Perhaps their underdog status will propel the Denver Nuggets toward their goal of completing an improbable sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
The Lakers are 3.5-point favorites by BetMGM at home ahead of Game 4 on Monday night, but it's the Nuggets who have been backed by 76 percent of the spread-line bets and 85 percent of the money. The line is 3.0 at BetRivers, which has caused a bit more split action, with Denver drawing 68 percent of the total bets but Los Angeles backed by 80 percent of the money.
ONE FROM HISTORY
The Nuggets are seeking to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. They get their first crack at it on Monday, following a 119-108 win in Los Angeles on Saturday.
The Lakers erased all of a double-digit deficit in the first half to lead 94-93 with 7:48 remaining. But the Nuggets went on a decisive 13-0 run to take a 106-94 lead on a Nikola Jokic shot with 4:50 left. It was a three-minute stretch that brought Denver to the brink of where it has never been before.
Jokic scored 24 points with eight assists and six rebounds, with his effectiveness diminished by early foul trouble. The effort ended his run of four consecutive playoff triple-doubles. Jamal Murray stepped up with 30 first-half points and 37 for the game, while former Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 17.
"I never doubted my team," Jokic said. "I know they're capable. You saw it in the third quarter. (Caldwell-Pope) had a huge segment, like four minutes. He had a big box-out on (Anthony Davis), he had a steal, he had a big 3-pointer. We have some really good players that can step up in the right moment, and that's what we did."
The Nuggets essentially get four chances to advance, with two of those at home, if necessary. If the Lakers can earn a victory in Game 4, the series would shift to Denver for Game 5 on Wednesday.
"I know it's cliche, but that next-man-up mentality has really served us well over the years," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said.
LAKERS RUNNING ON FUMES?
The Lakers' impressive run through the postseason looks to have run out of steam. They needed to get through the play-in tournament just to get into the playoff field and then got through the No. 2-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the first round and the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the second round.
And while the Lakers have been competitive in all three games of the Western Conference finals, they have lacked the finishing kick needed to take a game.
"I mean, I think the deficit is 3-0, not 4-0, so as long as they have not gotten to four yet, there's still hope," Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said. "We're still alive. We just have to focus on winning one game."
Davis scored 28 points with 18 rebounds in Game 3, while LeBron James and Austin Reaves each scored 23. James added 12 assists. On defense, the Lakers watched the Nuggets shoot 60.0 percent in the fourth quarter. Denver also recorded 30 assists and committed just six turnovers.
AGAINST ALL ODDS
The Lakers are 1400 at BetRivers to mount a miraculous comeback and win the series. Meanwhile, the Nuggets are -5000 to win the series and much of the attention has already turned toward their chances of winning a first NBA title for the franchise.
Denver opened at 1000 to win the title at BetMGM but now stands as the -225 favorite. The Nuggets, who have now drawn 16.3 percent of the total title-winning tickets and 20.2 percent of the money, are also the sportsbook's biggest liability.
The Miami Heat, who enjoy their own 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals, have the second shortest odds at 250. The Boston Celtics are 1400, followed by the Lakers at 3000.
"I can't speak for the guys right now because I don't know what's going on through all their minds right now, but I still (have belief)," James said. "So you know, it's time to go right back home and start to refuel and start the treatment process and recovery process and get ready for Monday. My mindset is always locked in as if it's Game 1."
The most popular prop pick ahead of Game 4 on Monday night at BetMGM is for the Nuggets' Michael Porter Jr. at -120 to record more than 8.5 combined rebounds and assists. That's followed by Lakers sharpshooter Reaves being offered at -110 to have more than 26.5 combined points, rebounds and assists.
The 220.5-point Over/Under has moved to 224.5 points with the Over being backed by 65 percent of the bets and 76 percent of the money. The same point total at BetMGM has seen the Over draw 30 percent of the bets, but some large wagers leading to the Under being backed by a whopping 72 percent of the money.
--Field Level Media