Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 9:30 AM EST. Odds subject to change.
L.A. Lakers +196 over Denver
Denver, Colorado - Ball Arena (TNT)
7:30 PM EST. Fans of the NBA either love or hate Lebron James and the Lakers. Critics will say their recent title, won in a strange COVID year where they played in that weird bubble without a sound in the arena other than the squeaking of their shoes, was fraudulent. Others will add that their schedule seems to offer convenient scheduling spots, and that the "powers that be" want to protect Lebron and keep him in the association as long as possible. Even more, many haters will rant about the marriage of Anthony Davis and Lebron, a duo that should have been destined for multiple championships if it wasn't for Davis' "soft" attitude and frequent injuries.
All this fodder makes it hard for anyone to trust the Lakers season to season. As an NBA fan and bettor who contributes to the critical community and therefore observes all these sentiments, it's essential to store the notions away in some distant part of our brain. That's particularly important this year. Why? Because whether you like it or not, this version of the L.A. Lakers has a ton of potential, and I'm not sure their sharpest critics could deny it this time.
Regardless, they're facing last year's NBA champion in their first game of the season, at Denver, so of course the Lakers are going to be underdogs. Does that automatically mean that oddsmakers and syndicates and sharps are right about this number? It does not.
Every championship team will get the nod from sportsbooks leading up to their first game. They're always at home, a raucous crowd will welcome their team into a brand new season with rings and banners and speeches and all the pomp and circumstance that comes along with it. We see it all the time. Meanwhile, lying in the weeds, angry, and full of vengeful steam after getting ousted 4-0 in the Western Conference Finals just 5 months ago, the Lakers are in a great spot to spoil the party.
Lebron and Anthony Davis have been adamant about their excitement for this game. Both were on record on media day, saying how much it matters to them and how they can't wait to get on the floor and make a statement. Apparently Lebron and Davis felt like the Nuggets were doing a little too much trash-talking in last year's playoffs, even after their win, and naturally that didn't sit well with the 2019-20 champs.
In the 2022-23 playoffs, when a surging Lakers' squad looked very dangerous with its new parts, many started to believe in the hype. Denver had other plans. A team built around two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, a healthy and rejuvenated Jamal Murray and his supporting cast were playing at their best in last year's postseason, capitalizing off many years of their core playing together, which ultimately built high level chemistry and enabled a dominant performance over LAL to find their way into the NBA Finals. It was a tough matchup and situation for LAL to overcome, a team that was likely still in its storming and forming phases as a unit. That's all fine and good, but a full offseason and some added motivation will only elevate the Lake-show's level of play right from opening tipoff.
And LAL got even better this offseason. Their most notable additions include Gabe Vincent, the hard-nosed point guard who was an integral part of so many of Miami's gritty playoff wins the last few seasons, and small forward Taurean Prince. A 29 year old two-way scorer in his prime, Prince is coming off the best offensive season of his career. In 2022-23 he averaged 38% from beyond the arc and a stellar 57% in effective field goal percentage. He can serve as an instant contributor off the bench for a Lakers' team that needed more depth. They also added Christian Wood, yet another long and dynamic shooter to add to an increasingly giant roster.
Of course the Lakers already fortified their roster with fantastic add-ons at the trade deadline last season, bringing over Rui Hachimura, who was an instant game-changer and fantastic replacement-big for them immediately last season, and Jarred Vanderbilt, who offers yet another two-way player and big body for opposing teams to deal with. It's fair to say this is one of the most formidable Lakers' rosters we've seen since Kobe Bryant was leading the team many years ago.
The Denver Nuggets did next to nothing to their roster this past offseason but that makes sense. They are the champs, after all. Problem is, despite all the celebration and good-feels that will go down tonight at Ball Arena, the Lakers care more about this contest and they're loaded for a big season behind their stars. Half the NBA fan base may hate it, but a highly motivated Lebron James and Anthony Davis is still a very unwise thing to bet against.
L.A. Lakers +196 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 3.92)