Preview and Chat: Lakers vs. Nuggets

Darius Soriano —  January 5, 2014

The big news of the day is the continued discussions between the Lakers and the Cavs regarding a Pau Gasol for Andrew Bynum swap. The Cavs are said to want to deal today and the Lakers are said to want assets back rather than simply wanting to do a salary dump that gets them under the luxury tax line for this season.

Considering the details and the difficulties of what both sides want versus what would be smart for them to give up relative to what each side seeks, I don’t see a deal happening between the teams. Pau Gasol would be a half season rental for the Cavs and giving up anything of value for that wouldn’t be a wise move for the future of their team. For the Lakers, getting under the tax line would be a nice coup for them, but getting nothing of value besides that wouldn’t be worth it considering they’re very unlikely to pay the repeater tax in any of the next two seasons considering how their current cap situation projects.

So, unless I’m wrong, there will be no deal. And that means that the news of the day shifts from rumored deals to the actual game that happens this evening with the Nuggets.

The Lakers will look to build on Friday’s win over the Jazz by hoping many of the same things that worked against them work against the Nuggets. That means rolling with an inside-outside attack centered on the production of Pau Gasol and the surprising play of Kendall Marshall.

For this to work, Pau will need to establish the paint offensively via direct post ups and through diving out of the P&R. If Pau can continue what he started on Friday — establishing decent position in the post, finding soft spots in the defense out of the P&R where he can nestle into the FT line area — he can be the offensive threat the Lakers need him to be that can set up the rest of the team’s flow on that side of the ball.

This is especially crucial for Marshall who will have more eyes on him defensively than he did on Friday. Marshall did a very good job of capitalizing on the space the Jazz gave him by threatening the paint off the dribble and hitting jumpers when his man sagged off him. The Nuggets will surely pressure his handle a bit more and try to cut off the driving angles that the Jazz afforded him. If Pau (and Hill and Sacre) can roll hard into the paint and/or hit enough jumpers from right around the elbow area, it will open up the passing angles Marshall needs to hit the Lakers’ shooters circling around the arc. The burden will then be on Meeks, Young, Johnson, Williams, and Kelly to knock down those shots, but that’s the case every night.

Defensively, the Nuggets will bring their pace and space attack to Staples so the Lakers better be ready to run back in transition and cover ground to close out defensively in the half court. The Nuggets will look to score against a Lakers’ D that is not yet set and will drive hard into the paint to get baskets at the rim as frequently as possible.

Ty Lawson is key to this attack and will need to be walled off in transition and kept out of the paint when trying to turn the corner in the P&R. This is easier said than done as he is one of the quickest players in the league when working with the ball in his hands and with the threat of a very good outside shot, there is no cheating off him  to try and contain that quickness. No, the Lakers are going to have to play Lawson as straight up as they can, slightly overplaying him for the drive, and hoping that they can both keep him from breaking down their defense off the dribble while still ensuring that they can contest his jumper.

Part of being able to do all this will depend on the team’s ability to guard the Nuggets when they go small with Wilson Chandler manning the PF spot. Chandler’s ability to space the floor from that spot opens up penetration from Lawson (and Nate Robinson) which then opens up the floor for guys like Faried, Mozgov, and Hickson both in the mid-range and when slipping towards the basket. The Lakers will need to be especially sharp whenever Chandler is in the game, moving quickly to shooters behind the arc and then recovering to the paint to ensure that Denver’s bigs don’t do too much damage near the rim via easy shots via the pass or from offensive rebounds.

While Denver is the more talented team coming into this game, they’re not much better in terms of record and haven’t been playing very well lately. Before beating the Grizzlies on Friday, they’d lost 8 consecutive games and are two games below .500 on the season. The Lakers, then, have a chance to build on the momentum they established on Friday by playing a similarly struggling team in the Nuggs. Whoever can better carry forward the success they showed in their most recent game will have the upper hand tonight. Here’s to it being the home team.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710 AM.

Darius Soriano

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