Records: Lakers 15-17 (11th in the West), Nuggets 19-16 (8th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (6th in the NBA), Nuggets 105.0 (8th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.1 (18th in the NBA), Nuggets 101.9 (13th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Nuggets: Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Chris Duhon (questionable); Nuggets: Wilson Chandler (out)
What more can be written about this group of Lakers that hasn’t been already? I mean, I am asking seriously.
At this point, until proven otherwise, this Laker team isn’t too different than the one that Mike Brown was fired for coaching to a 1-4 record. And, maybe more accurately, they look like Phil Jackson’s last team (the one swept by Dallas) only a bit older and a bit less together/familiar with each other.
There are reasons the team hasn’t looked its best. These reasons are valid. Dwight Howard doesn’t look like himself physically on most nights. Pau Gasol is either in full decline (which, coming off his Summer in London seems far fetched, but is possible) or is a combination of dinged up physically and being misused offensively. Kobe and Nash are playing well offensively but must be compensated for defensively in ways that compromise the integrity of their defensive schemes. The rest of the roster is unbalanced and inconsistent in their performance from night to night. Add in an early season coaching change and what an upheaval like that means and this is the result.
It’s also not good enough. The season is pretty much at that stage where the team has to start showing what it is capable of being on a more consistent basis, regardless of opponent. It needs to start forming good habits to replace some of the bad ones that have formed in their first 32 games. Strides had been made (5 straight wins!), but then they were given right back (losers in 3 of their next 4). Continuing that type of up and down play will not get them very far this season, maybe not even an invitation to the tournament.
Which makes games like tonight’s pretty important in the larger scheme of things. The Nuggets are one of the teams currently ahead of the Lakers in the standings. Simple math tells us that in order for the Lakers to get into the playoffs they need to win games and they need teams like the Nuggets (currently in 8th) to lose. The best way to accomplish both tasks is to win this game.
The last time these two teams met was the day after Christmas. Both teams flew into Denver after playing in Los Angeles on Christmas Day, but the Nuggets (though arriving later) looked to be the fresher team. They brought more energy to the game (spurred on by their home crowd) and beat the Lakers with a combination of hustle, heart, and skill. They shot the ball well, frustrated the Lakers with physicality on the backboards, and thoroughly deflated them after their win against the Knicks the night before.
Tonight, it’s the Lakers who are at home and only the Nuggets played last night (a win over the Jazz in Denver). How this translates to the game remains to be seen, but the Lakers should be the fresher team — if not at the outset, then be the end of the contest. The key is, however, that the Lakers play with that requisite energy the entire game to exceed what the Nuggets bring.
Furthermore, the Lakers must remain disciplined to their scouting reports and understand the subtle shifts of late. The Nuggets want to play fast and they want to attack the paint both on when shots are taken and directly proceeding them. They will try to get to the rim for their field goal attempts and then crash the glass to collect the misses. The Lakers must build a wall around the paint and keep Faried, McGee, and company from hitting the glass after Iguodala, Lawson, and Gallo attack the paint.
Speaking of Gallo, he’s been shooting the ball well from behind the arc lately, making 15 of his 30 three point shots in his last five games. With Ron back in the starting lineup, it will be on him to chase him around the perimeter and run him off the line. It will then be on Ron’s teammates to step up and help on the ensuing dribble penetration while continuing to rotate after passes are made and shots are attempted.
But controlling the feel of this game is what’s most important for the Lakers. Both teams play fast, but a tempo too quick will clearly favor the Nuggets regardless of who played last night. The Lakers must slow them down enough to make them grind out possessions offensively and then play with enough pace back at them to make them defend multiple options over a single play. This isn’t the easiest thing to pull off but it’s the way to get them frustrated on both ends, and the way to win the game.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.