Los Angeles Clippers (-8.5) vs. Denver Nuggets — 223.0 total
Series Price: Clippers -1250/Nuggets +790
This series looks like a massive mismatch on paper. The Clippers opened up around -900 to win this series, but they have been bet way up across the industry. The best number I can find is -1250 on DraftKings sportsbook, which gives the Clippers an implied probability of approximately 92.5% to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
That matches up pretty well with what these two teams showed during their first round series.
The Clippers struggled at times vs. the Mavericks, but they were ultimately able to prevail in six games. Kawhi Leonard continues to assert his dominance as the best playoff performer in the league, and he averaged 32.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.3 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game vs. the Mavs. He also shot 53.8% from the field, so he was an efficient scorer as well.
The Clippers needed a huge performance from Leonard because Paul George struggled mightily in that series. He made just 35.8% of his shots from the field and 27.5% of his shots from 3-point range, both of which were well below his season averages. I’m not doubting the ability of “Playoff P”, but this is a big series for him from a narrative perspective.
The Clippers should get a big boost from the return of Patrick Beverley, who is probable to suit up after missing each of the final five games vs. the Mavericks. Beverley is the perfect fit next to Leonard, George, and Marcus Morris, giving the Clippers an absolutely ferocious group of defenders on the perimeter. The Clippers increased their Net Rating by +5.1 points per 100 possessions with Beverley on the court during the regular season, so he’s a big upgrade over the combo of Reggie Jackson and Landry Shamet.
Overall, the Clippers’ four-man lineup of Beverley, George, Leonard, and Morris has outscored opponents by an average of +25.2 points per 100 possessions over 180 minutes this season. If you’re betting on the Clippers to win the title — which I definitely recommend if you haven’t already done so — this combination is the key to their success.
They should not find a ton of resistance from the Nuggets, who were absolutely shredded defensively by the Jazz. The Nuggets found a way to comeback and win the series — Jamal Murray scoring 50 points a night will certainly help — but it still raised some serious questions about their ability from a long term perspective.
Murray should not be able to find the same success against the Clippers’ elite perimeter defenders, so who is going to save them this time? Nikola Jokic seems like the obvious answer, but he appeared to cost the Nuggets nearly as many points on defense as he contributed on offense. The Jazz absolutely shredded him in the pick and roll, and Donovan Mitchell shot 52.9% from the field and 51.6% from 3-point range during that series. Mitchell is not known as an efficient scorer, so if he can find that level of success Leonard and George should be able to have a field day.
I think you can certainly bet on the Clippers to sweep this matchup — the price on that is around +175 at most sportsbooks — but I’d rather grab the Clippers -2.5 games at -182. The Clippers winning in either four or five games are the two most likely outcomes, so that bet allows me to win in both situations. Those odds translate to an implied probability of about 64.5%, but I think the odds of the Clippers getting this done in less than six games is closer to 75 or 80%.
As for Game 1, the Clippers are pretty significant favorites, but I would argue that they aren’t favored by enough. The Nuggets are coming off a grueling game just two days ago vs. the Jazz, while the Clippers have been off since Sunday. That gives them a significant rest advantage, and teams in that situation have historically gone 26-15-1 against the spread.
The Picks: Clippers -8.5, Clippers -2.5 games (would play at anything better than -200)