At long last the wait is over. Four months after the Denver Nuggets hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy and captured their first NBA championship, the title defense now begins. The first opponent on the Nuggets ’23-’24 docket is none other than the Los Angeles Lakers. Denver met the Lakers on their way to the title last postseason in the Western Conference Finals and promptly swept them. Since that time the Lakers have been anxious to get another crack at the team that they matched up so poorly with in late May. L.A. of course returns their star duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis and likewise has other holdovers from their WCF run last year such as Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura. The Lakers were also busy in the offseason, adding bigs Jaxson Hayes and Christian wood along with wing Cam Reddish in hopes to be more competitive against the top teams in the West. Denver meanwhile is largely running it back save for Bruce Brown and Jeff Green, setting up a rematch that should look similar to the WCF with a few new twists.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (0-0) vs Los Angeles Lakers (0-0)

When: 5:30 PM MDT

Where:  The Can. Denver, CO.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless it’s the romanticized 18th century type. TNT. Altitude Radio 92.5. Convince security that you are the Larry O’Brien trophy handler.

Rival blog: Silver Screen and Roll

The Matchup

Injury report: Jay Huff – questionable (ribs), Vlatko Cancar – out (knee); Jarred Vanderbilt – out (heel), Jalen Hood-Schifino – out (knee).

The Three Things

The key matchup: Jamal Murray vs D’Angelo Russell

May 20, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) shoots against Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell (1) in the first quarter during game three of the Western Conference Finals for the 2023 NBA playoffs at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Jokic and Davis will go at each other all night. Aaron Gordon will harass LeBron all night. Where the Nuggets truly can take advantage is at the point guard spot. Murray was Denver’s leading scorer in the series against the Lakers and looked often to take advantage of Russell’s less than stellar defense. Expect a motivated Davis and LeBron like always which means a lot of work for Nikola and AG. Murray is the guy who needs to show the clear difference between the two lineups.

The thing to watch for: Does Julian Strawther get minutes?

I currently have Strawther on the outside looking in for the rotation. I believe it will be Justin Holiday as the primary backup to Michael Porter Jr. Strawther was all the talk during preseason and rightfully so. He absolutely showed he belonged. Still, Holiday was solid in his own right and I have a feeling coach is going to lean on the veteran experience, at least to start the season. If we do see Strawther with regular minutes in this game then it’s a huge vote of confidence in his favor from the entire organization.

The thing to bet: Nikola Jokic 3 pointers 2+ Alternate Line (+205)

Over on draft kings you can get +205 on betting Jokic hits two threes in this game. I love it. Jokic has generally been shooting at least three attempts from three in the preseason in limited minutes and in his final warmup for the regular season he shot six (made three). He also averaged two made threes a game during the Western Conference Finals. At +205 this one is just too good to pass up for me.

Bonus parlay: Under 227.5 total points, Gordon under 6.5 rebounds, Jokic over 8.5 assists (+450)