Over the years, one of the mantras of this site has been that the Lakers will go as far as their defense takes them. If they work hard and focus on getting stops by playing together they can harness their talents and perform at a high level. If they point fingers, slack on rotations, and fail to work as a unit they’ll be shredded. This year, we’ve seen performances that sit on both poles of this spectrum so neither would surprise these playoffs. That said, they’ll need to be more like their early season defensive selves if they hope to make a deep run.
The Nuggets are a team built around speed and tempo. They want to play fast and they want their opponent to join them. They played at the 2nd fastest pace in the league this year and that led to them leading the league in points per game. That said, their ability to score points isn’t just based off playing fast. They were 3rd in offensive efficiency on the season, were 2nd in field goal percentage, and first in free throws attempted. They also led the league in shots taken at the rim, taking a shade over 34 shots a game at point blank range. Plus, they’re a good ball movement team, leading the league in assists.
Beyond these numbers though, there are areas in which the Nuggets aren’t as strong. They’re only 24th in 3 point field goal percentage and 22nd in FG% on shots from 16-23 feet. They do try to do a good job of laying off these shots, ranking 13th and 30th in shots attempted from these distances respectively, but the fact remains that they’re not a good deep shooting team and any game plan should focus on trying to persuade them into taking these shots more frequently (especially long two pointers).
What are the other keys to slowing them down? Glad you asked…
Denver is the most efficient transition team in the league scoring 1.2 points per play every time they attempt a shot on the break. Ty Lawson is a coast to coast threat and he’s more than comfortable working rim to rim on the break and finishing. Off this ability he’s also able to pick out teammates filling the lanes or running to the three point line. Andre Miller offers the same threat. And while he’s not the road runner that Lawson is, Miller is savvy in the open court and extremely smart in choosing his spots on when to attack the rim in the open court. Plus, with his bigger frame, he’s more of a threat to knock off his man with a strong move while advancing the ball and use that step gained to get deep into the paint and compromise the D.
With this being the case, the Lakers getting back on D, building a wall, and then marking shooters is the single most important defensive principle in the series. The guards must be ready to sprint back once a shot goes up and the SF and two bigs will need to balance chasing offensive boards with getting back to the paint to offer that second line of defense against the advancing ball. This really will be a team effort and a lot of it will depend on floor balance and awareness. With Kobe likely doing most of his damage below the foul line and Sessions having a chance to be assertive by getting into the lane, others will need to make sure they’re in position to transition back. This means a heavy burden will be on Ebanks, Barnes, and one of the bigs to be the first men back. If the Lakers find themselves on the wrong end of 3 on 2’s consistently, the Nuggets will have made this series into the one they want to play.
Pick and Rolls, Pick and Pops
The Nuggets though, aren’t one of the best offensive teams simply by playing a full court game. When they’re operating in the half court, they’re also quite dangerous running their sets. They’re mostly a pick and roll team and use several options off this action to get good shots.
First and foremost is Ty Lawson using the pick to free himself up to get the shots he wants. He’s adept at turning the corner to finish in the paint or stepping back and knocking down the jumper. So, special attention will need to be paid to him to make sure he doesn’t find his rhythm. My preference is that the Lakers go under picks and make him shoot long jumpers rather than fighting over picks and giving him the opportunity to turn the corner or split the hedge to get into the lane.
But Lawson isn’t the only threat. Denver loves to space the floor with shooters so that Lawson (and Miller) can use the threat of his own offense as a way to set up shooters. Gallinari and/or Afflalo will often camp in the strong side corner to make helping more difficult. So, when the PG threatens the paint either shooter offers a release valve to put up an open jumper. Meanwhile, whoever isn’t in the corner is rotating up the opposite sideline looking for a skip pass as the defense rotates to help in the paint. Help that is necessary because Faried, Mozgov, and Koufus are all threats diving down the lane after setting screens. Faried and Mozgov are two that will need attention because they can finish in the paint, even in traffic.
The play that has hurt the Lakers most, however, is the pick and pop in Denver’s small lineups. Al Harrington, particularly, has been a thorn in the Lakers’ side averaging over 18 points a game in their match ups. When Al comes in, he instantly starts to run pick and pops with the PG where he’ll set the screen and then float to the wing where he can get off a three pointer before the help comes. When the Lakers start to adjust by running at him or playing him closer, he’ll then use his solid first step to either drive at his man or threaten the drive and then turn the play into a mid-post set where he’ll attack an off-balance defender. Gallinari can also do many of these same things, so he too can be a problem in the P&P. The Lakers rotations will need to be crisp and on time to deal with these two when they stretch the floor after setting picks. Whether that means Pau and Jordan Hill recovering or one of their teammates rushing to wing isn’t as important as they working to get the job done.
Slowing the Wings
Denver’s offense is free flowing and that means their wings have a lot of freedom to attack whenever they see an opening. This puts a fair amount of pressure the Lakers’ perimeter D – especially with them weakened with Ron suspended and Barnes banged up.
Kobe will have his hands full dealing with Arron Afflalo who has really turned up his game lately. In his last 20 games, Afflalo is putting up 19 points a game while shooting the ball extremely well (52.5% from the floor, including 45.6% from three). He’s become more than a corner three point shooter, working some in the post and using a refined mid-range game to score efficiently from all three levels of the court. This is one series where Kobe can’t play “free safety”, roaming off his man to help his teammates. He’ll be guarding a primary offensive threat and his attention must be on his man.
The same will be true of Ebanks who will be facing Gallinari. While Gallo hasn’t had a good year (and has been even worse against the Lakers) facing a less experienced defender at the start of games may give him some confidence. Devin will need to keep him deep on the perimeter and not give up the types of easy baskets that can get him going. That means contesting shots but not getting blown by after ball fakes and using his good length to make the shots Gallo takes a bit more difficult.
The other main threat is Andre Miller. The savvy vet is part PG part SG for the Nuggs who often use him as a hammer against second units that don’t have the personnel to deal with his unique game. Against smaller PG’s, Miller is quite capable of going into the post and either getting good looks or forcing help and then picking out a teammate for a good shot. Against bigger guards, Miller will use his deceptively good first step to get his shoulder by his man and then use his strength to keep him at bay and finish in the paint. Meanwhile, the Lakers don’t really have a good option to play him. If the Lakers go to a small back court either Blake or Sessions will have to deal with Miller. If the Lakers go big, Barnes, Ebanks, or Kobe offer better defenders but that then removes them from chasing one of Denver’s other wing threats.
This is a series where the Lakers ability to defend in transition will be the biggest key. If they can get back and effectively protect the paint while not surrendering open three pointers, Denver will be forced into half court offense. And while they can be effective there, if the Lakers sag off and force the Nuggets into long two pointers and contested three pointers, their offense can be sufficiently stalled. This is also a series where the Lakers bigs will need to be at their best in help situations. Denver’s pick and pop actions will spread them thin but they’ll need to overcome that by rotating well to stretch PF’s while also still protecting the paint against Denver’s penetrating PG’s.
Understand too that Denver doesn’t have true post up threats so this should free Bynum to be more assertive on D and impose his will on the Nuggets by contesting shots and controlling the glass. If Drew brings his hard hat on that side of the floor, the Lakers should be in very good shape. Then, if he’s supported by Pau and Hill while Kobe, Ebanks, and Barnes do their jobs on the wing the Lakers should be able to keep Denver below their averages. Which, in this series, should be enough as the Lakers offense should be able to score on the other end.
Nuggets are potent on offense didn’t know they ranked that low from 16 feet on. Maybe going under screens isn’t such a bad thing this series. Force them to shoot long jumpers and wall off the paint.
UGH, Looks like Derrick Rose injured his left knee in the closing minutes of the 76ers-Bulls game.
Nuggets are no longer rich and creamy. They will be tough starting game 1.
All these fouls in the miami game. They definitely get the benefit of the whistle.
@Kevin—No doubt–these are the kinds of games that make casual fans think the NBA is only a notch or two removed from the WWE. I don’t know what the solution is–a lot of it is human nature—home teams in basketball at all levels, H.S., college, and NBA, all seem to have an advantage on the whistle, per an SI article on a long study that was done on the subjecct—it’s tough to ignore the volume from the home crowd…like I said — human nature..
Then to compound things–baloney flagrant call on Chandler–as a direct result of “King’s” flop—the most amusing part is James holding the back of his head, when the replay clearly shows no contact with James’ head…..
That may the worst flagrant foul call of all time. I also love how LeBron holds his neck after being hit in the back.
i would like to point out the 2 blatent flops by LBJ already and Miami with a whopping 27 free throws already
Kevin I came to post the same thing, worst called half I have ever seen. Between Lebron’s flops and the extreme bias these refs have shown toward Miami the NBA has made a mockery of officiating today. 13 free throws in one half for Lebron alone? 28-5 free throw advantage overall? What a joke
The Dane says
Damn Knicks are being manhandled by the refs atm. And Lebron is acting like a little girl, flopping on every contact.
Miami won’t lose at home when all you have to do is breathe on their players and a foul gets called.
This is one of the worst officiatings I have seen in years. It’s amazing how the Heat defenders (Bron & Wade) can jump on every pass and nothing is called, yet everything is called against NY. Not even to mention the blatant flops from Bron.
Ridiculous calls all because the nba’s marketing department think people like lebron James – we don’t, those flops were almost as bad as flop city’s evans last week
Michael H says
I have been thinking of an interesting twist here. This is the first time I can remember that a teams chances of winning a title are less if they sweep the 1st round. A sweep means we play two in OKC without MWP. That said, I really do not believe we will sweep. I am thinking 5 or more likely 6 games.
Ko@10 Previous: I predicted Lakers in 6. I did say possibly 5, which means I would go 5 before 7, but my prediction is 6 : ) I understand where you are coming from, because there are a couple on this board who are a little over the top. I qualified my post saying that it was optimistic – especially for me, + I have deep concerns for rnd 2.
Funny thing is Pau does the flailing manuver almost every game results aren’t the same for him.
If Rose goes down, the Celts are now a serious threat. They can beat the Bulls with a hobbled rose (maybe even with Rose). Then they would be serious dogs against the Heat, but we know how they Heat can tighten up at the wrong time.
Time to announce the annual Vlade & Varejao Flop Award… to LeFlop James!!!
Knicks new Jeremy Lin to break down the D
And now they just lost their beat defender
Now Iman Shumpert for NY goes down with a non contact knee injury. Injuries might decide these playoffs.
The Dane says
I almost wish the super-bad neck-injury Lebron was facking was real. He should team up with Paul the Rabbit Pierce after their playing days and sell acting lessons…
I agree that the refs have been a little tilted in the Miami game. However the crowd all wearing white shirts and going nuts is impressive. Perhaps for a similar showing of solidarity at Staples, we could ask everyone to wear Ralph Lauren and hold up the Smartphones? : )
The Knicks are good. They are legit. Too bad we have to see them playing the most talented team in the league. The Knicks don’t have the one thing you need to beat them… A offensive one on one Center. The Heat don’t have a freaking Center on their roster!!! What were they thinking?
i just watched the rose injury. i’m not saying he is out of shape, but he’s not in the kind of shape he needs to be in to play his explosive, athletic style of basketball.
he’s like a guy trying to go from doing air squats to plyometric pistol squats. of course he got hurt.
it looks like his quad gives out before his knee is hurt.
Not sure why people (on other sites) are jumping at Thibs because of the Rose injury. It looked like a non-contact injury, he just planted hard on the jumpstop. If that’s the case, Rose is clearly not in top shape and he would have gotten injured sooner or later regardless of whether Thibs took him out 15 seconds sooner this game.
Didn’t watch the game, but what chibi says makes sense. Rose plays a reckless style that’s not conducive to easing your way back into game shape.
lil' pau says
Trudell reporting Barnes cleared to play tom’w. Come on Lakers!
Chris J says
Ed Malloy is probably the worst ref in the NBA these days, so it’s fitting his fingerprints were all over the Heat game today.
Breaking News via ESPN – Rose Tears his ACL. Out remainder of playoffs.
Rose out for the season. Torn ACL. Damn.
Very sad. Nobody was afraid of the bulls. But NBA fans should be pissed right now. We all have lost out on a historic career. PGs are never the same after an ALC tear during their NBA careers. Very sad. Very very sad. No words right now.
Now that Rose is out – that pretty much guarantees that I will absolutely despise whoever comes out of the East. Most likely the Heat with the Celts being the only other possibility.
By the way, I liked the Darius reminder that this is “primarily” a Lakers board. If you want to adore LeBronze or that punk D Wade, please go to the Heat blog.
Holy frack. No way I thought the Rose injury would be that bad from looking at it, and the way he walked it off. That’s a gut-punch for any basketball fan.
This is why flopping won’t get better. Watching ESPN pre game show and they show the Bron foul. They’re trumpeting his toughness in absorbing that foul and show rest of his highlights. What bs.
Damn! Get well soon D. Rose and come back better than ever.
This season may have just been a jinxed anomaly for Rose. But it could well be that Rose will have to slowly undergo a transformation from a reckless style of play to more finesse in order to preserve his body – the same transition Wade had to make over time. Wade in his first 3-4 years was very similar to Rose in his relentless attack of the basket. He had to adjust after a slew of injuries.
T. Rogers says
Hate to hear that about Rose. I really wanted to see Chicago make noise in the East playoffs. I don’t know what I would hate to see more, Miami in the Finals or Boston. I guess I am rooting for Indiana now.
I do think the injuries we are seeing are in some way a result of no training camp and a condensed season that just didn’t give players as much time to recharge between games. As someone noted earlier, this season the title may come down to the team who is healthiest at the end. I suspect we will see more injuries as the playoffs go on and the level of intensity rises.
All jump shots for OKC that’s why they’re not a sure thing out the west. Shooting can go from hot to cold but a big man size never changes. Glad Lakers have 4 legit post players.
Shumpert too now with the ACL. Wow. Hope these guys can bounce back.
Is it bad to be rooting for Dallas? I can’t decide who’s more unlikeable between Perkins or Cuban.
Is coach Scotty Brooks living vicariously through Derek Fisher?
Aaron, “Nobody was afraid of the Bulls” do you realize how absurd that is? Nobody in the NBA is afraid of anyone else. These are grown men who aren’t afraid of anyone else. The Knicks WANTED to play the Heat. Were the Mavericks afraid of the 2 time defending Champions last year? Were they afraid of the heavily favored Heat in the Finals?
Give me a break, media hype or fans opinions like yours mean nothing to these guys on the floor, when another human being challenges them they will rise to the challenge or they will falter. Fear is nothing
Rooting for the Mavs in OKC-Mavs series. I don’t underestimate them because they’re the champs. Nowitzki and Terry won’t let their team lose.
Yeah, I’d give the unlikability edge to Cuban too. By a comfortable margin.
Perkins plays while Cuban blathers on and on like a tool.
Fisher looks bad he needs post players. The triangle extended his career. Suit and tie may be the way to go.
I would cheer for Mavs to beat Thunders, it at least gives us a change to revenge last year’s sweep/
Wow Kevin Durant what a shot
Now that’s what the playoffs are all about.
Surprised at Dirk’s 2 TOs, not so much at Westbrook’s TOs. Fun game to watch.
Great make by Durant. Dallas gave that one away
Damn, Mavs was so close. It was good defense by Marion and Mahinmi. That was a lucky shot by Durant.
Kind of glad we are not playing the Mavs. OKC look very beatable. These injuries are scaring me.
just need 6 more of that sort of game to soften up dallas or okc.
Great finish to the OKC-Dallas game. Durant got the roll to win the game.
Great previews on the Lakers-Nuggets series. GO Lakers as the real season begins.
Lucky shot by Durant. I’m glad we didn’t draw Dallas. They are still the defending champs and played like one until the miracle shot by KD. They’ll be a tough out for OKC. I’ll be rooting for Dallas to win the series so Kobe can get his payback.
re: Bynum facing double teams – “I’m getting a lot more touches, a lot more sights against it,” Bynum said. “When they do double-team me, sometimes I do put the ball down and turn baseline — which I’m not going to do. Face up, move the basketball, duck it on the backside.”
Said Bynum: “I’m ready for everything …
“We’re well aware that we need to come out here and make a statement in the first game. We need to win it in a big way.”
My daddy says you are a meanie head. And he says that even I know he didn’t mean actually “afraid” as in afraid of a wild animal. He meant afraid like afraid of that team beating another team. Duh.
Michael H says
Didn’t watch of the Mav’s/thunder, tuned in as d-fish was shooting a toe on the line two. Classic.
@41 Chibi, Interesting question, who was better player Scotty Brooks or Derrick Fisher?
Am biased towards Brooks due residual odor from “Dead” D. Fish play over last 2 years with Lakers.
Last nite OKC Dead Fish did what he does. Absolutely nothing on offense and surrendering defensive blow by’s.
Brooks limits his minutes to protect the innocent.
Craig W. says
D. Fish was not brought onto the Thunder team to provide any game-winning action – they have enough players to do that – but to bookend Perkins and give the locker room someone respected for his rings.
Fish is there to be Fish, not to play much basketball.
If you are rooting for the Lakers (most of you are), then you should be rooting for:
1) Teams who are in our way to get beat (OKC, SA, Miami, now Boston).
2) At least for their series to be extended.
3) Teams they are likely to face to be rested + not tired/injured.
So yesterday was not good for Laker fans. The Heat and Celtics will probably breeze to the ECF now with Chicago out. OKC won. Indiana now appears to be in a dogfight. If we add a SA sweep to this, this would be the next logical piece of bad news.
ChrisJ: I wanted to compliment you on your historical research from last years archives. Are you sure those are from last year? I could have sworn I read that last week : )
Wooooooooo!!! Playoff Basketball it gets no better.
BIg 3 has missed a week I’m expecting tad bit of rust early on, but fresh legs means Bynum hits those bunnies he’s been missing and Pau can bang down low and hopefully hang onto the ball.
1st game since Kobe became a established player in the playoffs without Phil.
Darius Soriano says
The game chat is up.
What’s with Kobe and air balls? He is getting punked by Aaron A on offense.