Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

Darius Soriano —  December 31, 2011

Records: Lakers 2-2 (7th in West), Nuggets 2-1 (5th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (11th in NBA), Nuggets 109.4 (4th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 97.3 (6th in NBA), Nuggets 99.5 (10th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Devin Ebanks, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nuggets: Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Nene Hillario
Injuries: Lakers: Derrick Caracter (out); Nuggets: none

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won two in a row and are starting to find their identity on both sides of the ball. Offensively they’re using motion based sets to get Kobe free all over the court and when he catches the ball, #24 is looking to attack off the dribble and get into the teeth of the defense. This aggression has led to Kobe taking nearly 2 more FT’s a game this season than last. The Lakers are also working to get Gasol the ball in all his key spots and the Spaniard has adapted himself well to Brown’s schemes. Pau is getting touches on the block, putting up efficient numbers when working in the post, and playing a nice all around game so far this season.

Meanwhile on defense, the Lakers are playing an aggressive, physical scheme where challenging shots and playing body on body is the norm. Against the Knicks, this led to a lot of fouls and, subsequently, NY FT’s but it also led to 31% shooting and many jumpers finding iron rather than the bottom the net. The D is still a work in progress in some areas – the back side rotations to shooters in the corner can still be a bit slow – but that’s more a product of personnel than scheme. When Murphy or Kapono or even MWP has to sprint from the paint back to their man in the corner it’s simply a matter of foot speed rather than the limitations of the scheme. Over time these guys can start to anticipate that pass sooner but that will only come with better execution of the Laker big men recovering to the paint after hedging on the P&R.

And speaking of big men, the biggest of the all the Lakers will be back for this contest. Bynum’s 4 game suspension is finally over and the young center is ready to join his guys back on the court. What this means for the team remains to be seen but if his emphasis is still on defense and rebounding while playing to his strengths on offense – working the deep low post, hitting the offensive glass – he’ll be a more than fine. If he shows that he can take that next step on offense by becoming a dependable low post scorer against varying defenses, the Lakers become an extremely dangerous team that can’t be discounted from winning anything. Only time will tell, however.

The Nuggets Coming in: The Nuggs are 2-1 and look to have the potential to be one of the better teams in the west. They’re deep, relatively young, have good shooters, good size, and play hard for coach George Karl.

Coming into the off-season this team had questions about what their roster would look like as both Afflalo and Nene were free agents that were at the top of many teams’ wish lists who had needs on the wing and/or in the pivot. However, with both choosing to stay in Denver, this team now has a the core of a team that could make some real noise in the west – especially in this frenetic, compacted season. Their ability to run teams off the court, substitute en masse, and simply keep coming at opponents in waves can be demoralizing if everyone’s shots are falling.

Nuggets Blogs: Roundball Mining Company is a great site for all your Nuggets news and analysis.

Keys to game: This game will be a battle of styles, and whichever team does the better job of making the other team play out of their comfort zone will likely win.

Denver plays at the fastest pace in the league, pushing the ball at every opportunity. The key to playing this style is the ultra-quick (and fast) Ty Lawson, who zooms up and down the court like his shoes are on fire. Every time Lawson catches the ball he’s a threat to get all the way to the rim by darting through a team’s transition D. The Lakers must be aware of this and recover on D to ensure that Lawson doesn’t single handedly dominate them in the open court. However, the Lakers simply can’t pack the paint in transition to slow Lawson. They must also mark shooters running the floor and recover back to the three point line whenever Afflalo, Gallo, Al Harrington, or Rudy Fernandez are in the game. All of these guys are threats behind the arc and all love to trail behind the play and step into a three pointer with no defenders nearby because the entire D got sucked into the paint. So, LA’s strategy must be to build a wall on D and then fan back out to the perimeter to contain shooters.

LA, meanwhile, plays at the 3rd slowest pace in the league and wants to try and get Denver playing at that tempo. The Lakers’ transition D is one key in this plan, but the other is to continue to play a deliberate style on offense. When you watch this team play you consistently see Mike Brown telling his guys to push the ball and get up court quickly, but notice he’s not telling them to shoot quickly. Brown wants the Lakers getting into their sets fast because he’s running motion based sets with multiple options on each call. Be it a Kobe jumper, a Pau post up, or  a wing P&R between Fisher and McRoberts, all of these actions can be set up on a single play call in a single possession and the Lakers need time to execute the actions. It’s also clear that Brown wants them exploring these derivative sequences rather than simply breaking the play to go into isolation. This type approach has meant the Lakers are racing the court while simultaneously slowing down the action at the same time. Today, they’ll need to execute this style perfectly against a Denver team that will tempt them to fire up quick shots and play fast break basketball.

On a micro level, I’m very interested in two match ups today. First is Kobe vs Afflalo. These two match up quite well as Afflalo’s length and strong defensive instincts have given Kobe problems in the past while his evolving offensive game has often burned Kobe that has all too often gone into “free safety” mode against the former UCLA product. Today, I want to see if Kobe is able to crack the defensive code that Afflalo’s shown him in past games and continue to work 18 feet an in both with his jumper and in getting to the rim where he can either finish or earn foul shots. I also want to see if Mike Brown’s emphasis on defensive accountability means that Kobe can no longer play off his man so much and how much Kobe pressures Afflalo on that end of the floor.

The second match up I’m interested in is Bynum vs. Nene. The big Brazilian just signed a monster contract to stay in Denver and I want to see if he’s doing anything different to try and justify his deal. I’ve always thought highly of Nene on both ends of the floor – he’s a very efficient post scorer that plays within himself and on defense he has very quick feet and active hands that make him great in the P&R – but I’m not sure if his value is as high as his contract is for. Meanwhile this is Bynum’s first game back and I want to see how he matches up getting thrown into the deep end of the pool right away. There are few two way big men better than Nene, so Drew will have his hands full trying to score on him on one end and then stop him on the other. If Bynum can hold his own today, I think that speaks well for where he’s at physically after his suspension and, hopefully, where he’s at mentally in being ready for the season.

Where you can watch: 12:30pm start time on Fox Sports. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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42 responses to Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

  1. Warren, baby!

  2. I can’t agree with you on taking anything away from Drew out playing Nene. Bynum has always bested him head to head even when he isn’t at full strength. Meanwhile I’ll be more impressed if Bynum simply takes the next step by dominating the entire Nuggets team including battling through double teams.

  3. Brown said he expects Bynum to play his normal minutes, something like 34. Bynum himself said that he doesn’t expect to play “major minutes” and might feel “winded.” Something to watch. Videos up at K Bros blog.

    This team is a very tough matchup for the Lakers, and having to take them on in a b/b ending a 6-in-8 will be a real challenge for the team.

  4. is the game not playing? none of the online streaming links work…

  5. Matt Barnes is starting

  6. If anyone has a link please post it, would be greatly appreciated

  7. Welcome back Drew. Nice first quarter. MWP killed the momentum a bit, but a decent start with a new-look starting 5 and some changed substitution patterns. Once Kobe hits his stride, it could be a fun game.

  8. seriously sloppy O so far, lots of fumbles, bad passes etc

  9. kobe under control and kobe in control.

  10. Bynum has looked pretty good with 12 points and 4 boards. Lakers doing good job at controlling the pace of the game. Ebanks might not see any playing time today.

  11. MWP needs to start working in the post again. Why did he stop going to the post?

  12. I don’t understand how this team can miss so many 3 point shots. These are professional basketball players that should be able to make open shots.

  13. Kenny, seriously who gave this guy the permission to try to create offense on the dribble. With MWP it should be post up on the block or pass the ball, he has played horrendous today.

  14. Wow, that 10-2 run we just gave up was a killer. Had a nice lead, gave up an offensive board to Lawson and it just spiraled from there.

  15. 2nd unit having trouble executing when the opponent is packing the paint.

  16. MWP is 0-8 today and yet he keeps chucking up shots. Why is he in the game?!

    If we could make a damn three, stop turning it over, and stop fouling, we’d be up right now.

  17. 3 Point defense has been absolutely dreadful, but with the Lakers that’s no surprise

  18. I wish Kobe would stop shooting 3’s.

  19. We’re getting lit up by this worthless scrub, Harrington.

    And how an NBA player who doesn’t have anyone within 10 feet of him can’t make an open 3 is absolutely beyond me, especially if you’re a white guard. That’s your one job, Blake!!

  20. Lakers from 3 point range today simply dreadful, need to continue to go to Bynum and Gasol who has his jumper working

  21. Bynum SWAT and than he scores on the other end

  22. Kobe needs to get something going to the basket where he can create if the shot isn’t there

  23. This is the most hilarious ending I’ve ever seen.

  24. D. Gallinari blows a wide open layup and Kobe makes 1-2 FTs. Defend the Three, Lakers

  25. Please foul on the catch

  26. This is such an ugly shooting game for LA (from the outside at least), that I’ll just take the W any way possible. Not sure we can get away with this tomorrow.

    Nice return from Drew.

  27. I’LL TAKE IT.

  28. That was straight thievery, thanks for the win Denver

  29. Got a little lucky there…

    Loved Drew’s effort! Great game! Liked the fact that we held the NBA’s highest scoring team to 89 points, even though I think Denver’s pathetic shooting helped with that (we gave them a lot of open looks from 3).

    Our 3 point shooting was absolutely horrendous. I think if we picked 5 random people from this board, they would shoot better than the Lakers did (no offense to all you shooters out there). And I didn’t like a lot of our sloppy turnovers. We need to cut those down.

    But in the end, a W is better than an L. Happy New Year to everyone on FB&G!

  30. YES BABY!!!!

    Ugly win? No. Just A Win Baby!!!

  31. This evens out the game they blew against the Bulls.

  32. Even though he shot poorly, Steve Blake shot 9 times for the third game in a row. Good Job Steve!!!

  33. An ugly game and we got a little lucky there, but a W is a W.

    Great game by Bynum. Defense was decent for 0the most part. Though the Lakers were slow on rotations and often out of position, Denver just missed a lot of open shots (so did the Lakers). Great game by Kobe too, really took what the defense gave him.

  34. Dwight Who?

  35. Bynum 29 points and 13 rebounds (6 ORB) thought he played well in his first game, loved Fisher’s dive for the rebound and getting the timeout after his missed FG. Kobe had a near triple double and needs 4 points for 28,000 in his career.

    MWP and 3 point FGs on the bad and ugly list. Good win but no time to relax with a game in Denver tomorrow.

  36. I want to see Kobe playing off the ball in crunch time–coming off picks, and/or operating on the blocks/playing two-man with Gasol or Bynum. The wrist and finger issues make the risk of his simply losing control of the basketball in those spots too great. That will be a tough one for Brown.

    Good win, and they needed it, given they play Denver again tomorrow at altitude.

  37. Explain to me again how trading Gasol and Bynum for Howard makes the Lakers better?

    It’s sad when even Magic Johnson says stupid things like that. Of course, he couldn’t even correctly name Ebanks and Goudelock on X-mas day, so he clearly hasn’t been paying attention since selling his stake in the team. Now he’s just another talking head.

  38. robinred,

    Exactly regarding Kobe’s handles in crunch time. He can’t trust his dribble but I don’t know if he can trust the passing either.

  39. I do think as long as Bynum is healthy, that he gives more of a true Center play, and is more valuable to the Lakers, than any other Center out there in the NBA, period.