per game in the first two rounds. They’ve also won the opening game, too – until Tuesday night’s loss in Denver. None of that necessarily matters to Bye though.

“I expect the top adjustment from the Lakers to be a more focused effort on the glass. Too many times L.A. was burned by second chance buckets,” he says. “The Nuggets had three times as many offensive rebounds as the Lakers. A lot of that is effort and can be quickly corrected. I think you’ll see a much better Lakers team on the boards in Game 2.”

The whistle – a factor that’s seemingly discussed at length within any series involving the Lakers – wasn’t much of a factor in Game 1.  

“The fouls were dead even in this game and the free throws were nearly neck and neck,” Bye points out. “A potentially more aggressive Lakers team in Game 2 may lead to more fouls called on Denver. But outside of that, I don’t think the officials will play a big role.

“That story may change heading back to LA if the Lakers are down 0-2.”

And that could happen. On just one day of rest and playing at one mile above sea level, Bye is intrigued by what the Lakers will be capable of in Game 2.

“The Lakers will certainly play with their backs against the wall in Game 2,” he says. “I just don’t know if the bodies of the two most important players for L.A. will respond accordingly. The one day in between games benefits a younger and hungrier Nuggets team.”

Regardless, within the basketball world, all eyes will be on Denver Thursday night.

Tonight’s Trio

Three bets worth considering on a Wednesday night

Cincinnati Reds at Colorado Rockies
Coors Field – Denver, CO
3:10 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Colorado -108

Graham Ashcraft’s numbers aren’t dazzling. But a deeper dive shows why the Reds have an advantage today in their rubber match against the Rockies.

Sure, a 2-1 record and 3.95 ERA appear pretty pedestrian. But largely, his numbers are inflated by one awful start, a May 7 stinker against the White Sox in which the righthander gave up eight runs in just 1.2 innings. Outside of that performance, Ashcraft has largely given his team a great chance to win.

The same can’t be said for Austin Gomber. One of the few remaining pieces that Colorado received in the Nolan Arenado trade, the lefthander is 3-4 on the year, boasting a 6.30 ERA. He’s been a little bit better of late, as the Rockies have won three of his last four starts, but that’s largely because they’ve scored 23 combined runs in the wins.

These two teams have split the first two games of the series. Colorado won the opener in a 9-8 tilt that reeked of Coors Field, while Cincinnati rebounded last night to earn a 3-1 victory. Look for the Reds to break the tie today.

In a battle between two pitchers that can be erratic, Cincy has the edge. They’ll get the win in today’s matinee.

Richard DeMala’s pick: Cincinnati M/L (-108)


Miami Heat at Boston Celtics
TD Garden – Boston, MA
8:30 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Boston -8.0

Even as they get ready to begin the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat aren’t getting a lot of respect. Sure, they’re the No. 8 seed. But Miami has been on this stage in three of the last four seasons, riding a star player who knows how to get it done in the postseason.

Will Jimmy Butler be able to carry them past the No. 2-seeded Celtics? Well, that’s a daunting question. Whether he can keep them close in Game 1 is another thing entirely.

Boston has shown a penchant for coming out of the gates slowly early in a series. They dropped the opener to Philadelphia in round two. On the heels of a dramatic comeback to knock off the 76ers, they’ll definitely be the more fatigued team, having to extend to seven games to erase a 3-2 deficit.

Since 1988, teams coming off a Game 7 win are 33-52 straight up in the following Game 1. That’s an ugly 36.5% win rate, including 0-1 this year. Those teams are also 36-49 in the series, a 42.4% success rate.

That’s not all the Heat have going for them. Miami is 13-5 against the spread (ATS) in their last 18 games at Boston.

The Celtics could very well win the series. Heck, they’ll probably win tonight. But will they run the Heat out of the gym? That seems unlikely.

Take Miami and the points. They’ll keep it close in Game 1.

Jason Schlefsky’s pick: Miami +8.0 (-110)


Tampa Bay Rays at New York Mets
Citi Field – Queens, NY
7:10 PM ET
SuperBook Line: New York -115

Something seems odd about this one. The Rays boast the best record in baseball, sitting atop the American League East with a dazzling 32-11 mark. Meanwhile, the Mets are struggling, 6.5 games behind the Braves in the NL East with a 20-23 record.

Sure, the pitching matchup favors New York. Kodai Senga is on the mound for the home team. The righty is 4-2 on the season with a 4.14 ERA. But he was shelled his last time out, giving up five runs in 5.0 innings in a loss to the Reds.

Tampa Bay counters with Josh Fleming. The lefthander is winless on the season, having just one start to his name. He’s a bit of an unknown on the mound to begin a game.

He’ll have a much better team behind him. After dropping two in a row at Yankee Stadium, the Rays have pieced together back-to-back wins in the Big Apple, taking the series finale over the Yankees and last night’s opener against the Mets. They plated eight runs in each win.

The Mets have lost two straight, three out of four and are just 3-7 in their last 10 games. They’re also 0-4 in their last four home games against a lefthanded starter.

The best team in baseball as something other than a favorite? Seems too good to pass up.

Richard DeMala’s pick: Tampa Bay M/L (-108)

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