In their second-round playoff series, the Denver Nuggets — who practically went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, with an improved and deep roster led by arguably the best player in the NBA — were underdogs to the Phoenix Suns.
It would have been easy for oddsmakers to short the Nuggets' odds again in the Western Conference finals. The Los Angeles Lakers might be the most popular NBA team among bettors and they've been playing very well for three months. Instead, oddsmakers decided to give the Nuggets their due. And bettors aren't fading them.
The Nuggets are 6.5-point favorites at BetMGM for Game 1 against the Lakers on Tuesday, and -165 odds to win the series and advance to their first NBA Finals in franchise history. That's better than being underdogs against a thin Phoenix Suns team in the conference semifinals.
Bettors like the Nuggets. As of Monday morning at BetMGM, the Nuggets had gotten 70 percent of the money bet on the series winner (Denver got just 53 percent of the bets though, indicating plenty of casual bettors still like their Lakers ... one also wonders how those numbers would look if sports betting were legal in California like it is in Colorado).
The Nuggets have shown they are deserving of their No. 1 seed status and being the favorite to win the series. Nikola Jokic has been incredible these playoffs, as he has been for multiple seasons running. He's getting plenty of help too. Denver looked good in dispatching the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round and then got a statement win to eliminate the Suns on the road in Game 6 of the last series. The Nuggets are a good team. They were all season.
All that said, the Lakers are better than their No. 7 seed. Once they got healthy and made some sharp moves at the trade deadline, they finished the regular season on an 18-7 run, got through the play-in tournament and then beat higher seeds in the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors to advance to the Western Conference finals. They haven't even been pushed to a seventh game yet. And any team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis is capable of winning it all.
It should be an excellent series. The Lakers and Nuggets have faced each other seven times in the playoffs, and the Lakers have won all seven times. But this is a different Nuggets team. The betting world has taken note, even if that came a bit late.
Here's a first look at the rest of the sports betting slate for Tuesday:
15 games in MLB
There's not much else other than Lakers-Nuggets on Tuesday. The NBA has just four teams left and they'll alternate days in the conference finals. The NHL is taking a couple nights off after setting its final four in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But baseball keeps marching on.
There are 15 games in MLB, though none in the afternoon. The most interesting could be the New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays after what happened on Monday. Aaron Judge was seen looking into the Yankees dugout before a pitch, which he said was an innocent glance due to his teammates arguing with the umpire. The rest of the sporting world might think he was being tipped off to pitches, including the one he hit for a homer right after giving a side glance to the dugout. Either way, it's a talking point and a controversy, and Judge's eyes during his at-bats will be watched closely on Tuesday. Toronto is a -185 favorite.
What's the best bet?
I have enough respect for the Lakers that I don't want to lay a huge number on the Nuggets for Game 1 or the series. Instead I'm going to take a shot on a good MLB underdog and take the Minnesota Twins over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bailey Ober, the Twins' starter, has been excellent since he was called up from the minors, with a 1.85 ERA and advanced stats to show it's not all that fluky. It's hard to go against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers but the Twins at +165 odds look pretty good.