Records: Lakers 7-1 Nuggets 6-3
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 109.2, Nuggets 111.5
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.9 Nuggets 108
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Nuggets: Chauncey Billups, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers rose to the occasion for a big test — something they did last season consistently and seem to have carried over to this year. Granted, the Suns were on game 7 in 10 days and a back-to-back, they can play better, but the Lakers stuck with their game plan and pounded the Suns weakness inside. This year’s Lakers remain very disciplined at going right after the mismatches. That matters.
Oh, and I feel obligated to say no Gasol tonight. Phil Jackson hopes to have him back by Valentine’s Day now.
The Nuggets Coming in: For Denver, tonight is the little bit of revenge they can get for the playoffs last year, the whole closing you out on your home court thing. They see this as the win that can give them some confidence about games down the line that matter (as much as you can take away anything from November). The fans will be out of control. Reports out of Denver’s shooter around is the players have a chip on their shoulder for this game.
What the Nuggets are doing right this season is playing great offense. Melo has been the man here, playing at the MVP level people have expected of him. He is averaging 30 points a game, shooting an impressive 55.2% true shooting percentage. What is most impressive is he is creating a lot more of his own shots — last year 48% of his shots came on off an assist, this year that is down to 38%.
Denver likes to get Melo and his teammates open looks in transition — they have played at the fifth fastest pace in the league so far this season. But unlike the Suns, Denver does it with size and some people who want to bang you around in the paint — Nene, the Birdman and K-Mart. Denver is a physical team that can run, and that leads to a lot of points.
Denver, however, has not been a good defensive team this season (they were eighth in the NBA in defensive efficiency last year, they are 19th right now). Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company minced no words after a loss to the Nuggets a couple nights back.
Defensively Denver is not playing with any cohesion. On many possessions one player makes a mistake or gets beat and the help is not there. Honestly, the Nuggets are floundering in nearly every facet of defense. They are not consistently working together on pick and rolls, they are missing rotations, and generally playing lazy.
Denver’s biggest defensive flaw: Rebounding. They are allowing opponents to grab 29.3% of missed shots (27th in the league).
Blogs and Links: Roundball Mining Company rocks, it’s that simple.
Keys to game: I’ll say it again — the back-to-back having to fly to Denver is brutal. Remember last year, Greg Popovich sat Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Michael Finley in Denver as his mini-protest. Not saying the Lakers can’t win, just don’t underestimate the challenge.
Of course, what we all want to see tonight is Ron Artest defending the hot Melo. This is one of the reasons we were all excited to see Artest here — to slow down the big threes in the league. Last playoffs the Lakers had to move Kobe over on Melo because Ariza was not strong enough to hold him off. Tonight is going to be fun to watch.
To win, the Lakers need to limit the easy baskets, particularly in transition, that Denver thrives on. Melo can finish, JR Earl Smith can finish, Nene can finish, everybody not named Anthony Carter on that team can finish, and Billups makes the right pass to set them up This will not be as easy as slowing the Suns by just feeding Bynum and Kobe in the post all night, but the Lakers do need to slow them down. And the Lakers need to feed the post on offense, but we can say “feed the post” every night.
The Lakers do have mismatches to go after. Bill Bridges illuminates:
Artest will stay on Melo throughout. Will Melo try to check Kobe as Affalo and Smith have no chance against Kobe in the post. Nada. If Melo takes Kobe, will the Lakers rotate and post up Artest against Affalo/Smith?
How will PJ counter the Nuggets’ small line up of Lawson at the point and Billups at the 2. I hope he goes large, posts up Kobe against Billups and punishes them.
The other thing the Lakers should do, both to get points and slow Denver down, is pound the offensive glass. Denver has not rebounded well this season, the Lakers need to make them pay for that.
Where you can watch: This game tips off at 7:30 pm Pacific, on ESPN and KCAL 9 here in LA. Also, 710 ESPN Radio has the game.