Friday features Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets at 9 p.m. ET. If you’re unfamiliar with the single-game format, check out my primers on DraftKings or FanDuel before building your lineups.
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This series is absolutely loaded with star power.
Let’s start with the Lakers. They’re currently favored by seven points in this contest, so they have a solid edge in implied team total.
LeBron James is the highest-priced player on the slate, and he continues to produce at an elite level in his 17th season. He’s averaged 26.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game during the playoffs, and he’s scored at least 57.0 DraftKings points in six of his past eight games.
He should have no problem scoring vs. the Nuggets, who have struggled defensively during the playoffs. They’ve allowed 114 points per 100 possessions, which is the sixth-lowest mark during the playoffs. The Nuggets have also conceded the second-highest frequency of shots at the rim during the playoffs, which is where LeBron does a lot of his damage.
Anthony Davis should also find success in this matchup. He absolutely feasted vs. the Rockets undersized frontcourt, shooting 60% from the field on 16 shot attempts per game. The Nuggets have struggled vs. big men this season, so this is another solid spot for him.
Paul Millsap served as his primary defender more than any other member of the Nuggets during the regular season, and Davis ate him alive. He shot 12-of-18 in that matchup, so it will be interesting to see how the Nuggets choose to defend him tonight.
Both of the Lakers’ superstars are obviously in play, but I’d give the slight edge to LeBron. He owns the highest ceiling projection in our NBA Models, and he’s capable of scoring fantasy points in a variety of ways.
Speaking of guys who can fill up the stat sheet, Nikola Jokic made a little bit of history in his last game:
Nikola Jokic in Game 7:
He is the first player in NBA history to drop a 20-rebound triple-double in a Game 7. pic.twitter.com/qy0jdzkMk3
— StatMuse (@statmuse) September 16, 2020
He served as the Nuggets’ offensive focal point vs. the Clippers, which made sense given their weakness at the center position. The Clippers tried playing Ivica Zubac more to slow him down, but Jokic had no problem taking Zubac out to the perimeter.
Unfortunately, he has one of the toughest matchups on the slate vs. Davis. Davis finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, and he held Jokic to just 30% shooting while serving as his primary defender during the regular season. The Lakers may not start the game in that matchup – JaVale McGee could return to the starting lineup in this matchup – but I would expect them to use that as their trump card.
With that in mind, Jamal Murray might be the superior fantasy option for the Nuggets in this series. He was able to pick up the slack vs. the Jazz when Jokic was struggling in a tough matchup vs. Rudy Gobert. He averaged 31.6 points per game in that series and shot 55.0% from the field and 53.3% from 3-point range.
The Lakers are an excellent defensive team, but they don’t have an obvious answer for Murray defensively. Avery Bradley saw the most possessions against him during the regular season, but he opted out of the Orlando restart. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green both figure to get plenty of reps in that matchup, but Murray torched them for a ridiculous 75% field goal percentage in those matchups.
This salary range looks thinner than usual on today’s slate, so don’t be afraid to load up on a stars-and-scrubs approach. Only one player priced between $4,000 and $10,000 on DraftKings is currently projected for a positive Plus/Minus in our NBA Models.
That player is Rajon Rondo, who has been an excellent fantasy asset since rejoining the Lakers’ rotation. He posted a positive Plus/Minus in all five games vs. the Rockets, and he scored at least 37.25 DraftKings points in three of those contests. Rondo stands out in particular on DraftKings, where he’s just the 10th-most expensive option at $5,400. He’s priced as the fifth-most expensive option on FanDuel, so he’s a much tougher player to roster on that site.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to monitor his status before locking him into your lineup. He’s currently listed as questionable with back spasms, so make sure to utilize the Labs Insiders tool for any updates.
Michael Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant both have some appeal on the Nuggets side of things. MPJ has excellent offensive ability when on the court, although he hasn’t really put that on display recently. Still, he’s averaged 1.15 DraftKings points per minute this season, and the Nuggets might decide they need his offense in this series.
Grant is the safer bet for minutes. He’s logged at least 31 in five of his past six games, and he’s averaged 0.80 DraftKings points per minute this season.
Both players are excellent values on FanDuel, where each owns a Bargain Rating of at least 93%.
Punts & Values
These are the players who typically decide these contests. It may not feel comfortable to roster someone who isn’t projected for a ton of minutes, but history suggests that it’s the easiest way to find yourself at the top of the leaderboard. These plays typically command lower ownership than the mid-tier guys, so they allow you to differentiate your lineup without sacrificing the high-end stud production.
Let’s break down some of the top options in this range rapid-fire style:
- Alex Caruso: $4,000 on DraftKings, $8,500 on FanDuel – Caruso has become an important part of the Lakers’ rotation, and he’s logged at least 23.6 minutes in each of his past four games. He’s also one of the best producers in this price range on a per-minute basis.
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: $3,000 on DraftKings, $7,000 on FanDuel – This is a pretty cheap price tag for someone who plays as much as KCP. He’s currently projected for 27.6 minutes in our NBA Models, which is the top mark for any player priced below $6,400 on DraftKings.
- JaVale McGee: $2,000 on DraftKings, $7,000 on FanDuel – McGee could definitely return to the starting lineup after playing eight minutes or fewer in each of the final four games vs. the Rockets. The Nuggets play a really large lineup with Jokic, Grant, and Paul Millsap, and Davis prefers to play PF instead of C. McGee has averaged 1.15 DraftKings points per minute this season, so even something like 12 minutes would make him a viable option at this salary.
- Mason Plumlee: $1,800 on DraftKings, $6,000 on FanDuel – If you want to get really wild, Plumlee should check in with virtually no ownership on this slate. That said, there is a scenario where he plays a few additional minutes to try and slow down AD. Plumlee has averaged 1.15 DraftKings points per minute this season, so he’s a similar play to McGee but with far less ownership.
Pictured above: Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets
Photo credit: Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images