Outside of Damian Lillard’s 37-foot series winner and a little spat between Ben Simmons and Jared Dudley, the NBA Playoffs’ first round has been a little lackluster. But fear not.
The only of the eight first-round series to begin 2-2 is going to a Game 7 – and we should get a great one when the Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs square off on Saturday night.
Spurs. Nuggets.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 26, 2019
We've got our first Game 7 of the NBA playoffs 🔥 pic.twitter.com/CsXzPzppA5
So how should NBA betting fans perceive this Nuggets-Spurs matchup? Well, Denver has covered an NBA-best 25 times as a home favorite this season at the Pepsi Center. The Spurs have been road underdogs 27 times and are just 11-15-1 against the spread. Gregg Popovich, one of NBA history’s greatest coaches, could be a factor, but perhaps not enough of one. He is 3-3 in Game 7s, 4-2 ATS.
Nuggets Enjoy Home Cooking
This series has been more than the Nuggets bargained for after they won 54 games and earned the Western Conference’s second seed. What should have been a quick and easy series has become a back-and-forth affair.
The good news for Denver is that the team returns home for Game 7. The Nuggets are 25-16 ATS at home this season (fourth best behind Sacramento, L.A. Clippers and Milwaukee). They’re 6-point favorites for Saturday night’s Game 7.
The Nuggets are also an NBA-best 34-7 straight-up as a home favorite, so they should feel confident heading into the do-or-die matchup. Though the Spurs did steal Game 1 on the road, Denver won and covered in the only regular season meeting between those two in Denver and won and covered in Games 2 and 5 at home.
Denver was second in net rating at home this regular season (10.6), trailing only the Bucks (11.5) who had the luxury of playing in the East. Denver should feel good about its chances. Coach Mike Malone’s group worked all season to gain homecourt advantage, and now they’ll get to use it.
It helps that MVP candidate Nikola Jokic is rolling. After dropping a franchise-best 43 points in Game 6, he’s averaging 23.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 9.0 assists in the series.
Spurs Struggle on the Road
If the Nuggets’ impressive play at home weren’t enough, consider how often the Spurs struggled away from San Antonio this season. They have that 11-15-1 mark ATS as a road underdog. Worse, they’re 6-21 straight-up in those games, the eighth-worst record in the NBA and worst among all playoff teams.
They made their mark this season at home and including the postseason are 34-10 there. But their minus-3.6 net rating on the road is 20th best in the NBA, worse than teams such as the Kings, Lakers and Pelicans. Specifically, their defense is fifth worst in the NBA in road games (114.3), which is bad news against a Nuggets with the third-most efficient home offense in the NBA (116.0).
Nuggets' Michael Malone spitting fire after Game 5 win over Spurs: "Why is Gregg Popovich not in the Hall of Fame? You have some of these college coaches who put up big money to help them get in. Gregg Popovich not being in the Hall of Fame is a damn shame." pic.twitter.com/KwYqN60IIC— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 24, 2019
What the Spurs have going for them, of course, is Gregg Popovich. The NBA’s most experienced postseason head coach has that history of Game 7s. It’s a players’ league but having the gold standard of postseason coaching is never a bad thing.
History Favors the Nuggets
Only six No. 2 vs. No. 7 matchups in NBA history have gone seven games and, per ESPN, the second seed has won the previous five matchups. The homecourt advantage and talent advantage should be enough for Denver to avoid the upset and move on to a second-round matchup with Damian Lillard and the Blazers.
The Spurs didn’t show any panic in their elimination game on Thursday night, thumping the Nuggets by 17 to force Game 7. San Antonio pulled off the Game 1 upset and took the series lead again with a Game 3 win at home. But the Nuggets responded with convincing wins by 14 and 18 in Games 4 and 5 before the Spurs kept their hopes alive with the commanding Game 6 win.