Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  April 9, 2007

Things I once thought impossible. The Lakers really miss Kwame. I say that not to pile on Bynum, but the young man has hit a stagnation point in his development. I think he’ll over come it, but he hurts us now. His mistakes are often those of inexperience, those of not recognizing the play or making the smart decision. Remember he has been force-fed this season, it was a year Bynum was expected to play 10-15 a game learn at a comfortable pace. Instead, he had to learn in a starting role and the lessons are more painful. For an example, we pick up the action with 7:12 left in the game against the Suns, Kobe has just backed down and knocked down Raja Bell in the post and cut the Suns lead to four, 85-81.

Nash pushes the ball up after the make and Barbosa dives at the hoop, but both Smush and Bynum (in the paint) get back so Nash pulls the ball back out the left wing beyond the three-point line. Marion comes out and sets a soft pick, which Smush easily goes over but Odom, trying to prevent another open three like the Lakers have been giving up, hedges out hard. Nobody goes with Marion on the roll. Now here is the subtle beauty of Nash exposing Bynum’s inexperience — when he pushed the ball up hard Bynum ran back to defend the basket, then as Nash settled into the play Bynum had to avoid the defensive three seconds so he goes to his man (Thomas) who is hanging out at the three point line beyond the top of the key. Now, when Nash goes around his pick then quickly swings the ball to the open Marion, Bynum both doesn’t recognize what happened for a second (so he keeps walking out to the top of the key and not out to his right) and is going the wrong direction when he finally does. Bynum can’t recover to stop the Marion dunk without fouling. Two free throws later, 87-81.

And looking ahead. Kwame is not expected to suit up tonight, but he will come playoff time. Which leads to this question: Is Turiaf your first center off the bench in the playoffs, with Bynum’s minutes cut back? It may depend on matchups, Turiaf played well against the Suns but would the Lakers want Bynum’s length against the bigger Spurs? Something to think about, because you know Phil is.

More painful than Bynum that in the Suns loss.
All the open threes for the Suns. I quoted another blog before the game saying you want to make the Suns two-point shooters, well against the Lakers they shot 45.2% on twos and 45.5% on threes. Way too many quality looks.

Here’s a recap of a coupe of the good looks the Suns got with the game still in doubt.

5:28 left, Lakers down six. The Suns have run the offense but nothing developed so far, down to eight seconds on the shot clock. Nash has got the ball out well above the three-point line. He blows by Smush without needing a pick set and gets into the lane, and literally all five Lakers collapse on him. The Suns, as they do so well, have spread the court and Nash has his choice of guys to pass to, he chooses Marion in the corner (Odom’s man, but he’s in the paint). Smush makes a lame runout but Marion has time to really set his feet and get a good look. He just misses.

5:08 left, it’s the next trip down for the Suns and a fast break after Mo Evans misses a fade away in the lane. Nash gets the board but he’s not even taken two steps before he gets the ball to speedy Barbosa out at the half court line. Barbosa weaves into the lane but both Kobe and Evans are back and pick him up. Meanwhile Raja Bell runs to a spot on the wing just beyond the three-point line. The Lakers trailing the play (Smush, Odom and Bynum) make a beeline for the paint and ignore the guy setting up. Barbosa gets caught in the air but because nobody has even gone into the vague vicinity of Bell there is an outlet for the out-of-control Barbosa. Of course, Bell buries the three. Lakers down nine.

I bring up the threes because… The Nuggets shot 50% from three-point range last week, and they can do that and more if the Lakers defend the line like they did against the Suns. The Nuggets can’t have another monster night from three if the Lakers are to win.

Defending the Nuggets. The Lakers have not done this well the last couple of meetings between these two, but to be fair it’s not that easy. One of the Nuggets favorite plays is to have Nene set the high screen for Iverson, then rather than just roll to the basket he rolls to the left block to set another screen for Melo on the same side of the court. Now two of the best scorers in the league have been screened on the same side of the court, and unless you are very good at defensive rotations there are openings to exploit.

We’ll see if the Lakers can play 48 minutes of team defense tonight.

Smush time?
In the last meeting with Denver, the Lakers held the lead late but the Nuggets went on a late run — a run that started when Smush re-entered the game. It was a bad defensive game for Smush and after that is when he started getting benched in the fourth because of his defense and attitude. So, tonight do we see more Farmar?

Bottom line: Huge game tonight, both in terms of playoff seedings but more importantly confidence going into the playoffs. The Lakers need some of that, and tonight is a good place to start building some.