Game Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  January 21, 2008

Records: Lakers 26-12 (5th seed); Nuggets 24-15 (4th seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (6th); Nuggets 109.4 (14th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (7th); Nuggets 105.3 (6th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown
Nuggets: Allan Iverson, Anthony Carter, Linas Kleiza, Carmelo Anthony, Marcus Camby

Yes, the records and seedings are right: If the playoffs started today, the Lakers and Nuggets would meet in the first round. The Nuggets would have the higher seed — as the leaders of their division they can be no lower than fourth — however the Lakers, with their better record, would have home court advantage.

Lakers Notes: As some backup at center, the Lakers signed 7-0 big body DJ Mbenga to a 10-day contract today. This is a solid 10-day pickup, a guy who can provide some defense and depth — he averaged 2.5 blocks per 40 minutes his last year in Dallas and is a decent help defender. He is not a great rebounder for his height but he will get some boards. He will give us no offense. But rather than taking a big risk, the Lakers are playing it smart and seeing if DJ can provide a patch for a week or two until Mihm gets back.

Now, on to the injury report. I’m not a doctor, but I play one on this blog.

Trevor Ariza broke his fourth metatarsal bone in his foot. The metatarsals are the five long bones in the forefoot which connect the ankle bones to those of the toes. The fourth one is the for the toe next to the little toe. Healing depends on the severity of the break, but recovery lasts four to eight weeks. So, expect Bynum and Ariza to be back about the same time.

Chris Mihm is also a couple weeks away. Bynum is out. It would be nice if Radmanovic can play as he torched the Nuggets last meeting. And I just got carpal tunnel typing up the Lakers injuries.

The Nuggets Coming In: Denver’s isolation basketball that relies on Iverson and Melo continues to work pretty well — they are 6-4 in their last 10. Melo has four double-doubles this month (the stat, not the In-N-Out burger) and Iverson consistently leads the team in scoring. Linas Kleiza has had some hot games of late (he had 41 a couple games ago) being the open spot up guy with two other slashers who draw the attention. Read more about him from David Thorpe in an interview at True Hoop.

It is really Marcus Camby that makes the Nuggets work, however. Without his great backstopping defense in the paint the Nuggets would try to get in a shootout every night, but Camby can take away the paint (Bynum had just two points against him last meeting) and that forces other teams into more jump shots than they would like. The result is one of the better records in the West.

Last Time These Two Met: Back on Dec. 5 Alan Iverson put up 51, Melo had 26 and the Lakers still won, thanks to 15-5 run to end the game. While the Nuggets are a good defensive team the Lakers shot 53.6% (eFG%) for the game. Vladamir Radmanovic was a key part of that, hitting 6 of 9 three pointers on his way to 21 points on a sharp-shooting night for him.

In the first meeting of the year, the Lakers sported the Nuggets a 17-point lead by turning the ball over every chance they got. But when they took care of the ball they took care of the game and won.

Keys To The Game: If you were going to be without your high-scoring center for a game, this is not a bad one — he wasn’t going to score a ton against Marcus Camby, one of the best defensive centers in the game. (Last meeting Bynum had just two points against Camby.)

In part tonight depends on what Nuggets team shows up — when focused on defense and moving the ball on offense they are one of the best teams in the NBA. But that team only shows up sporadically, sometimes for just a quarter or less. No way of predicting this squad.

One thing the Nuggets are starting to get is play from their bench. In the first two Lakers win against the Nuggets the bench was key — it was Farmar and Bynum off the pine that started to turn the first meeting around, last game it was some key players off the bench that ensured the Lakers win (although the starters did a lot of damage). The depleted Lakers bench needs to find a way to step up tonight because J.R. Smith and others have started to step up more for the Nuggets lately.

This needs to be a big night for Kwame and Turiaf — the Nuggets are a team that likes to drive the lane, and in the process get a lot of fouls. Iverson and Melo can get by anyone outside (best to make them shoot from there if possible) but the Lakers need to block and alter some shots without fouling.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). We get a choice here in LA between the Fox Sports broadcast and the national TNT version. But, if you live in Boise, you’re stuck with Chuck (and a lot of “fav five” commercials).