Insider Insight: It’s been a longtime coming in Denver says SuperBook Sports Insider James Merilatt

May 12, 2023

The Denver Nuggets are headed to the Western Conference Finals.

If the oddsmakers are right, they’ll meet up with the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that’s knocked Denver out in its last three trips. And that’s just fine with Colorado native, devil’s advocate and SuperBook Sports Insider James Merilatt.

“I think the Nuggets match up best with the Lakers,” he says. “Denver just proved that they could dominate a team that featured two great players and a bunch of guys. To me, Los Angeles is a lot like Phoenix; they’re very top-heavy. The Warriors can hit you from so many angles. Their perimeter shooting gives Denver fits. And Draymond Green is just nasty and savvy enough to give Nikola Jokic fits.”

The Warriors-Lakers Game 6 takes place tonight in L.A., and while Merilatt will be keeping tabs on things – and despite his preference that Denver draws their nemesis Lakers – he believes the Nuggets’ next opponent isn’t going to stop Denver from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Jay Kornegay and his crew of oddsmakers currently have the Nuggets at -140 to represent the West in the Finals. That number suits Merilatt just fine.

“That’s probably about right, given that they’ll have home-court advantage over either opponent,” Merilatt says. “I’d wait a bit to make this wager, however. Once the Lakers or Warriors advance, it might move a little closer to even money. There might be some more value to be had once money starts coming in on two of the league’s biggest bandwagon teams.”

The Nuggets, according to Merilatt, can beat anyone – so long as Nikola Jokic gets a little help from his supporting cast. Jokic is the picture of consistency, so watching the play of the “other” Nuggets will be the way to gauge Denver in this – or any – series going forward.

“Jokic is a given at this point. He’s going to be great every game. Murray is more up and down. Can he be excellent in four out of seven games? That’s the big, big question,” says Merilatt. “When Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have a big scoring night, they’re almost unbeatable. When Jokic has to score 40-plus, they’re just not as dominant. If two or three players are pouring in 20 or more, Denver isn’t getting beat.”

In case you haven’t picked up on it, Merilatt betting on Denver with cautious optimism. He’s got a warning for those finally coming around on the Nuggets.

“Oh, I’m taking the Nuggets,” he says. “Am I being a homer? Probably to some extent. But they have the best player in the league and their supporting pieces are better. But I’ll be a nervous wreck. We’ve been waiting a lifetime for this moment in Denver.

“But be careful of Game 2 at home. If Denver wins the opener of the series, which they should, the other team will make adjustments. Michael Malone likes to stand pat. That creates a situation where the road team can steal one in Denver. That’s the most likely game for that to happen.”

It’s been a long time coming in the Mile High City. Tonight, Nuggets Nation will be watching closely to find out which giant must be slayed next.

Friday Night Trio

Three bets worth considering when the weekend kicks off

Florida Panthers at Toronto Maple Leafs
Scotiabank Arena – Toronto, ON
7:00 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Toronto -190

The Panthers are the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed in this year’s playoffs. In the first round, they miraculously beat the Boston Bruins, who were the clear-cut favorites to take home the Stanley Cup. The second round presented them with another tough matchup in the Maple Leafs.

Understandably, Leafs fans around the world were chanting, “We Want Florida!” in hopes of having home ice in the second round and avoiding the Bruins. But maybe that wasn’t the best thing after all.

Florida currently has a 3-1 lead on the Leafs. Now, they will head back to Toronto, where the Panthers won the first two games. The Maple Leafs are slightly favored as they will try to continue their comeback from a 3-0 deficit; they stayed alive with a 2-1 win in Game 4.

If Toronto were to somehow pull it off, it would be just the fifth time in NHL history that a franchise has recovered from that deficit. However, it wouldn’t be uncharted territory for Toronto, as they were the first to do it back in 1942.

The fact that two of the three games remaining will be at home is a sign of hope for Leafs fans, but it is still a longshot. The Panthers just won’t go away this postseason. They are seemingly poised for a deep playoff run.

On Friday night, Florida looks to continue that deep playoff run with a win. The Leafs may be favored, but that doesn’t make that the smart way to lean. Head toward the Panthers.

Norm LaChatlier’s pick: Florida M/L (+160)


New York Knicks at Miami Heat
Kaseya Center – Miami, FL
7:30 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Miami -5.0

The Knicks staved off elimination on Wednesday night with an impressive win. In that clutch victory, Jalen Brunson scored 38 points for New York, while Jimmy Butler was held to just 19. Despite a noble push towards the end, Miami couldn’t get the job done.

The series is now 3-2 in favor of Miami, as the Heat will head home to try to win the series in front of their own fans. If they do succeed on Friday night, it would be the Heat’s second-straight conference finals appearance.

Last year, it was expected. Miami was the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. This year, however, the tables have turned. The Heat are the No. 8 seed in the East, yet they are still in a similar position they were just a year ago.

Not only is it a testament to the brilliant coaching of Erik Spoelstra, but it also puts Butler’s playoff heroics into perspective. He is clearly one of the greatest postseason players of all-time.

Miami comes into the game as a 5.0-point favorite. As of now, 93% of bettors are putting their moneyline bets on the Heat.

Any fans that pay good money to go to Game 6 will surely get their money’s worth, as Butler and the Heat are poised to dominate. The home crowd in New York may have gotten the best of Miami in Game 5, but the Heat won’t let it go to seven.

In a Game 7, anything is possible. In Game 6, though, the Heat have control. Expect Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat to get the W.

Jason Schlefsky’s pick: Miami M/L (-200)


Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers Arena – Los Angeles, CA
10:00 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Los Angeles -2.0

In the Steve Kerr era, the Warriors are 19-0 in Western Conference playoff series. That streak is in jeopardy, however, as they are currently down 3-2 to the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs. But if there’s one thing every NBA fan has learned in the last 10 years, it’s that Golden State is never out of it until they lose four games.

Down 3-1, the Warriors dominated the Lakers at home in Game 5, winning 121-106. Anthony Davis exited the game in a wheelchair after injuring his head in a nasty collision. Davis is currently listed as a game-time decision for Friday night and the Lakers are hopeful he can return for the biggest game of their season.

This one is it for the Lakers. A loss would result in a Game 7 on Sunday night that would be at Golden State. That is the last thing L.A. fans want after being up 3-1. But that’s what the Warriors do. They give you hope and then they rip it away from you.

Despite Davis’ injury, the Lakers are still 2.0-point favorites. That doesn’t necessarily mean the oddsmakers think that Los Angeles will win, but it gives them a chance.

Expect this one to be close one down the stretch. When it comes to those types of games, it’s hard to bet against Golden State, even on the road. Expect the Warriors to come out on top and steal this series from the Lakers.

Jason Schlefsky’s pick: Golden State M/L (+118)