Records: Lakers 37-22 (3rd in the West), Nuggets 32-26 (7th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (9th in the NBA), Nuggets 108.5 (3rd in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.6 (13th in the NBA), Nuggets 106.5 (23rd in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Devin Ebanks, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nuggets: Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (out), Jordan Hill (out); Nuggets: Wilson Chandler (doubtful), Rudy Fernandez (out)
The Lakers Coming in: The Laker have won two in a row and seven of their last ten. Through that stretch they’ve provided their typical up and down play, but have been putting together enough winning performances to keep their hold on the Pacific Divsion lead and, with that, the 3rd seed in the West.
The most recent win, though, was one of their best of the year. The Spurs had been playing some of their best ball of the year but the Lakers went into their house, defended and rebounded like mad men, and controlled the contest from the outset. And they did it all without Kobe Bryant who missed his third straight game with a bad shin – which will keep him out tonight as well. Of course, the Spurs game was only one game but the ingredients that went into that win – ball movement on offense, effort and intensity on defense – are ones that can be used as the foundation for future success. It’s my hope that it happens.
The Nuggets Coming in: The Nuggets have won three of four and are looking to keep that momentum going as the playoffs near and they fight for a berth in the second season. They’re currently 7th in the West and need every win they can get to ensure they not only make the playoffs but earn a favorable seeding and match up.
This Nuggets team is different than the one the Lakers saw the last time they matched up, however. Nene has been traded to the Wizzards for JaVale McGee, and that move has dramatically changed their front court rotation. Starting in Nene’s place Kosta Koufos while rookie Kenneth Faried has nabbed the starting PF spot. McGee sees time as a back up but this front court shake up has led to solid results mostly because Faried (who’s nicknamed “the Manimal”) has shown so much promise. I’ll let David Thorpe explain further in his rookie rankings (where he current has Faried ranked #2):
Faried reminds me of Udonis Haslem when he was a rookie in that Faried is light and thin but ultra-tough and competitive. He’s proved to be even more athletic than I expected, routinely making plays above the rim on offense and defense while still being expert at the grimy plays. His next step, though, is understanding and anticipating the game. He needs to learn how to use his mind to sniff out an action before it happens, or know exactly where to move on offense so a teammate can earn a better shot or make an easier pass. Faried gets lost on defense in part because he moves so fast, so thinking while slowing down and reading the sets will actually help keep him in better position longer.
When you add Faried to what is still a very good roster, the Nuggets are able to match up well with most teams while imposing their style of play on their opponents. Their hope is that this translates to a post-season berth and success once there.
Nuggets Blogs: Head over to Roundball Mining Company for all your news and analysis on the Nuggs.
Keys to the game: With Nene now gone, the Nuggets have become a more extreme version of the team they once were. They no longer run much of their offense through the post and instead push the pace even more and depend on their wings to provide their offensive production.
This translates to the Lakers needing to focus even more on transition defense and in slowing down Denver’s slew of perimeter threats. And it all starts with Ty Lawson. One of the fastest guards in the league, Lawson will punish teams in transition by pushing the ball at every opportunity. He’ll first look to get to the rim for his own shot but is equally capable of setting up his teammates for good looks around the perimeter. Afflalo, Gallo, and Harrington are all capable of getting hot from behind the arc and all will need to be marked in transition when they run to the three point line.
In the half court, the Lakers are once again facing a P&R heavy team with PG’s that can hurt them in a variety of ways. I’ve mentioned Lawson’s speed and quickness, but he’s also an able shooter that can hit the three point shot when given room. The Lakers must contain him coming around the corner and rotate to shooters that will attempt to space the floor to give him driving lanes. The Lakers must also deal with Andre Miller at the point. He’s also a P&R threat but will try to do a lot of his damage from the post where he’s a strong and crafty player that can create his own shot while also picking out teammates when help comes. Dealing with Miller down low will be a challenge and it will be interesting to see if the Lakers put a bigger defender on him in the hopes of disrupting his post game.
The Lakers must also pay special attention to the trio of Gallo, Afflalo, and Harrington. The two former have been playing strong ball and are major threats from behind the arc. Afflalo is a marksman from the corner and has shown a comfort expanding his game to put the ball on the ground and attack when the closeout isn’t disciplined. Gallo is a true all-court threat that relies on his jumper to set up the rest of his game. He can attack off the dribble, work some from the post when a small defender is on him, and is a good passer too. As for Harrington, he has a torn meniscus but is playing through it and remains a threat from behind the arc. Earlier this year his ability to hit shots befuddled the Lakers and whoever guards him (Pau, McRoberts) will need to stick with him but should also test his ability to drive and not just let him shoot spot up J’s.
Offensively, without Kobe, the plan will again be to go into the post to Bynum and Gasol. Bynum has an advantage against Koufos and should be able to use his superior length and his power to get good shots should he work to earn position. Against McGee, Bynum should also be able to get good looks but against the taller, more athletic defender, Bynum will need to use his niftiness around the hoop. Counters, head fakes, and moves to the baseline where he uses the rim as protection should serve him well.
Gasol should also be able to do solid work against Faried. While the rookie is an explosive leaper with good length, he’s giving up several inches to Pau and that should mean work around the post can be executed more easily. If Pau can hit a few jumpers, he should then move to the left block against Faried and use his height advantage to get off his shot – especially his hook as that will be a harder shot to challenge.
The other key on offense will be ball movement. In the last two games, the ball has moved freely and it’s led to good looks from a variety of Lakers. Ron has benefitted most as he’s gotten the ball in rhythm and been able to explore more of his offensive game, working his mid-range and post game more often instead of just standing in the corner. Of course, a lot of this ball movement will be based off the play of Sessions. Ramon should be able to work the P&R, probe the defense, and work to get good shots for himself by penetrating the lane or using the space the D is sure to give him to shoot open jumpers. If Ramon can use his speed to penetrate the lane it should lead to nothing but good things for the Lakers.
Lastly, the Lakers will need to ensure the floor is balanced on offense in order to aid in their transition to defense. Denver plays at the 2nd fastest pace in the league and, as mentioned earlier, will push the ball every chance they get. If it doesn’t lead to lay ins and dunks, they’ll also run early offensive actions to get them into their sets quickly where they can get quality shots. The Lakers must defend against this on one end and then avoid getting caught up playing at such a quick pace on the other end. If they can do these things, their chances of winning go up dramatically.
The first game back from a road trip can often be a tricky one. The comforts of home can lead to a lack of focus in that first game so the Lakers must battle against this and bring the proper level of energy and effort. If they do, they can extend their streak to three straight.
Where you can watch: 7:30PM start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.Keys to game: