At this point I think itâ€™s okay for us fans do a little looking ahead (not the players â€” they need to keep their eyes on game 4). And do a little scoreboard watching. It almost certainly is Lakers/Utah in the next round, and weâ€™ll get into the matchups more later this week. (Although, in the comments some of you seem dismissive of Utah â€” I think you underestimate how good D Williams is and, more importantly, how physical Boozer and Millsap are in the paint and how well AK-47 is playing right now. And how those things are matchup problems for LA. This is not Denver, it is a team to fear.)
But the things to focus on today are rest and recovery â€” any series against Utah is likely to start Sunday at the Staples Center (according to Ross Siler out of the Salt Lake Tribune). Whether the Lakers win tonight or at home Wednesday, they should get plenty of rest and time in the film room before game one (although a win today is better). However, tomorrow night Lakers fans should be Rockets fans â€” if Houston can extend the series one game Utah will have to play the Rockets Friday night then turn around and play the Lakers Sunday. That would be a nice advantage.
On to tonightâ€™s matchup â€” Denver will come out hungry and energetic, I think early on we will see more fire out of them (especially considering what was said after the last game). Two thoughts on that: 1) A motivated Denver likely means AI and Carmelo trying to do more on their own on offense, which will fall apart over time (unless one has one of those unstoppable games); 2) Once the Lakers make a run they need to keep their foot on the gas â€” this Nugget team can be demoralized. Obviously.
Keys for the Lakers are not fuel Denverâ€™s early fire with turnovers and a fast pace. Do what has worked all series. The Lakers must to continue to play smart basketball against Denverâ€™s isolation offense (you can see a great explanation of what they are doing at The Xs and Os of Basketball blog).
I have stopped thinking too much about this series, to be honest. Yesterday I spent a great afternoon at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (where I was lucky enough to run into and talk with Jon of Dodger Thoughts â€” in front of the childrenâ€™s stage, of course). The Lakers barely entered my mind, because there is nothing left to really worry about in this round.
There is nothing Denver can do to stop this train â€” yes for one night AI and Melo could get hot and overwhelm the Lakers. But you just know the series is over, and with the makeup of this current Denver team they are far more likely to roll over than rise up tonight. So long as the Lakers don’t give them any reason to believe.