Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  April 9, 2009

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball
Records: Lakers 62-16 (1st in West) Nuggets 53-26 (2nd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.5 (3rd in league) Nuggets 110.6 (5th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.5 (5th in league) Nuggets 106.6 (8th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nuggets Billups, Dahntay Jones, Melo, Renaldo Balkman, Nene

Live Blog Tonight Bynum’s back, statement game, plenty of Charles to make fun of. Sounds like a good night for a live blog, so come back here at 7:30 and we will be chatting. There’s even a possible appearance by President Obama. (Well, it’s possible, it’s not like we’d turn him away.)

Lakers And Bynum. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, so suddenly this game feels like Christmas. Andrew Bynum is back and ready to take is rightful position as a starter. The Lakers defense has been improved of late and if Bynum can provide some presence in the paint on that end of the floor, and grab some defensive rebounds that have been getting away, the Lakers will be that much tougher.

As Darius said:

I’m happy that Bynum is returning to the starting lineup. It restores Andrew and LO’s early season roles and (most importantly) gives us a true advantage against almost every team with Pau going back to PF. It also allows LO to return to his role as the leader of the second unit and hopefully turn all those minus’ on the +/- ledger of the bench to pluses.

The Nuggets Coming In: It’s interesting to watch the jockeying for position in the Western Conference — the goal seems to be to avoid the Lakers as long as possible. Dallas was playing with that kind of fire last night, certainly.

The best way to do that is to be the number two seed — by then you would face the Lakers in the conference finals. And that is a lifetime from now, things could theoretically look different. Some bloggers are writing lengthy screeds rationalizing about how some team could beat the Lakers, but nobody wants to put that theory to the test soon.

This is a big game for a Nuggets team — a win here would almost certainly get them the two seed. What they want to avoid is having to win on the final night of the season in Portland to secure the standing. Also, there is that not-to-be-discounted “See, we can beat the Lakers” psychology in play.

Denver has won eight straight. And it’s because they’ve become a pretty good defensive team. And while they may lack a traditional center (ala Bynum or Shaq) they do have some quality bigs, who are key.

I’ll let Kevin from Clipperblog break it down (from a recent post):

The Nuggets’ frontcourt rotation is composed of legitimate big men — Nene, Kevin Martin, Chris Andersen, and Renaldo Balkman. They don’t engage in a lot of small ball, despite what their 5th ranked pace number might suggest. At times, Linas Kleiza will assume the 4 spot in the second unit, particularly with Martin still recovering from a back injury, but they generally have two big bodies out there at the 4 and 5.

Along with Chauncey Billups, these bigs are a primary reason the Nuggets rank 8th in defensive efficiency. On Thursday night, they held Utah to a mere 104 points in 107 possessions. X’s & O’s of Basketball watched the game, and illustrates Denver’s effective pick-and-roll defense. Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company made some similar observations a few weeks back….
There’s no question that S/R defense is the linchpin of any NBA defense, but X’s & O’s reveals a point that often goes unsaid: The two guys defending that action are vital, but the three guys covering the rest of the floor are just as important to a defensive stop.

The only problem for the Nuggets tonight — the Lakers don’t live and die off the pick and roll.

Keys To The Game: This game matters to the Lakers because they have a schedule-makers loss tomorrow night. A late game, with national television time outs to drag it out, in LA then fly up to Portland for a game the next night against a good team in a great environment. There are games you look at when the schedule comes out and think there is a plot against your team. That is one of those games. So the Lakers need the win tonight.

The Lakers have had great success taking Carmelo Anthony out of his game, which is one reason the Lakers have had such success against them. Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company breaks it down:

During the four game playoff series against LA last season Carmelo shot 32 of 88 for a disastrous 36.3%. He has somehow managed to top that performance this season shooting 14 for 51 in the three games against the Lakers this season which equates to 27.5%. Overall in his last seven games against the Lakers Melo has only made 46 of his 139 attempts equaling a shooting percentage of 33.1%.

The Lakers do a great job of pressuring Melo and then providing help as a team. It is comical to think of players like Vlad Radmanovic (now with Charlotte) and Luke Walton frustrating Melo, but they have thanks to the team concept the Lakers’ utilize to slow Melo down. Radmanovic and Walton will get right up under Carmelo which takes away his jumper and his jab step and shoot midrange game. When Melo drives, they ride him into a position where they know help is waiting. It is simple, but effective and also somewhat illegal. The Lakers get away with a lot of contact on Melo when he drives and I am sure the Nuggets have sent footage of it to the league. If the refs continue to allow it, Melo will have his work cut out for him. Instead of forcing bad shots Melo needs to use the swarming defense against the Lakers and look to earn easy shots for his teammates


While the Nuggets play at a fast pace, they are not a great transition defensive team. And now they are on the second night of a back-to-back (OKC last night). The Lakers can run on the Nuggets and should push the pace. But do it wisely (Jordan, I’m looking at you).

The Lakers need to take care of the ball — the Nuggets defense is all about steals and blocks then turning that into easy transition points. Time to “fake a pass to make a pass” using some back-cuts and interior passing.

The Nuggets, because they have so many athletes, tend to switch off just about every pick. That can lead to mismatches and the Lakers need to recognize and exploit those.

George Karl’s MO in the past was to double Kobe early and often, get the ball out of his hands and make anyone else beat them. If they do that tonight Kobe has to be the willing passer and guys like Gasol and Odom could be big beneficiaries.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start on TNT. And by 7:30 and TNT I really mean 7:45 at best. Then a three-hour game thanks to extended TV timeouts. But at least we will all be sure to know when the season finale of Saving Grace airs.