Lakers/Nuggets Preview

Kurt —  May 18, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets in Denver
Due to time constraints (and the fact I like sleep) I’m not going to do the big two-part breakdown of the Lakers/Nuggets series that I did for the previous two. Instead, one long post filled with a host of thoughts.

• Don’t confuse this Denver team with the Nuggets that the Lakers swept last season, or even the team that the Lakers beat in the regular season. The Nuggets come in hot, having steamrolled their first two opponents and no doubt the franchise is playing the best ball it has in decades. But as we’ve been saying, the NBA is all about matchups, especially in a seven game series — and both Dallas and New Orleans are terrible matchups against Denver. So far the center’s they have had to face are Tyson Chandler and Eric Dampier. The two power forwards — David West and Dirk Nowitizki — are good but have an allergic reaction to the paint. This round will be a lot more interesting.

• To me, the biggest key for the Lakers is Andrew Bynum. The Lakers need his defense in the paint (as seen in game seven). They will really need his rebounding as the Nuggets will turn defensive rebounds into transition baskets, making them commit to the boards can slow that.

And as Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company pointed out, Bynum on the court creates much tougher matchups for Denver — Bynum’s size and length will be hard for Nene to match. Kenyon Martin’s physical style has had some impact on Gasol this season, but Gasol still averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds. Gasol also can attack Martin in more ways in the post than Dirk could, and expect the Lakers to go with that.

For the Lakers to win, they need to control the paint and the boards. That means that they need Bynum. That also means the Lakers need to get him a couple of good offensive touches in a place he can score from early in the game — everything with Bynum is about confidence. When he makes an early play and gets an early basket, things flow for him. If he picks up silly fouls he never quite gets he head screwed on right again. The Lakers will be counting on the good Bynum.

• The second biggest factor will be fouls and if the Lakers can draw them. Over the course of the season, the Rockets were 2nd in the league in fewest fouls to field goal ratio. They were particularly careful not to foul Kobe despite playing him physically — the result is the Lakers did not get a lot of easy points.

The Nuggets, on the other hand, fouled fifth most in the league. They will hack inside — you can call that physical if you want. The Lakers have to: 1) Realize they are not going to get all the calls they want, stop whining to the refs and play through it; 2) Make the Nuggets pay at the free throw line. That we did see in matchups between the teams this year.

The Nuggets have K-Mart and Nene, with Chris “Birdman” Andersen coming off the bench (and coming from the weakside for the block) but that is about it with quality post defenders. If the Lakers can get one or more in foul trouble, the matchups really swing for Los Angeles.

• Fouls leads right into another key matchup — K-Mart on Gasol. Dirk had some big nights against K-Mart, but he is also a very different player than Gasol. Pau will be in the post and Darius talks about that matchup.

We just played a team that refused to foul. Can Denver do the same? Pau struggles against Hayes and Perkins’ types, but Martin is not in that mold.. Sure he’ll battle, but he’s also a reacher and a guy that goes for blocks. Martin is also a guy that can get frustrated and give a hard foul to send a “message”. But if he’s wasting any fouls in this series, it will come back to bite him as I don’t see the depth outside of their three bigs to play with us if they foul at the rates that they have against us during the regular season. Martin must play without fouling and he must keep his head. If he doesn’t, Birdman plays extended minutes. And while he played well against Dirk, Gasol is not a jumpshooting big that is trying to play 18 ft and in.

• Kobe is going to have more room to operate this series. The Nuggets have talked about Dahntay Jones as a get-under-your-skin defender who will draw the primary assignment on Kobe (JR Smith and maybe Kenyon Martin maybe). Jones did a good job on Chris Paul in the first round. But he allowed two shooting guards to shoot 59% (eFG%) and had a PER of 19.

Again, this is a matchup thing. Jones is the kind of defender who uses his athleticism to bother the man he’s guarding, but that tends not to be the kind of guy who is effective on Kobe. Stronger defenders (ala Battier) are. Kobe has gotten his in the past against Denver and will again.

And that’s probably going to be okay with Denver. I expect Denver to treat Kobe the way they did Nowitzki — not a lot of doubles, let him get his points, but don’t let him start involving teammates. The other Lakers need to step up to challenge that strategy.

• Carmelo Anthony has been playing some of the best ball of his career in the playoffs, scoring and getting the ball moving to teammates when the defense adjusts. But, he has struggled against the Lakers. Darius will take it from there.

Over the past couple of seasons he just hasn’t played that well against us. Rad gave him problems, Ariza is a guy that can take away his quick first step, and Luke is a guy that will battle him on the block and at least try real hard. So, can Melo break through? All those questions aside though, I really can’t say enough about this guy. He’s not the physical freak like Lebron or Wade and he’s not the maniacally focused player like Kobe, but this guy is really damned good. His offensive game has no holes and if he gets it going he can put up 20 point quarters and wreck a defense. I actually think our SSZ is built for a guy like Melo though, so I hope to see us trap him and give him tough looks by funneling him to our bigs. He loves the mid block and he loves to isolate on the wing, so I hope we can effectively double team him within our normal scheme and still recover to shooters like Smith and Billups.

• There’s been a lot of talk on this site and other places about how much of a better matchup Chauncey Billups is for the Lakers than Aaron Brooks. In terms of style, yes, he is — Billups is not a lightning quick slasher ala Paker or Jameer Nelson. And we know how the Lakers struggled with those guys. But Billups also is one of the best point guards in the game and if you don’t think he can damage Fisher and the Lakers, you don’t remember 2004.

Kwame a. takes it from there:

Billups has been attacking the cup in the playoffs: Billups has been reinvigorated himself in these playoffs. In the ’06, ’07, and ’08 playoffs Billups faded in the later rounds. These playoffs I’ve seen him do something he hasn’t done much since the Pistons made back to back finals in ’04 and ’05 — attack the basket. Last series against the Mavs, Billups used his great ability to change his tempo to get into the lane off the high screen and roll. Billups was able to get the 10-12 foot pull-up that he is quite proficient at. He also got to the cup and was finishing with his great strength. Last, he was able to collapse the defense and find open men, either under the hoop for layups, or on the wings/corners for 3 balls.

Billups isn’t a speedster, but what he does better than most PG’s is make the right decisions. He has great strength, great change of pace and can control a game both by scoring and by distributing (something Brooks cannot do). Billups has less of a speed advantage against Fish, but it would be foolish to think that Fish is doing cartwheels at the idea of guarding the guy that won a Finals MVP against him 5 years ago.

• One potential big problem for the Lakers in this series is JR Smith coming off the Denver bench. Darius likes JR’s game:

He’s the ultimate wildcard and he’s the type of player that will give Sasha problems. Essentially, this isn’t some Von Wafer or Kyle Korver here, this guy can play. I don’t see Sasha’s pressure bothering him at all. He’s not only athletic, but he’s got a good handle and will hit from deep but will take it to the basket. We’ve seen this guy go at Kobe, so we know he’s not intimidated by anyone. if he’s making his shots he can win a game by himself. We must try to keep him under wraps – he’s that dangerous to us and is that big a boost to Denver.

• Turnovers will be key, or more specifically not having them. Both teams are loaded with athletes and like to get out and run and finish well in transition. If one team is coughing up the ball a lot, it is going to be hard to win. That simple.

• A few suggestions on places to get information on this series. First, for the Nuggets, I have long been a big fan of Jeremy at Roundball Mining Company and you will learn a lot reading his site. (Also, come by Wednesday afternoon for a live chat with Jeremy and myself.)

Also for the Nuggets, there is Pick Axe & Roll, as well as Nuggets Nuggetz.

For the Lakers, there are a lot of great blogs, but you will get a lot of great video and insight from the Brothers K over at the LA Times, and Silver Screen and Roll is doing great work.

• As we have done with every preview some final thoughts from Kwame a.

Denver is playing their best ball: Like any coach would hope for, George Karl’s boys are playing their best ball of the year. They finished the regular season ranked 7th in Offensive Efficiency and 8th in Defensive Efficiency. Those numbers aren’t too shabby, and it is primarily due to Chauncey Billups bringing a disciplined approach to an offense that was good, but rudderless with A.I and replacing Marcus Camby’s woeful PnR defense with a combination of Nene and Chris Anderson (I refuse to call that dude by his nickname). In the playoffs they are 1st in Offensive Efficiency (at whopping 118.5- the Cavs are 2nd with a 111.9) and 4th in Defensive Efficiency at 101.3. They have had the luxury of playing two teams that didn’t match-up great with them, but they did what they have clearly come together as a team at the right time.

3 other Keys: 1) Make Melo a scorer. Against the Mavs I was very impressed by Melo’s ability to get other people good shots. One of the other reasons the Nuggets offense has been absurdly good this post-season is Melo. He has all the moves inside the 3-point line: face up jumper, post moves, ability to drive to the hole. When he is hitting the 3 ball and passing to open teammates, the Nuggets will score 115 with ease. I think if we can keep Melo to a scorer, it will be harder for the Nuggets to get everyone involved. Ariza and Luke will be the key to this, as well as Drew/Pau who will have to be able to show and recover (Nene is a better player than Hayes and must be accounted for). 2) Make Billups work on D: Here is where Fish (and Shannon Brown) can really help us this series. Forcing Billups to play defense will tire him out, and over the last couple years, he has lost steam at this point in the playoffs. 3) Rotation: I would like to see Phil find a rotation against the Nuggets early in the series and for him to stick with it.

Kurt

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109 responses to Lakers/Nuggets Preview

  1. I am gonna make this very simple. Whoever hits the first shot will win the game today.

  2. This is for you Warren, 1st post, for good luck, right?

  3. Feed the big boys!!
    Don’t get bullied!!
    Kobe get to the line!!

  4. The only thing that I would add is coaching. Adelman was great against the Lakers. He generally out-coached Phil Jackson in the last series.

    By contrast, there is something about Karl’s coaching approach that is a little less anchored.

    I could see this being a good matchup for Jackson. :-)

  5. kudos kurt! i really thought you gave much thought to this post but man you are blogger par excellence!

    just as jr smith (man i think he can be a star someday, we need one of these guys to anchor our bench in a dynasty run…at least the talented and focused version of him) is a wildcard, so is…as before, lamar. there is no one in denver or in any other team that can contain him and as proof in game 6 and 7, he can outplay his man. i don’t think birdman, melo or martin will stop this gifted man. once more, he knows it. we need him to sustain the offensive production should either kobe, pau, drew or a combination of those have off nights. when he’s shouting as he attacks the rim, i’ll know he’s on.

    denver’s suprises off the bench and their bench overwhelming ours is another scary proposition. that said, ariza, luke and jordan (sasha a bonus) have to provide steady play. man, not even explosive play, just keep the lakers floating and not to blow big leads.

    i expect phil to be calm again and with less words to spare.

    GO LAKERS!

  6. Lakers in 7, Cleveland in 7. Those are my picks; if you want to see my reasoning, go to my blog which is in my name.

    As for the Lakers, I don’t think we’re making a big enough deal about Lamar Odom’s injury. How hurt is he exactly? He wasn’t even half of his usual self in the last few games against Houston, and this series is one where he could give us some real matchup advantages, like catching passes when Birdman Andersen leaves to help.

    I think JR Smith and Von Wafer are very similar players. Both can drive when they put their mind to it; both are crazy good shooters. Both have somewhat mediocre ball-handling skills, and both are extremely tempermental. If Sasha can get under JR’s skin, I think we will have a huge advantage.

    I think Kobe’s lackluster defense will be much more tolerable now that he’ll be marking Dahntay Jones, who is not much of a scorer. I just pray that Fisher will be able to body up to Billups. This will be a series where it will be good to see more Shannon Brown, since he’s bigger than Farmar and will probably be able to foul Billups a lot less than Farmar would, considering Billups is so good from the free throw line.

    If we crash the boards hard, we will win. Denver loves to get out in transition, and if we force them into tough rebounds, we’ll be getting second shots and knocking their offense off-balance. Our bigs needs to hit the glass with a mission, because offensive rebounding leads to better offense and better defense in this case.

    Here’s to hoping we carry over the Game 7 intensity into Game 1 tonight.

  7. Expect the Lakers to pound the ball inside?

    I’m not sure if we are rooting for the same Lakers here ;) That will probably happen just enough to annoy us fans who get to see how effective it is, and play the majority of the game hoisting pujits and long twos, as well as heat checking threes, especially when we’re down.

    Also, Billups can get past Fisher, and once there, he can fire passes that will make SSZ look silly. K-Mart has defended Kobe before and we may see some of that again this year to give Kobe different looks (instead of doubling him), so it’ll be up to Kobe to make the smart decision there instead of trying to school the opposing player.

    All in all though, I think this series hinges more on Odom than it does on anyone else. If we can have him lead the 2nd unit and have it become the force it was earlier this season, which I guess kinda means that Bynum has to perform as a starter too, then this will be over quickly.

    If we can’t get our 2nd unit to click, we’re in for a long series…

  8. I agree with you about billups. He may not have blazing speed but he’s still among the best in the game at his position.
    Still he doesn’t exposing a glaring weakness of ours. So billups play is already accounted for when sizing up the nuggets. He won’t be better than what we know him to be ala aaron brooks.

  9. Am I the only person who didn’t know the 2-3-2 Finals format was essentially Red Auerbach’s idea?

    It seems so dirty now.

    As far as this series, this preview is bang-on. I’ve been saying some of these things for weeks. Billups is a killer, he finds ways to exploit matchups; just because he’s not a speedster doesn’t mean he’s any less dangerous than a 2nd-year PG in Brooks. JR Smith is also dangerous. He’ll have games where he doesn’t have a huge impact, but we really don’t have a defender who can stay with him. Darius is dead-on, JR will blow by Sasha without any problems. I remember even Kobe having some problems with him in regular season games. We’ll actually have a better shot of slowing down Melo (with our history, maybe) than JR if he gets going.

    I’ll be keeping a close eye on Phil’s rotations. He drew some (deserved) criticism in the semifinals. I just can’t see Farmar playing big minutes with the defensive matchups in this series, but we’ll see. Lots of ShanWOW, please.

  10. Good preview. I agree that JR Smith is the X-factor (where did that phrase arise from?) for the Nuggets. He can score in bunches and when he gets it going he is almost impossible to stop. Same with Mello, but Mello you can account for; with Smith you never know what you are going to get. I think he is the player that scares me the most on this Denver team because you know what you are going to get from Mello and Billups.

    This series is not going to be a cake walk as some Lakers fans seem to think. This is the best team the Lakers have faced (same goes for Denver). If the Lakers play smart and exploit their favorable match ups: size inside, Kobe, and Odom (though I think Martin can probably guard Odom pretty well) then they should win.

  11. Crafty. That’s how I’ve been describing the danger Billups can cause against us the last 2 days. He’s going to have a big series on us.

    And it’s real simple for Melo. If he’s really turned this corner, it’s going to be a long series. I think he has.

    The question is who will have a big series for us?

  12. Along with Drew, I think one of the biggest keys to this series is going to be the defense of Sasha. If he can come off the bench and guard the offensive outbursts of JR Rider, er, Smith, then we can control their emotions and offense. Also, I think if we switch Kobe on to Melo and have him go into Olympic team D-Mode, the rest of the Lakers have enough fire power to beat the Nuggets in a tough 6 game series.

  13. I would love to see the Lakers take the air out of Denver tonight. While Billups has done an excellent job grounding this Nuggs team, I think they’re prone for self-doubt and meltdowns, unlike the zombie-esque Rockets–how do you get rid of those guys!?

    Recall the last LA-Denver game, where we jumped on them in the 3rd and they unraveled at the seems. Kurt’s right about this Denver team being different than the one a few weeks ago, but the only thing that’s changed is their confidence, something the Lakers can change with a big win.

    As a result, starting quick, both within games and the series, will be key. Denver’s playing with swagger and composure right now, something the Lakers can deflate with a couple big wins in LA.

    Prediction, if we win by double digits in Games 1 and 2, LA in 5. If we drop either 1 and/or 2, or allow Denver to keep it close, its going to be a very uncomfortable series.

  14. I’ll be at this one tonight, have to leave work early to get down there.

    This is going to be an incredibly interesting series. I think it has potential to be absolutely great (maybe not Chicago/Celtics great, but 2nd best of these playoffs) or incredibly odd (see Lakers/Rockets). Let’s hope our guys come out physical, focused, and hungry for what could be theirs in 8 games.

  15. Important update, game 3 is going to be a cage match between Kobe and Melo!

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=ap-nba-wweconflict&prov=ap&type=lgns

  16. One more thing, I love the talking-heads’ pointing to LA’s 1-1 record against the post-Billups Nuggs as evidence of parity between the teams. This just is not so.

    Recall that the loss in Denver was an extreme outlier. The Lakers got in to Denver at 4am the day of the game, after a 30 point beating of the Suns on TNT. In Denver, only hours later, they had the second-worst shooting night in franchise history (post MPLS.). All that and the game was still CLOSE (the final score does not reflect this, as the Lakers dropped 5 point on free throws in the final 2 minutes while attempting to stop the clock)!

    I dare Denver fans to take solace in that 1 victory (out of the last 12). That said, the Lakers cannot feed Denver’s false confidence with give away games like games 4 and 6 in Houston.

  17. I hope John Black is working hard to get all these media sound bites to Kobe.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=4178437

    The need to compare bugs me. How about we just enjoy 2 great players

  18. ESPN is the essence of player over team and they pick their players (see Michael Jordan) and build their image around them.

    The only problem is that teams win in the NBA – always have (see Boston Celtics in the 60′s).

    Our Lakers are a team. Let’s approach them in that manner and ignore the boneheads at ESPN.

  19. First, it is AndersEn. If you refuse to call him “Birdman”, at least spell his name correctly.

    Second, it is Melo…one L…as in Carmelo…. :o)

    Third, great match-ups all around…should be a great series…very much looking forward to it…24 years waiting…wow….

  20. A few things clearing out my inbox this morning:

    • Re: ESPN & Kobe/LeBron, I really despise the comparison thing and, without getting into details, I only entered the TrueHoop network discussion as a favor, and then only to say why do I have to chose and why do some think choosing one diminishes the other. But this is only going to get worse if the Finals are LA/Cleveland.

    • This made me laugh:

    http://thesportshernia.typepad.com/blog/2009/05/david-stern-tabs-enrico-pallazzo-to-ref-both-conference-finals.html

    • Tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1 pm here there will be a live chat with myself and Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company, sort of a Q&A with both our sites.

    • Few things piss me off more than my work computer crashing and not restarting and just being a piece of crap until the IT guy shows up, he starts it and it just runs fine.

    • For reasons I can’t explain other than it would make good basketball, I want Oklahoma City to win the lottery.

  21. Kurt a team with Griffin, Westbrook, Durant and Green would be pretty damn talented. I was kind of hoping they would win as well. Durant and Griffin would be two really good pieces to build around (just add the Defense).

  22. Yeah, Griffin on Oklahoma City and that’s something to build on. It’s interesting even though Beasley and Griffin had similar stats in college, I remember watching Beasley and wondering what the fuss was about, on the other hand Griffin to me plays like a super athletic version of Carlos Boozer.

    I’d be shocked if Griffin was an immediate 20-10 guy.

  23. True for Griffin on the Thunder, but as long as they get him or Rubio, they’ll increase my interest in them. For basketball’s sake, I just hope Rubio doesn’t slide into obscurity in Minnesota or Sacramento the way those teams are looking right now.

  24. I agree that Kobe’s help defense off Dahntay Jones will be key. The fact that he played good defense in the first two rounds was really a gift for us. Now they think they have a better matchup with Kobe, but they’re going to hurt themselves on offense. Kobe is great at roaming and helping.

  25. One other programming note: I am on the NBA Podcast on ESPN today, along with Jeremy. And I think he came off way better than I.

  26. Zephid – I disagree a little bit, I see JR Smith as essentially different from Von Wafer. Yes, they both shoot the three and drive, but so does half the league. Smith (at his best) is far better than Wafer. He’s far more explosive (not even Kobe could keep him in front of him, so Sasha doesn’t stand a chance), and he’s a better finisher in the lane. He’ll throw up some crazy Kobe-esque shots that have no business going in, and yet they’ll go in. I do agree Sasha may get under his skin just from being a pest, but whereas Sasha did a good job on Wafer, I can’t see him having too much success against Smith. His athleticism may give Sasha serious problems. Just my opinion, though.

    West, a member of the Lakers’ 1972 title team, said he does not think about how he would fare in today’s NBA but added, “I would be competitive, trust me.”

    He damn sure would be. West, from what I’ve heard of him, reminds me of Kobe in his killer attitude. There’s a reason MJ said the player he’d most like to play against is West. Jerry would tear the league up even today.

  27. An interesting thing to think about – a close game may actually favor the Nuggets. The stats show that Melo has been more clutch than Kobe or Lebron for a while, and Billups made a living off hitting big shots. They have 2 legitimate crunch time options.

    (I’m sure that statement will get slammed, but just putting it out there)

  28. yeah Snoopy I’d have to agree with you, Von is like a poor man’s JR. the guy defines the term “streak shooter”. I just remember the last game we played where Sasha played pretty good D before the end of the half on JR by anticipating and taking away his driving angles, yet JR just pulled up 4 feet beyond the arc and splashed the 3 to tie the game at the buzzer. Nothing you can do about that.

    His penchant to monopolize the offense reminds me of Artest’s – like Artest, JR is more than capable of pounding the shot clock away or making ill-advised turnovers.

  29. Interesting: Look at loser Celtics fans jumping ship:
    http://www.redsarmy.com/home/2009/05/welcome-to-issels-army.html

  30. I don’t want to take away from the great conversation here, but does anyone remember when the Mailman was on the WWE for some stupid Wrestlemanio or other pay-per-view?

  31. Oh. My. God.

    Shaquille O’Neal…is taking a course at Syracuse University known as Sportscaster U, a crash course designed to teach athletes about the broadcasting industry.

    “I’ve been an athlete that’s sort of in advance; always thinking,” O’Neal said Monday during a break in his studio work. “After basketball I’d love to have my own radio show, my own TV show.”

    I was waiting happily for his retirement. Do you realize what this means? We may never hear the end of Shaq. We might have to listen to his voice for the next forty years. What if he becomes a Lakers broadcaster?

    Is it possible to work in radio when you mumble everything?

  32. If OKC got either Griffin or Rubio, I think they would be quite terrifying in a couple years. I’m not so sold on Westbrook as a true point guard, so having a lineup with Rubio, Westbrook, Durant, Green, and Nameless Center X would be just as tantalizing as Westbrook, Sefalosha, Durant, Griffin, and Nameless Center X.

    Snoopy, I’ll agree with you that JR Smith is a much better version of Von Wafer, but they are by no means “essentially” different. They play the same position; it would make sense that they play similar styles. That being said, it would make sense that the same tactics that got Sasha into Wafer’s head would work on Smith, since they’re both hot-heads and they play similar styles. They both shoot, a lot. They are both underrated off the dribble. They are much more similar to one another than to Tim Duncan. I don’t see the disagreement.

  33. “I’ve been the type of person (and) the type of athlete, I don’t like to be given anything,” O’Neal said. “I like to earn.”

    Apparently, screaming “PAY ME!” at Jerry Buss in the stands of an exhibition game counts as “earning.”

  34. Not Charlie Rosen May 19, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Seems like we should all just listen to Kurt from now on, he’s on fire in these playoffs:

    http://myespn.go.com/blogs/truehoop/0-40-101/The-TrueHoop-Stat-Geek-Smackdown-Community-Leaderboard.html

  35. Coffee is For Closers May 19, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Agree with everyone worrying about JR Smith. If I were the nuggets, I’d be playing him a lot more than the CP3 stopper. JR Smith is going require a good team defense to slow him down, especially those times when he gets it going. He and Anderson are guys who really seem to elevate everyone around them (and the denver crowd) when they’re playing well, so its key to keep them as quiet as possible.

  36. 34 – Essentially was probably a bad choice of words. I meant effectively they are different, because while they may have some similarities in style, Smith is so much better that Sasha’s defense won’t slow him down. So “effectively” for the Lakers they’re different players because using the same defense against Smith that we used against Wafer won’t work, IMO.

    They’re dissimilar enough (in ability) that we can’t count on playing them the same way, I guess is all I’m trying to say. Wafer is very containable. Smith’s explosiveness off the dribble will require some extra help to slow him down, unless Sasha backs away from his jersey-clinging defense.

  37. 36. For the record, back when I had a bookie and bet sports, I was never, ever this accurate. I put his kid through college.

    35. You had to know Shaq would not go away quietly. But I had this conversation with someone the other day — look at how much weight Barkley and Magic and all these ex-athletes put on after they stop playing. What is going to happen to Shaq?

  38. *The X-factor is Smith’s temper and Sasha’s annoying-ness, of course. But from a basketball standpoint, Smith will destroy Sasha unless his head gets in the way.

  39. Kurt – liposuction. Or a reinforced Segway.

  40. #29 Snoopy,
    Maybe, but not by me. I still remember that Nuggets-Cavs game where Melo hit the game winner, and Lebron passed the ball rather than going for it, getting fouled, and making the free throws to win the game for his team. He was ripped a new one by his coach for that pass too, as well as by the media.

    I’m pretty sure I might have some of the details wrong, but I clearly remember the most important part: Lebron’s statline might have trumped Melo’s, but when it mattered and the game was on the line, Melo definitely came out as the better player.

    See, the thing people forget about thugs is that it takes genuine killer instinct to be a good one. ;)

  41. “67 Kurt Helin, Forum Blue and Gold”

    kurt, what are your picks for WCF/ECF?

  42. Glad to see Kurt representing FB&G at the top of the TrueHoop leaderboard.

    Also glad that I’m at 61 points and still ahead of Chris Broussard, Jalen Rose, and a full 10 points ahead of Tim Legler.

  43. Denver has probably the best screenroll defense in the league. With strong guards who can fight over screens and bigs with quick feet who show hard, they really bottled up Chris Paul.

    Having said that, against Dallas they were prone to one-on-one dribble penetration by Barea, who seemed to get in the lane with ease.

    The conclusion? Run the triangle, make the cuts and you should get open looks.

    Much like game 7, Kobe has to take it to the hole. He will get lanes and whether he makes the shot or not the Nuggets bigs are so quick to help and try to block the shot, the Lakers bigs should have no problems on the follow-up.

    If I were the Laker coaches, I’d be stressing:

    1. Take care of the ball (run the offense). Denver has thrived off turn-over fuelled runs.

    2. Pump fake, Pau. Pump fake, Lamar. The Denver bigs are shotblock happy and ripe to be put into foul trouble.

    3. If the Lakers get 2 consecutive stops, look for Chauncy on a pull-up 3. Guaranteed.

    4. Each and every Denver big has one move, which is a counter move. They take one dribble in one direction and pivot the other way. Its like they got the complete Pete Newell big man camp DVD, except the disc got stuck on the “Counter spin-move” section and in repeat play mode. Play for the counter and take position: charge.

    I like Sasha on JR. If Houston was Farmar’s redemption, will Denver be Sasha’s?

  44. I don’t think Sasha will be able to guard JR effectively (depends JR is very inconsistent). Depending on how the game is called, Sasha could get early fouls and not be able to play a lot of minutes and put the Lakers in early foul trouble.

    I like Ariza on Smith when he is in the game with the starters.. Put Kobe on Melo and Ariza on Smith

  45. j.d. Hastings May 19, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    I think its key for the lakers to start this series strong. Frustrate the Nuggets, who’ve grown accustomed to being the better team, and hopefully bring out some of the negativity in their collection of headcases. They have yet to show how they react to adversity, and I think that’s where having volatile personalities ends up costing you more. When things are going well, nobody rocks the boat.

  46. Oh men, i didnt know Grant has a young onset of Parkinsons. So sad

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/otl/news/story?id=4174877

  47. By the end of this series I want to see the Lakers frustrate Denver to such a degree that our old friends the Real Nuggets emerge from their recently-clad cloak of respectability and return to their old ways: jacking up terrible shots, not playing defense, glaring at each other, screaming at their coach, throwing towels, etc.

    I know the dark side of that team is lying dormant, ready to emerge again… all it will take is some efficient play, a 3-1 lead, and a little trash-talking by the skinny slovenian.

  48. Dwyer brings up a good point: we should look at Kobe’s FT count over the course of the game, hopefully he can put some over-eager Nuggets in foul trouble early.

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/blog/ball_dont_lie/post/Five-questions-for-the-Western-Conference-finali;_ylt=Ah4lADnU5wcp_dR8Z8k1uES8vLYF?urn=nba,164093

  49. Coffee is For Closers May 19, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    47. I agree with that. I know Chauncey is getting a lot of credit for this team’s new found poise, but I seem to remember the pistons not showing much in the ECF the last several years (though, then again, I’m not sure any team with Sheed on it is going to have its collective head on straight). That said, if Lakers can get up in this series, I want to see how karl, melo, kenyon and JR handle it. I think they’re front runners.

  50. 43. Cavs in 5, Lakers in 7.

    I simply do not believe in the Jameer-less Magic. With him this would be a very hard call, but I think without him they lack good slashing, and you can defend Howard and the three bombs. I should add I don’t think the Celtics were that good, so beating them doesn’t impress me.

    For the Lakers, it could go less 5 or 6 if they take care of the ball and exploit their matchups. But honestly, I’m not sold they are going to do that every night with the focus they need to. And Denver is very good. But I think things just favor the Lakers when all is said and done.

  51. Kurt,

    Sadly, its usually Laker’s fans that need the validation that Kobe is still the best player on the planet.

    This just isnt the case anymore and that’s OK; mostly because teams with the league’s best players dont always win championships take the last 2 finals appearances by the Laker’s for example.

  52. j.d. Hastings May 19, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Has anyone ever seen this before? Its the only thing I really know about Dahntay Kones. http://www.fannation.com/si_blogs/staff/posts/47162-si-players-nba-poll-which-nba-player-thinks-hes-a-lot-better-than-he-really-is

    Apparently other NBA players think he has an inflated opinion of his abilities. I assume that’s from talking a lot, right? I’m hoping that spells good things when he’s matched against Kobe, who should feel absolutely liberated this series compared to facing Battier-Artest for 7 straight games…

  53. j.d. Hastings May 19, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I think Orlando could absolutely beat the Cavaliers. The key for them is just to make sure Wally Szcerbiak gets all of Lebron’s minutes.

  54. @ 49.

    The reason that denver is so good is the same reason that Detroit is so bad.

    Allen Iverson simply destroys teams he plays for while Chauncey does that to teams he plays against. Phily, the Nuggets and the 2004 Dream Team are all examples of teams that improved upon his absence.

  55. - 52

    I couldn’t agree with Kurt more on both of those counts.

    And if Cleveland does make short work of the Magic, say a sweep or five-game win, the national media will have already crowned LeBron as the new NBA champion regardless of what happens with the Lakers and Nuggets.

    What people are largely overlooking is that the Cavs have (so far) drubbed two very questionable teams, and while Orlando is good, I don’t think beating them would prove anything more about the Cavs’ supposed greatness.

    If L.A. can get by Denver, the Lakers match up very well against Cleveland, so long as the refs don’t turn it into the 2000-era version of the Chicago Bulls where Jordan could do no wrong, and therefore had to have been “fouled” on damn near every possession at the end of a close game.

    If it becomes a LeBron free throw fest, where he simply runs into the lane and it’s an automatic foul on anyone who stood near him, God help anyone he plays.

    But before I worry about the refs blowing a series, I’m more worried about which version of the Lakers we’ll see vs. Denver.

  56. Will the game start at 9:00-9:10-ish (ET) or will there be a half hour pregame show first?

  57. I still think the key to this series will be the bench play. The Nuggets are not the Jazz and this Laker team will not be able to beat them on the strength of the starter’s alone – and that’s assuming our starters play well.

    This is going to be a great series. Go Lakers!

  58. 47. Thats all conjecture. If you want to see how a team is going to react then you do it after the first 4 games…. at this point 2 games have been played on the road as well as at home. Are the Lakers up 4-0, 3-1, tied at 2 a piece? Are they down 3-1 or swept?

    You gotta love the 7 game series. The best team (who can stay healthy) wins more often than not. Its less volatile than a one and out while having its own mystique and drama.

  59. Also, anyone going to the game tonight — there is a big American Idol thing at Nokia today/tonight (don’t know what, I don’t watch the show, but they were starting to set up Sunday when I left Staples). Get there early and expect traffic to be worse than normal.

  60. I’ve seen a couple people mention that they are shot block happy and that causes them to get in foul trouble but the bigger issue I see with this is that is opens up the Laker bigs for easy offensive rebounds. The subsequent dunks could give Bynum the confidence many of you have mentioned and also help Gasol get on a role (he has always killed the nuggets- even in Memphis) This has been an issue with Birdman all year and it is the reason I have always wanted Balkman to get more minutes.

  61. I’m trying to figure out how long it will take to get down to Staples from Calabasas, the traffic is always seemingly atrocious all the way until Studio City, but that’s at 5:30…

  62. I’m surprised no one’s yet mentioned putting Sasha on Carmelo for stretches. He can’t stop him, but he has managed at least twice to drive Carmelo totally insane (remember the choke?). He definitely needs a turn staying in front of him tonight, just to get Carmelo off his game.

  63. T34 I’m not going to try to predict the 101 freeway traffic, although a safe bet is crappy. But I now have talked to two people downtown who say the situation in terms of people is already bad and going to get much worse.

  64. Kurt – Keep killin’ ‘em in the Stat-Geek-Smackdown-Community Leaderboard!

    http://myespn.go.com/blogs/truehoop/0-40-101/The-TrueHoop-Stat-Geek-Smackdown-Community-Leaderboard.html

  65. Coffee is For Closers May 19, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    I hate the 6:00 starts, though the DVR sure helps. I just have to avoid sports radio and text msgs. I’ll get home at around 7:00, and probably catch up to real time around mid 3rd quarter. I’d rather watch it all live, but its not so bad FF’ing thru all the commericals, halftime and those ridiculous coach interviews.

  66. I talked to Desmond Mason the day before the regular season ended and he said Westbrook just doesn’t have the size to play anywhere but the point. I was asking because I wanted to know how likely it was Livingston will get more time on the court but the same concern applies to getting Rubio. You don’t waste talent like Russ’ by bringing in another great prospect at the same position. I think OKC would best be served by getting Griffin. If Sacto gets the #1 and OKC gets the #2, I could see OKC trading up using their #2 and some of the many 1st round picks in Presti’s pocket. I think Sacto needs to gather as much talent as possible and could use more picks to that end. Plus, I think Rubio is better suited for Sacto. Thompson is a real talent at the 4. Hawes mans the 5 nicely. I like Garcia getting 30 minutes a game at the 2 and 3 with Martin finding more open looks for his killer shot and open lanes to the basket. My $.02.

    As for the game… If the Lakers look like their are working hard and they don’t get called for ticky tack fouls, they should win. That said, it has been obvious that the Nuggs’ head was the only issue really keeping them from being an elite team. But, we can certainly take heart in the fact that talking heads are a fickle bunch. 8 months ago the Clippers were seen to have come away with a coup for having robbed Denver of Camby for nothing. Look where he Clips are and here we are playing the Nuggs in the Conference Finals. Look at how everyone picked us to win last year after dominating the playoffs, until we went to Boston. Look at how people were comparing the C’s to some of the all-time great teams until Christmas. Look at how everybody assessed the Lakers two summers ago. We just don’t know what is going to happen but we do know that talent, preparation and effort are the best indicators for success. If we see effort, we should get wins.

  67. Refs are Brothers, De Rosa, and Foster. Probably the best road team officials in the league. About a +2 advantage for the home team with this trio. This is the same group that called game one vs Houston.

    If the Nuggs want to steal one, game 1 would be it.

  68. I still think the Pepsi Center double-booking is hilarious. So much so that I giggled in a very embarrassing way at this play-by-play: http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/blog/ball_dont_lie/post/Nuggets-WWE-in-heated-battle-over-arena;_ylt=AmkDJd96Gm.hPQy6xQtcR1s5nYcB?urn=nba,164401

    I can totally see Sasha doing that too.

  69. Hi All,
    Just chillin’ at work (its like 7.30am) here in Melbourne.

    One advantage the Lakers will have in Game 1 is their flow from Game 7 v Rockets. Nuggets have had 6 days off. We saw what happened when the Lakers had a similar amount of time off between Round 1 and 1st game against Rockets.

    I’ll agree with JB (#66) too about the Sasha / Carmelo thing. Sasha could get under Carmelo’s skin and piss him off to the point of doing something stupid (a la MSG).

    A panel on ESPN predicted a likely fight or two during this series….I’m liking the odds Sasha will piss somebody off!

  70. @Mimsy

    Way to use one game as the basis of your judgement rather than tons of empirical evidence to the contrary.

    Lebron’s clutch stats are insanely good. He may look to the pass once in a while when he shouldn’t, but there are plenty of players that probably should look for the pass once in a while and never do…. (not naming names, but I’ll give you one guess).

    LBJ leads the league in game winning shots the last 6 seasons, AND he is up there in game winning assists as well…

  71. lol that WWE stuff is hilarious. Fisher, in all his veteran wisdom, must have seen this coming, and that was why he started perfecting his illegal hits in the last series.

    73 – Sasha was definitely piss a lot of people off this series. Who do we have to fight though? Sasha definitely would, he’s feisty (he’d get thrown through the floor, but he’d still go for it). Lamar sometimes takes on the enforcer role but he’s hurting. Bynum would hide beneath his own skirt. Pau would start checking for blood before the first hit even landed. I like Shannon, although I don’t know if he has the personality to fight. Mbenga? Could we bring back Chris Mihm to fire him up?

    Seriously, this series will test Kobe’s patience. We can’t afford him to pick up another T. Three more and he’s gone. Over the course of (potentially) 14 games? It’ll take a huge amount of discipline from him.

    I hope it changes his game though. Kobe’s arm waving and complaining is the 1 part of his game that rubs me the wrong way. Michael was straight intimidating, Kobe comes off more as whining about every call. Maybe the technical situation will force him to take his focus to an even higher level (is that possible?)

  72. Did anyone see or hear George Karl’s comment at Nuggets shootaround yesterday about how he thinks the media is giving Chauncy too much credit for the turnaround in Denver?!

  73. I’m going to the game tonight, but I’m leaving my car at work and taking the metro or Dash lines to Staples.

  74. *Correction: Bynum would hide behind his own skirt, not beneath it, as hiding beneath it would require a great deal of flexibility and questionable decision making.

  75. Joe A,
    Way to hop on the wrong person there. I was using that one game as an example for why I wasn’t going to argue with Snoopy’s statement in #29. I realize I’m probably your preferred target, since Snoopy knows a lot more about basketball than i do, but he’s the one your disagreement originally is with. Shame on you, attacking a girl like that! :P

  76. Snoop, it’s not THAT big a deal. Kobe gets frustrated with the non-calls when he goes to the hoop. Man, I get pissed at refs when I get belted going to the hoop too. Personally gets me more pissed to kick more ass, I don’t think it takes away from Kobe’s game at all.

    And do you honestly think Lamar is going to lay down to a Kenyon Martin smack upside the head because of his back? I wouldn’t have thought so…..and by all reports, his back his good.

  77. lol it was a joke Oz, relax. Well, not the Kobe thing. Kobe picking up 7 techs means he’s suspended for a game. So yes, I’d say our superstar missing a complete game in the WCF or in the Finals is “THAT” big of a deal.

    I never said it detracted from his game at all. I just said it was kind of whiny and annoying. And if the refs are quick with the technical fouls, then it starts to hurt the team.

    Kobe needs to stay as far away from that 1-game suspension as possible, because I’m sure there’ll come a time when everyone’s tempers flare and Kobe may lose himself in the heat of the moment. So he needs a few T’s in reserve that time, he can’t pick up ticky-tack technicals just arguing calls with refs (or taunting, as he did with Battier).

  78. (I think Kobe’s only three technicals away from being suspended, but someone correct me if I’m wrong).

  79. I think our length on defense is going to make life more difficult for Denver than they think. If Bynum can stay on the court (by both being productive and avoiding foul trouble), we should be able to prevent Denver from really racking up points in the paint, which is the foundation of Denver’s explosive offense. The Nuggets led the league in dunks and were second in points in the paint this year. This led to them placing 7th in eFG%. Add in strong FT shooting and they were 3rd in TS%. However, despite having several high profile perimeter shooters, they are a mediocre to poor outside shooting team. They were 7th worst in the league at 2 point perimeter shots (we were 3rd thanks to strong midrange shooters like Kobe, Pau, etc.), and middle of the pack in 3 point shooting.

    It will be difficult to stop Nene, Melo, Martin, etc. from getting good looks inside, but we are well positioned relative to most teams to do so given our length inside. Utah is another team that relies heavily on interior scoring and we were successful the last two years at pushing them out and bothering their close shots with our size. If we can tempt Martin into that horrific midrange shot, keep Nene from dunking, and allow Melo to shoot long 2s (even though he’s admittedly good from there), then I think we can hold down their offense and outscore them 4 out of 7 nights. I’d love to see us force the ball out of the hands of Billups, Melo, and Nene early in the clock so that Martin and Jones are often forced to make a play with the clock running down (like we forced the ball to Brewer and Harping in the Utah series). There will be nights when their shooters are hot and we lose, but the odds and stats say that won’t happen consistently.

    I don’t know how to feel about the Melo matchup. He’s done poorly against us the last few years, but he’s much too big for Ariza. I know Walton plays those types of SFs well, but I remain skeptical about his ability to really control someone like Melo. We’ll see. That could be a frustrating matchup.

    I’m excited to see JR Smith trash talk against Kobe. He always does so and it does not make Kobe happy.

    Denver is not a great rebounding team. They were middle of the pack all year and in the first two rounds. They have active, crazy bigs, but they don’t seal off the paint. Dallas outrebounded them, and that’s shocking given that they often went small with Dirk at center. If Bynum can stay on the court, he and Pau could really punish them on the offensive glass, as we did in game 7 against Houston.

    If Jones is their only defender that can somewhat check Kobe, then that really hurts Denver’s offense. Smith spreads the floor and gives them another gear offensively. Kobe could treat smith a bit like he treats Brewer — free safety. I’d love that given that I don’t believe Jones can really frustrate Kobe at all.

    I expect Gasol to demolish Martin, Nene to abuse Bynum, and the series to come down to which teams gets more two players impact the game more from each team: Kobe and Odom or Billups and Birdman (whose impact on the game can be monstrous at times and invisible at others — like Lamar…).

  80. Snoopy,
    Kobe’s 5th T was the one they rescinded, so eh is back down to four.

  81. I will always have the doe-eyed Bynum bumping up on Shaq in the back of my mind when wondering if he has any toughness.

    It is hard to relate to the instinctive thinking a knee will do for the big-brain when it has had a serious injury. Bynum is plenty tough when his knees aren’t keeping him from reacting with aggression.

  82. I think getting the ball into Kobe’s hand at the last minute of a game is like a myth and a dying tribute to somebody who’s in the tail end of his career.

    Sure, I’d rather have him shoot than any other Laker because he’s the only one other than Fisher to not faze upon the responsibility and because he’ll get the shot off (something Fisher isn’t guaranteed to do), but over LeBron? Not so sure. With LeBron, you may get a last possession drive instead of a shot, and that’s high%.

    When you compare resumes, I think LeBron has a long way to go before he’s mentioned along the lines of Kobe, and LeBron did not do really well when matched head-to-head, but in other situations I think it’s a no-brainer.

  83. LOL @ Mimsy, way to go with the girl card. Nice!

  84. #85
    I skip the dunk and go for his reaction to Shaq’s elbow swoshing by his head. Anyone who get’s in the face of Shaq and has to be stopped from hitting him back, is no wuss. Which I think I have said before… Bynum’s always been tough. He just needed to find his game.

  85. Actually, Kobe’s complaining DOES detract from his game.

    Typically at least a couple of times a game he will complain to the ref rather than hustling back on D, or he will follow up a “missed” call by getting called on a stupid frustration foul. It also affects him on offense, because he has a tendency to force the issue one-on-one after a “missed” call. And it sets a very bad example for the rest of the team about complaining instead of staying focused, and letting “missed” calls affect the rest of their game.

  86. #85
    And last I checked, a bad knee wouldn’t stop you from smacking someone in the head!

    I just have this eery feeling someone’s gonna get chucked in one of these games, more likely a Nugget than a Laker though.

    #86
    Are you kidding yourself? Kobe hasn’t needed to take game winning shots because of how much we’ve stomped on some opposition this year. Hard to hit a shot when your icing your knees on the bench.

    Did you not see the 3 Kobe hit in Game 3 at the buzzer at the end of the 3rd? He does that more often than LeBron, any day of the week.

  87. Coffee is For Closers May 19, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    earthquake…

  88. Holy crap….is everyone all good? It was 4.1 apparently.

    What does that do to everything tonight?

  89. 86

    For the last umpteen years the answer to that question in the GM survey has been Kobe, despite his awful percentage and tendency to end up settling for a contested long jumper. However, LeBron’s numbers in those situations are nothing to write home about, and you can say the same about Dwyane Wade.

    Last-possession situations are overrated anyway. The most important thing is which player you want with the ball in his hands when the game is on the line, and that period could last for an entire quarter. Considering how LeBron and Kobe are defended, I would expect them to have low percentages on the last shot of the game, but would anybody really take Carmelo over either player at crunch time?

  90. For anyone not in LA, reports coming out that an Earthquake measuring 4.1 hit LA about 10 minutes ago, same Epicentre as last weeks quake.

  91. I hope Phil puts Lamar on Melo

  92. 76

    I didn’t hear that, but I’m glad someone with a voice finally said it. The story line of Chauncey “the savior” Billups was just another of the many exaggerations in our soap opera styled NBA. And it’s lucky for Denver that they never fell for it (and bad for us).

    As I see it, the multiple reasons for their success include (in no particular order)

    -The best season from K-Mart since he rode J-Kidd coattails
    -A full season of play from a very energetic Nene
    -A team-wide commitment to playing defense
    -A less antagonistic approach to coaching from Karl
    -A greatly improved bench
    -A shockingly more controlled J.R. Smith,
    -Better shot selection from Melo
    -And superb, stabilizing PG play from Chauncey

  93. 4.1 aftershock? That’s a cute little earthquake. It’s the annoying but cute little weiner dog of earthquakes.

  94. #94,
    Thanks, I was wondering what that was about. Everyone okay? :?

  95. We had a 4.7 in Melbourne of all places a couple of months ago. Weirdest s**t I’ve ever felt, cause we never have ‘em.

    I was worried a webcam fell off Kurt’s PC and knocked him out. Good to see your ok Kurt! :P

  96. You know how everyone says we think we can turn the switch on and off whenever we want. I’ve realized

    Bynum is our switch

  97. 100.

    I agree, and sometimes that switch gets jammed, especially after nights where it has functioned well.

  98. I think the key is to, at least for the first possessions of the first and second quarter, force-feed Bynum so that he gains confidence and a good offensive rhythm. Bynum has a fickle emotional state and if things go wrong in the beginning (early fouls, no offensive touches) he seems to disappear completely.

  99. who are we getting from the draft?

  100. 90

    I don’t know how many times I had to watch Kobe throw up a 3 early in the shot clock just because, and miss, resulting in a loss.

    Clutch shots, sure he makes his share, but he misses plenty, and more importantly, he misses those that he shouldn’t have taken in the first place.

    Granted, there’s the other side of the token where if it does go in, it changes the game, but from what I saw over the past 10+ seasons is that it fails and cuts off any reasonable chance of us climbing back. I don’t think I have to remind any Laker fans about the times Kobe just shot a 3 when he could and should have waited for a better shot.

    As for others? Just in this year’s playoffs I can tell you Gordon, Allen, and Melo hit more memorable shots than Kobe. The shots Kobe took that comes into mind are two – one at the end of a quarter and another at the end of a possession. Both were huge, but he also lobbed countless braindead 3s against Houston – another reason why we haven’t seen so many wire-to-wire games where he could position himself for a true clutch shot.

    In the end, the truth is this: Kobe is the best at making jumpers with multiple defenders on him, but that’s because he TAKES jumpers with multiple defenders on him. Praise his ability to make them, or get tired of his insistence on taking them when there are better options available, that’s a matter of taste, but it quickly ventures into ‘bad decision’ category if you start to miss more.

  101. #102 Julia889
    You’re right in what your saying, but Phil isn’t going to tell the players to look for Andrew early. Andrew gets a lot of his touches in the flow of the offense instead of purposely being “called”.

    They like to get Pau going as he is the superior of the two on offense, and that leads to interior passing to Andrew for his scores.

  102. In case you didn’t see this yet:

    Rambis meets with Philadelphia team President Ed Stefanski about the team’s head-coaching vacancy,

  103. New Post up for your lottery and game chatting pleasure.

  104. does anyone have a link for streaming live yet – i know the game hasn’t started yet but maybe someone knows where they usually are? i have never missed a playoff game – i must watch it – unfortunately my roommate’s family is over took over the living room arrgh – i need my own place!

  105. atdhe.net usually does the trick to watch the laker games.