On Tap: The Denver Nuggets

 —  March 24, 2005

When the Lakers season comes to an end — and without a win tonight that will be April 20th for sure — the first priority needs to be deciding on a team philosophy/hiring a coach that fits that mold.

This year’s Lakers have been rudderless on offense and apparently never had a plan defensively. They have had enough talent to overcome this on offense — they are still seventh in the league in offensive efficiency at 105.1 points per 100 possessions — although they have rarely looked smooth. However, on defense they are 27th in the NBA (106.1) and, after watching the last few games, it’s hard to believe they are ranked that high.

I keep saying the Lakers need a direction, a leader, a team philosophy coming from a powerful head coach first, then they can go get players to fit his system. The right head coach can turn a team around.

Case in point: The Denver Nuggets. When Jeff Bzdelik was fired in early January the Nuggets scored 98.6 points per 100 possessions. In the last 10 games under George Karl, that has been 111.1. Under the old regime the Nuggets were letting other teams shoot 49.3% (eFG%) against them (25th in the league at the time). In the last 10 games that is down to 44.8%.

The result is the Nuggets are 9-1 in their last 10 and 12-1 in the last 13. They are solidly entrenched as the eighth seed in the West and are more likely to move up to seventh than fall out.

For the Lakers to keep their slim playoff hopes alive and pick up a win on the road, a lot of things are going to have to happen. And those things are going to have to happen without Lamar Odom, who will sit out a third consecutive game and likely will be on the IR within a few days.

As you would expect from a lineup that includes Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby, Denver gets a lot of its points inside — 39% of their shots come from inside 15 feet, a very high percentage (for comparison, the Miami Heat, with Shaq inside and Dwayne Wade penetrating, get 38% of their shots inside 15 feet). While all three are dangerous, in the last 10 the hottest of those three has been Camby (according to Doug’s Stats rankings) because not only is he scoring he’s blocking 3.4 shots a game and getting 1.5 steals per game. Camby’s 17.77 PER is the highest on the team this season.

What hurt the Nuggets early in the season is the loss of their only consistent outside scoring threat, Voshon Lenard. While Andre Miller has been solid at the point for them, watch for Earl Boykins (his PER of 17.54 is second on the team) and Wesley Person (who is shooting 58.5% eFG% in the last 10.

For the Lakers to hang in this they should play a lot of zone and pack it tight to help down low — force the guards to beat you from the outside. Also, Chris Mihm is going to have to overcome his sore back and have a big game — and stay out of foul trouble.

The reasonable among us don’t think the Lakers playoff chances are really a chance at all — they aren’t just 4.5 games back of Denver, they are really 5.5 games out of the playoffs because the Nuggets hold the tiebreaker — but some in the Laker organization are not ready to give up. If they lose tonight they should. Then we should start to see some lineup changes starting Sunday.