Preview and Chat: The Denver Nuggets

Darius Soriano —  January 21, 2011

Records: Lakers 31-13 (2nd in West), Nuggets 24-17 (7th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.1 (1st in NBA), Nuggets 111.7 (2nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.5 (9th in NBA), Nuggets 108.5 (19th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nuggets: Chauncey Billups, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene Hilario
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (both out), Andrew Bynum (questionable); Nuggets: Chris Andersen

The Lakers Coming in: There are two ways to look at the Lakers right now – either they’re winners of 8 of their last 10 games or they’re coming off a tough loss against the Mavs that has them trending downward again. I think a lot of folks would say the latter is more true and I can’t blame them. However, as I mentioned yesterday, the Lakers are also not the types to win more than 6-7 games in a row and then they lose a game or two only to start another run. Based off that math, the Lakers should be turning it around right about now, ready to start another push by rattling off 3-4  (or more) consecutive games.

What stands in the way of that logic is the fact that the Lakers may be in the midst of the toughest part of their season schedule. Starting with the OKC game on Monday, the Lakers opponents have been/will be Dallas, Denver, Utah, Sacramento, Boston, Houston, then San Antonio.  After that brutal stretch, the Lakers embark on their “Grammy” road trip where they play 7 games away from Staples in 11 days and face a slate that includes New York, Boston (again), and Orlando (with Memphis, New Orleans, and Charlotte – always a tough foe for the Lakers – thrown in). Even the most optimistic fan would say that’s a slew of tough games over the next month with the potential to rack up losses a real possibility. This stretch will help define this team…we’ll see if it’s for the better or not.

The Nuggets Coming in: There really hasn’t been much going on with this team lately. I’m not sure if there’s even anything worthwhile to discuss.

If only those two sentences were close to being true…

Trade rumors have been swirling around this team all season as the Melo-drama has been going full boar for over a month. Frankly, it’s been exhausting following this as a fan, so I can only assume the behind the scenes strain this has put on the players and coaches. As New Jersey and New York (and Houston and others) all threw their hats into the ring to acquire Anthony, the Nuggets have still had games on their schedule and have been trying to block out the distractions to stay competitive in the deep-as-ever West.  And it’s not just Melo that’s had to deal with trade rumors. Billups has also been rumored to be part of the Nets/Nuggets trade talks and for a man that’s from Colorado and sees the Nuggets as his hometown team that’s a tough thing to deal with. 

Through it all, though, they currently sit 7th in the conference and with the distractions starting to die down (some) this may be the best time for them to make a real push back up the standings. They’re coming off a very good win over the Thunder on Wednesday and in their past 5 games they’ve won 4 – including a drubbing of the Heat.  After the Lakers they face the Pacers, Wizards, Pistons, Cavs, 76ers, and Nets so I’m sure they’d just love to have back to back wins over the Thunder and Lakers and carry some momentum into a pretty soft stretch of their schedule. Right now, this team is dangerous and I have a strong feeling we’ll see a strong effort from them tonight.

Nuggets Blogs: Jeremy does an excellent job covering the Nuggets at Roundball Mining Company. He’s been all over this ‘Melo stuff since the get go and spearheads consistently smart analysis at that site. Go give ‘em a read.

Keys to game:Normally X’s and O’s litter this part of the preview and while we’ll get to that stuff in a second, I can say that there may be no bigger key to this game than controlling the emotion and feelof this game. Denver is always a tough road game and the fans there love to see the Lakers come to town one day and leave the next after watching the Nuggets hang an L on their heads. This makes for a rowdy arena with hometown supporters ready to burst at any big shot or play from the Nuggs. Tonight, emotions will be even higher than normal due to the drama surrounding Anthony. In the Thunder game, he got booed but that only seemed to rally him (he had 35 points) and the team to the point that they pulled out an impressive win. So, the Lakers will need to find a way to keep an even keel during a game that will be emotionally charged. They’ll need focus and calm in the face of a team that’s looking to circle the wagons and use the moment as a rallying point.

From a tactical standpoint, this game will hinge like most Lakers/Nuggets games do which is on the ability of the Lakers to exploit their size advantage inside on offense while limiting Anthony and Billups on the other end. That means that Gasol will need to have more than a solid game against Kenyon Martin – a player that loves to try and bully Pau into mistakes – and Bynum will have to use his length and power to get deep position against Nene and establish the low post. If both those things happen on offense, the Lakers should be able to establish a tempo that works in their favor.

Defensively, there will be no better test to Ron’s even-more-stingy-of-late defense than sticking with Carmelo. Many tout Anthony as the purest scoring wing in the league and I’d have a hard time arguing with that. Forget that the advanced stats say that he’s not that efficient for a moment and just concentrate on the fact that he’s a major threat from any position on the floor – three point line to the low block. His footwork is excellent and his triple-threat work rivals Kobe’s as the best in the league. Plus, he’s strong as hell so knocking him off his spot or keeping him off the offensive glass is a problem when he’s determined to get there. All that said, slowing him down is possible. Ron needs to fight him for space and consistently push him to the baseline regardless of what side of the floor he sets up on. When he drives hard, the goal is to stay on his hip in order to contest his step back jumper and rely on big man help rotating to contest shots at the rim. When he goes to his left hand, he’s prone to spin back to his right to shoot his jumper, so be aware that any drive left is likely a move to set up a counter. After that, all a defender can do is get a hand up and contest the shot. If he makes it, tip your cap and go back the other way.

As for Billups, he’s still the same guy that loves to shoot PUJIT’s from deep or feint his jumper and drive to the rim to draw contact and earn foul shots. I’d love to see Kobe take some minutes on him but with Afflalo having an excellent year shooting the ball (not to mention his excellent size for a SG) it’s doubtful that Phil can afford to slide Fisher up on defense. So, the Lakers will have to play solid team D on Chauncey by getting back on D to contest his transition shots and then building a wall higher up in the lane to discourage his drives both in the open court and in the P&R.

The other key to the game is slowing the Nuggets’ bench. JR Smith, Ty Lawson, and Al Harrington represent an explosive trio on offense that feasts in the open court. They’re all dual threats from behind the arc and attacking the rim so there’s no set way to play them besides hustling back, finding them early in transition, and then playing them straight up. They all require attention, but Smith and Lawson are much more explosive and tend to turn their games up when the Lakers are the opponent.

In the end, this is a tough game and it can go either way. However, the Lakers know what it takes to beat this team. If LA can limit Denver’s runs and keep the pace of the game slow-ish there’s a good chance that LA leaves the victor. But the work must get done to make it happen. Good close outs, strong rebounding, and determination in getting back on D will win the day. Let’s get this win.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start out west on KCAL and ESPN. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.

Darius Soriano

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67 responses to Preview and Chat: The Denver Nuggets

  1. here’s one for wossname – there, maybe *that will turn things around! : )

  2. Great breakdown! One thing that I would add as a major key to the game- amost as important as stopping Melo and Chauncey, because to some extent, they’re just going to get their numbers- is the ability to slow the Nuggets’ secondary perimeter scorers (Afflalo, Lawson and J.R. Smith), all of whom present matchup problems for the Lakers.

    This applies most to Lawson and Smith, as Lawson is the speedy and athletic type of PG that has given the Lakers fits for decades, while JR Smith is probably a bit too fast for Ron and will burn too much of Kobe’s energy- maybe have Shannon Brown, who can match his energy and athleticism, on him as much as possible?

  3. I wonder if we’ll see some minutes for Ebanks finally. I’m really frustrated with Luke’s defense. Not to mention that I’ve always thought his strengths were somewhat overrated. For someone who is supposed to be a high IQ guy, he commits a lot of stupid mistakes. With his other weaknesses, if his one strength isn’t there, he’s not bringing much to the table.

    Ebanks might get overpowered to a degree by Melo’s strength but I’d love to see his length and quickness be used against Melo. Not to mention forcing Melo to keep up defensively as Ebanks has shown he can be very active on the offensive end being Barnes like with cutting to the rim and contesting boards. Make Melo expend some energy on that side of the court. The other problem with Luke is his man can rest while on D.

  4. Ebanks on Melo? That’s just asking for the rookie to get undressed. Put a rookie on Kobe and see what happens – yeessh!

    I recognize that the fan base generally doesn’t like Luke, but, for some unfathomable reason, the 11 championships in 20 years coach does like him. I think I will give Phil the benefit of the doubt here.

  5. I hope the Nuggets get nothing for Carmelo and he walks, they are acting as stuck up as a virgin prom queen holding out for Prince Charming.

    Any bets on which role player torches the Lakers tonight?

  6. Would this be another statement game? Indeed but this time I will bet that the lakers will win. Why? This team takes pride in not letting other teams get the best out of them remember the loss to Indiana at staples and the subsequent massacre of the Pacers when they met again. For sure the loss last time is still in the mind of kobe and his mates and in this game they will buckle up and play a little harder than the other regular season games they play. Wait till they meet San Antonio and Dallas again and I bet a different outcome too.

  7. Craig,
    Where is the evidence Phil likes Luke’s game? He sat him behind Vladimir, he played Sasha with Kobe moving to sf to avoid playing him down the stretch of games before we signed Artest… And this year he was out of the rotation all together behind a minimum wage veteran journey man who has been on like 7 teams in 7 years (Barnes). I don’t know where this idea came from that Phil likes Luke as a basketball player. The only time Luke played real minutes was when Smush Parker, Chris Mihm, Brian Cook, and Kwame Brown were also getting heavy minutes. Btw… That’s when we had no quality NBA players besides Kobe and Lamar. There is no question Jackson loves Walton as a person, I mean he has said as much… But as a player the evidence points to the contrary.

  8. @#4 Craig, I’m one of those fans that generally roots for a player whose contributions don’t show up easily in a box score. I’m a big believer in glue guys and role players. You wouldn’t believe how often I had to defend LO to my friends over the years. I also tend not to second guess Phil a lot due to his record.

    But in Luke’s case I’m just more puzzled than anything else. Yes, he does make the offense run smoother. Given this team’s struggles to run the triangle more consistently I understand why Phil would value him so highly for that. What I dislike is his weaknesses are so strong and despite his ability to make the triangle run smoother, he often causes other offensive problems due to his other weaknesses. Most of the time I can see why Phil would favor a guy for certain tasks. But in Luke’s case I just don’t see it.

    Glue guys and role players by nature are supposed to give you net positives, in Luke’s case he barely gives you that and not that consistently.

    Sure Ebanks might get eaten up by Melo. But will it be any worse than what Luke will do? Furthermore, Ebanks will at least force Melo to expend energy on the defensive end something Luke can’t do. And who knows, we’ve seen some rookies with the appropriate physical tools at least bother Kobe.

    I’m not saying Ebanks plays 20+ minutes. Just asking that for the 5-8 minutes instead of Luke, how about Ebanks gets a shot. This team is sorely missing Barnes slashing and athleticism, Ebanks can provide that.

  9. The result of this game does not matter. This is like a game of poker for the Lakers, that they are going to play at the tables with their buddies. Screw homecourt, screw decreasing an opponents confidence against us in a potential playoff matchup. Because when the playoffs roll around , we all know the Lakers are going to play that super awesome basketball. Homecourt? Who needs homecourt??? We are the Lakers, I mean come on! Hey lets go give Melo some open 3 pointers. Maybe he will make some and and get to be the hero! We will just say our defensive rotations were bad!

  10. I was thinking the other day that it would be nice to see Ebanks, if only because his length and footspeed seem like a potential means of addressing the Lakers’ God-awful perimeter defense.

    That said, the coaches see him in practice every day, and they therefore know better than us fans how ready he may be to step into a certain role.

    If they’re not giving him any burn at a time when the perimeter bench roles need a shake-up — Blake’s clearly struggling, and Barnes is out — then it suggests Ebanks is likely not ready for prime time.

  11. @ 9 Chris J

    Or Phil’s obvious disdain for playing Rookies.

  12. You shouldn’t make a change just for the sake of making a change; only do so when you are confident it is better than the alternative. Ebanks would almost certainly not know how to play within the systems very smoothly, so his athleticism would not offset his lack of experience.

  13. @#5 Inwit – “Any bets on which role player torches the Lakers tonight?” J.R. Smith usually does a good job, I have no earthly idea why we so often leave him open.

    Agree about emotion being such a huge factor – I may be mistaken but I think we’ve lost our last 4 regular season games up in Denver – we usually do well there until they bait us into playing their tempo and at their emotional level… all of a sudden we abandon the low post and start running around all over the place, jacking up jump shots.

  14. I think everyone here may be focusing on the wrong matchup– I for one have a horrible memory of nene pushing pau around in game one and very much look forward to seeing andrew hopefully out-muscling that freak. Dude looks like Milli or Vanillli, can’t remember which one, not sure it matters….

  15. I don’t know why you are hating on Luke. Lakers are undefeated this season when Luke scores 5 or more points.

    Stats don’t lie.

  16. The Lakers’ transition D is sad.

  17. Bynum has got to finish, we would be up right now if he would make his shots….. on a side note the Lakers big men should take note on how to finish around the rim from the Nuggets big men

  18. So is their shooting from 2 feet away so far…

  19. well cant blame the offense, everything is wide open or 2 feet from rim

  20. Ron is carrying us right now. If not for him, we’d be entirely out of this quarter.

  21. Two many threes. Yes, they are wide open, but it can become a bad habit tonight. Defense will be fine as long as their won’t turn it over.

  22. Boy, are Blake and Brown indecisive on offense… It’s been for a while this way, I root for them to come through today.

  23. @ 5

    Well, we now have our early front-runner for “role-player most likely to torch us….”

    Afflalo

  24. Good timeout, they better pickup the defense intensity now.

  25. 19. To bad that Ron is has been on the bench the entire 2nd quarter. Luke has played well but not well enough to play the entire second quarter. It was a gamble by phil that didn’t pay off as the lakers lose their second quarter lead.

  26. no fish and artest for all of second, not sure what phil is up to

  27. That rotation to cover Carmelo’s drive and leave Afflalo in the corner made no sense. Pau was there to cover on the drive, so why rotate away from a shooter? That play was so remarkably simple and we fall for it every time.

  28. @ 24

    Melo didn’t do too much to hurt us, especially not from an efficiency standpoing–He’s 4-13 to get his 11 points. Meanwhile, Ron picked up foul number two pretty early. I think Phil was seeing how long he could get away with Luke so he has Ron for as much of the second half as possible.

    Plus, Kobe had more defensive lapses than Luke that quarter.

  29. kobe’s defense is absolutely atrocious, and he needs to stop demanding the ball in the post. They are ready to double immediately on the post pass. Get it to him at top of key or something.

    And 1s have got to stop, although some were questionable.

  30. 27. Luke did okay until the final few possessions when Melo realized Luke was on him which led to 7 points for the nuggets. I doubt Phil is going to play ron more than 15 minutes in the second half so I don’t think Phil was saving ron. I know Ron had two fouls so maybe he didn’t want ron to pick up his 3rd foul. But I still think Ron should’ve gotten some time in the second quarter because he was playing really well on the offensive end. I just hope Ron doesn’t go cold in the second half.

  31. #28. TJ,
    I like Kobe getting doubled. He’s making the right read and it’s leading to good shots for the Lakers. In fact, I think Denver’s want to double Kobe (and Pau) is one of the things that’s allowing the Lakers offense to get going. Guys off the ball are recognizing the double, cutting hard or moving around the perimeter into open space for shots that they’re knocking down.

  32. Down 3 @ the half, with Kobe taking only 4 shots, I’ll take it … With that being said, Kobe’s D has been atrocious … Need to get the ball inside even more n the 2nd half … Stay away from turnovers & long jumpers so they can’t get out n transition … Close out on their jumpshooters and contest

  33. They lost to Houston in LA in 09

  34. Denver has NO ANSWER for Andrew Bynum. It’s hilarious.

    What isn’t quite as amusing is Kobe’s absolute refusal to close out on Afflalo.

  35. pau has such weak hands, constantly gets stripped on rebounds

  36. And apparently, we have no answer for Afflalo? Seriously?

  37. If Kobe would just stick with his man (Afflalo) we would be up by more…..Any theories on why Kobe is sticking with a strategy (drifting off his guy) that clearly isn’t working in recent games? Kidd killed us the other night when Kobe employed the same tactic….I’ve always agreed with the theory that Kobe has a high basketball IQ…that makes this all the more frustrating…

  38. 36

    I’m beginning to think it’s a medical condition. He’s been ignoring spot-up shooters for several years now.

    Can’t complain about his offense though. Geez. It’s obscene how easy he makes it look at times.

  39. Kobe is just unbelievable, the way he makes those J’s.

  40. ok kobe is playing awesome now :)

    dude is awesome

  41. Melo 6-19…..Hats off to Ron and Luke for playing him tough, and to Bynum and Pau for guarding the back line….

  42. I love how people say Kobe has lost something or he still can’t dominate

  43. There was no off-the-ball movement in that last series, a Triangle break down I imagine.

  44. Gasol has problems with Nene, though. We need some Bynum time in the forth…

  45. Two questions….

    1. Is it me, or is Pau playing some good D tonight–both one and one and help? He’s been the last line at the rim several times, and Nene has been zero factor offensively….

    2. Am I imagining things, or does the D look better over the past few possessions since Kobe has been assigned to Melo, and cannot drift around….?

  46. Playing excellent ball right now on both ends of the court, but let’s keep n mind what happened the last time we was n this building.

  47. The second best player on the floor tonight for the Lakers behind Kobe has been Carmelo, he’s really giving 100% out there . . .

  48. Walton made the correct decision to pass to Odom for the slam dunk instead of taking the three

  49. Talking about lowering the shoulder…

  50. I know Lamar isn’t a great defender… But he isn’t this bad either

  51. Other than the fact that Ty Lawson is getting whatever he wants, I’m happy because the Lakers are, too. Except Lamar…why can’t he get a call?????

  52. this is one of those games where im reminded how unfair it is to have pau, drew and lamar on the same team

  53. “Nene no like to be manhandled”

  54. Nene makes Gasol look weak… And Bynum makes Nene look like Gasol

  55. Gotta love the way we’re responding during this quarter. Now let’s close it out.

  56. fish and blake??

  57. Ron’s best game in a long time tonight

  58. Artest makes a deja vu play :)

  59. 52,

    I guess it’s matching up with Denver’s 3 guards line-up. Not giving up threes…

  60. Lakers did a great job on the boards tonight and get a nice win in Denver

  61. @Lakers8884, 53
    Agreed! Ron’s playing great… aggressive, assertive, and confident. This is the Artest we need, and the one who can really help the team.

  62. A good hard fought game, ending with a big W.

  63. Great game for the Lakers tonight, I must admit I am impressed. To be fair, Denver played far from their best game, but a good effort tonight on both ends of the floor from the Lakers.

  64. The lakers played a good all around game. Kobe has done a really good job of managing games over the last few weeks. The lakers played pretty good defense throughout the game. Their defense kept them in the game early when they just couldn’t buy a basket. Hopefully this carries over into next week because lakers host Utah and Boston next week.

  65. It feels great to have a nice start to the weekend. A complete game by the Lakers in the second half.