The Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers play each other for the second straight time in the 2018 NBA Preseason.

The Nuggets comfortably beat the Lakers 124-107 on Sunday night to open their 2018 campaign on a high note. The Lakers meanwhile, hope to bounce back and avenge the one-sided loss as they play at the Staples Center for the first time in the LeBron James era.

King James Era

The LeBron James era officially began on Sunday as King James played his first game for the purple and blue. Los Angeles had the crowd immediately on its feet after Javale McGee tapped the opening tip to James before Rajon Rondo picked up the ball and threw a perfect alley-oop pass to a soaring McGee: 2-0 Los Angeles Lakers.

But after an exciting start, Lakers head coach Luke Walton decided to ride James on the bench the entire second half as he tinkered with his new lineup all throughout the game. James played a total of 15 first half minutes in his Lakers debut and finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting 2-6 from the field including 2-2 from behind the three point line. But he merely watched the Nuggets blow away his new team in the second half.

It was a bitter sweet start to the King James era because while we saw flashes of what great things the new Lakers are capable of doing, we also found out that there is so much work to be done if LeBron’s Lakers are to make the playoffs, much more challenge the Golden State Warriors for NBA supremacy.

His Biggest Challenge

When James made the leap to Los Angeles, the Lakers’ chances to win the NBA title shot up. As of September 25th at Bovada, the Lakers have the fourth best odds to win the NBA title at +1000. Only the Warriors, Celtics and Rockets were priced higher than his Lakers. With those odds, the pressure and all the expectations, this is probably the biggest challenge in James’ NBA career.

At 32, LeBron still looks in fantastic shape. He is coming off a season where he posted career highs in assists (9.1 APG) and rebounds (8.6 RPG tied with 2017 average). James’ 27.5 points per game averages last season was also his best since 2014 so if you ask if the Lakers got the biggest prize of free agency, they did. But while James is still in his athletic prime, he cannot do it alone.

Unlike in the teams where he won championships with, James does not have the luxury of having an All-Star teammate in Los Angeles. What he has though is an able veteran cast led by Rajon Rondo, Javale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Kentavious Caldwell Pope and a talented young core led by Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. No question on the talent there. The thing though is if they can put it all together in such a short period of time. That is LeBron’s challenge and it begins in preseason, regardless of the fact that Luke Walton calls it an “extension of training camp”.

Nuggets Came Out Smoking

The Lakers really didn’t play that bad on Sunday night. It was just that Denver came out smoking.Juan Hernangomez, who came to Denver with career averages of 4.4 points per game in 12.9 minutes of playing time, scored a game high 19 points in 23 minutes for the Nuggets. Hernangomez sank 5 out of 8 three pointers to pace Denver which made six more total three pointers in the game than the Lakers.

Malik Beasley, the Nuggets’ 19th pick in 2016, made all of his four three pointers in 22 minutes of action. Beasley entered the game averaging just 3.3 points in 9.5 minutes per game in his two year NBA career. Nuggets’ star Jamal Murray also added 18 points on 8-12 shooting including 2-3 from behind the three point arc.

Nikola Jokic took advantage of Los Angeles’ small ball lineups as he scored 14 points on 8-8 free throw shooting in 21 minutes, Denver big man Mason Plumlee also took advantage of Los Angeles’ smaller units as he went for 11 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Denver outrebounded Los Angeles 50-37, including 13-7 on the offensive board.

What’re the Odds?

Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers 10/02/18
Odds: Nuggets +105, Lakers -134
Odds from Betway as of 10/01/18

Flashes Of Brilliance

Lakers fans have plenty to be excited as the Lakers displayed flashes of brilliance in their first game under the LeBron James era. Coach Luke Walton decided to start their first preseason game with James, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell Pope, Brandon Ingram and Javale McGee.

Javale McGee led the Lakers with 17 points on 8-10 shooting while adding 7 rebounds and 1 block as the starting center. Rajon Rondo was his usual brilliant self, making the Lakers forget about Lonzo Ball on Sunday night. The former Celtics’ star issued a total of 11 assists while grabbing 7 rebounds. Lance Stephenson also impressed with 12 points on 4-5 shooting. Michael Beasley scored four points before leaving with a minor injury.

The Lakers’ young guns were led by Brandon Ingram who scored 16 points on 7-14 shooting with 4 rebounds and 2 steals. Kyle Kuzma added 15 points but last year’s steal of the draft shot just 4-13 from the floor. Josh Hart added 7 points while rookie Svi Mykhailiuk, who’s caught the eye of his peers with his shooting, shot just 1-5 from the three point area.

Who Wins?

If you take a look at the stats, the Lakers didn’t really play that bad on offense, making 46% of their shots. However, the Lakers’ inability to shoot the three doomed them as they were outpointed 39-24 from three point distance. It didn’t help that the Nuggets shot 12 more threes than the Lakers because it appeared like the Lakers were late and slow in closing out on Denver’s shooters.

Walton also tinkered with small ball lineups featuring Kuzma and Beasley at center while playing McGee for only 20 minutes. As a result, the Nuggets controlled the boards and limited the Lakers’ second chance opportunities. Los Angeles also gave up 35 free throws and the Nuggets made 12 more from the line.

If Los Angeles wants to win, the key will be three point shooting, rebounds and free throws. The Lakers must challenge Denver’s shooters while at the same time make their own three pointers. Playing small ball will put them at a disadvantage against Jokic and Plumlee so the Lakers must gang rebound. Likewise, they must limit their fouls and avoid putting the Nuggets at the foul line where they shot 88.6% on Sunday.

Betting Prediction

Los Angeles should make the adjustments here. The main difference would be that this game is going to be played at the Staples Center. You know Lebron and co. want to make a good first impression to their home fans. The Nuggets are still going to shoot well but Lakers are going to make their three pointers at home. We’re picking the Los Angeles Lakers to beat the Denver Nuggets on 10/02/18.

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Other Bets To Make

The Nuggets are 3-13 ATS in their last 16 games after their last opponent scored at least 100 points. They are also 1-5 in their last 6 games played on a Tuesday. On the other hand, the Lakers 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games coming from a straight up loss and 6-0 ATS in their last 6 Tuesday games.

What’re the Odds?

Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers 10/02/18
Spread Odds: Nuggets +2.5 (-110), Lakers -2.5 (-110)
Odds from as of 10/02/18

Betting Prediction

Much has been said about the Lakers’ 17 point loss last Sunday. Despite Walton’s proclamation that he is treating preseason as “extension of training camp”, pride is at stake here for the Lakers. This is LeBron’s first home game as a Laker. I’d expect the Lakers to win big and cover the measly 2.5 points spread. Prediction: Lakers -2.5

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The over is 4-0-1 in Denver’s last five games on the road and 4-1-1 in the last six games of Los Angeles when their previous opponent scored at least 100 points. The over is also 19-6-1 in the last 26 meetings between these two teams and 5-1-1 in their last seven head to head meetings in Los Angeles.

What’re the Odds?

Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers 10/02/18
Over/Under Odds: Over 225 (-110), Under 225 (-110)
Odds from as of 10/02/18

Betting Prediction

Five out of the last nine preseason games in the past two days have yielded a total of more than 225 and that included the Nuggets’ 124-107 win over the Lakers on Sunday. This is preseason play where coaches like to play everybody in the roster and where defense doesn’t exist. The team who scores more wins the game. The Nuggets put seven players in double digit scoring the last time out. Meanwhile, the Lakers have plenty of offensive firepower in their lineup as well. They will be playing at home and I expect them to make their shots. This will be a wild west shootout. Prediction: Over -110

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