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Preview: Nuggets vs. Lakers

It hasn't been the most pleasant 2-day break for the Lakers (7-8) after falling back to sub .500 last Tuesday thanks to their most lackluster performance of the season against Indiana.

There were plenty of reasons as to why and how the purple and gold lost that game, but it's obvious the Lakers can't establish their identity without having everybody back, especially Steve Nash.

Without the 2-time MVP at the point, the Lakers had been relying on Kobe Bryant's ability to draw lots of attention from the defense to make plays for the rest of the team. So far, Kobe is averaging 4.9 assists but also 4.1 turnovers per game.

Say what you will about that particular stat. But make no mistake, that number is indicative of how much the Lakers miss Nash running the offense.

However, Mike D'Antoni isn't harping about all of the wrongs his team is doing on offense. Instead, he wants his team to focus more on the defensive end of the floor.

That is probably the biggest understatement of the year.

But defense is a different beast compared to offense. It really takes attitude and commitment mentally on an individual level before that takes on the personality of the team.

Against the Denver Nuggets (8-8) tonight, the Lakers are seeing the team they bounced out of the 1st round last season for the first time this season. Expect the Nuggets to carry a bit of zest and, perhaps, confidence due to having taken the Lakers to 7 games in the playoffs last year. Not to mention that they now have Andre Igoudala, who they can use to defend Kobe and provide some serious perimeter scoring with the rest of the team.

Igoudala leads the Nuggets at 15.7 points and baskets made at 6.1 per game. Career-wise he is averaging 16.6 points and 6.2 made field goals versus the Lakers.

But Iggy isn't the only problem for L.A.. Ty Lawson has always been an enigma because of his speed, quickness and ability to score against whoever the Lakers put on him. Lawson is averaging 13.5 points and 7.6 assists this season.

He might be an undersized power forward at 6-foot 8 and 228 pounds, but Kenneth Faried is a relentless, energy guy who can outwork and outhustle just about anybody on the floor. This guy loves to help as a secondary defender in the paint and can be a nagging hang nail on the boards as well. Want proof? He's getting 13.3 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game so far this season.

On the flip side, the Lakers have their own guys that can give Denver problems all night long.

Kobe Bryant loves to play against them because the Nuggets were a few teams in the NBA who can throw more than one defender at him. Aaron Afflalo is gone now, but Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler are still around. Add Igoudala in the group and Kobe might just be salavating at this challenge since Wednesday.

Bryant averages 25 points at 45.7% shooting per game against Denver all-time.

Dwight Howard is next in line. He averages 17.1 points, 13.7 boards and 2.1 blocks per outing in his career versus the Nuggets. Same goes with Pau Gasol. His numbers overall reads 17.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per night.

In fact, these 2 teams are nearly parallel in stats this season. The Lakers are putting up 99.1 points (10th) while Denver is at 99.8 points (6th) per game. Defensively, L.A. is allowing 95.5 points (9th) and the Nuggets are giving 98.8 points (18th) per game to their opponents. Then, rebounding and assists look like this: 45.9 (Lakers), 46.8 (Nuggets) and 20.3 (Lakers), 21.8 (Nuggets).

Denver is also struggling with their consistency despite only introducing 1 new player in their starting lineup this year.

But the Lakers know they can't rely on dealing with a lesser Nugget team even at home. Historically, Denver plays hard against them no matter where they play.

If the Lakers respect and, more importantly, expect that tonight, they should be good to go. Then again, Laker fans never know what kind of Laker team shows up each game.

The Lakers won last season's series 3-1 and are 5-1 at Staples Center against the Nuggets, including post-season.

Matchup of the Game

Kenneth Faried vs. Pau Gasol: Tendinitis or not, Pau better bring it tonight. Going up against Faried alone is quite an undertaking even when he's healthy. He can't allow Faried to negate everything he does on the floor. If that happens, it will be difficult for the Lakers to get back to .500 tonight.

Keys to the Game

> Team Effort: Despite their 8-8 record, make no mistake, the Nuggets are going to be a tough challenge for the Lakers. If they don't meet that challenge from the get-go, Laker fans are going to be frustrated again.

> Defense: As always, Denver will attack the Lakers from outside using a variety of dribble penetrations for kickouts and layups and a number of screens to get their shooters free to do their thing. The Lakers have to stay on shooters, rotate well, get back in transition and help out Howard when he goes up for a block. But they also have to remember to make perimeter players dribble the ball into their interior defenders.

> Get the Bigs Going Early: Everything tends to go their way on both ends of the hardwood when they feed their post-players early and often. Going inside first opens up the perimeter for everyone. And if Kobe wants to minimize his turnovers, he needs to look for Dwight and Pau as soon as he brings the ball over into their halfcourt.

Game Info

Tonight vs. Denver Nuggets
Tip-off at 7:30 p.m.
Staples Center
TV: TWC SportsNet/ESPN
Radio: 710 ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

Nuggets: None

Lakers: Steve Nash (leg – out for at least next week) and Steve Blake (abdomen – out for at least 2 more weeks)
 

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Preview: Nuggets vs. Lakers

He’s back!

Andrew Bynum will make his season debut on Saturday when the Lakers (2-2) take on the Denver Nuggets (2-1) at Staples Center before they head to the Mile High City the following day for their second of a back-to-back. His return couldn’t have come at a better time as the Lakers are starting to gel as a team and grasping Mike Brown‘s offensive and defensive systems.

Bynum may have had 2 pre-season games and some training camp under his belt, but nothing beats going through a new set of playbooks during a real game. Remember, his 4-game suspension also prohibited him from participating in team practices. So the sooner he can get back on the court with his teammates, the less he’s going to interfere with the flow of progress.

The Nuggets won last season’s series 2-1 by winning at home and on the road. But they won’t have J.R. Smith, Chandler Wilson and Kenyon Martin in the lineup. These guys are some of the NBA players who signed a contract to play overseas without any out clause in case the lockout ends sooner than later. However, Denver’s offense hasn’t suffered one bit without them. They are currently the highest scoring team averaging 111.3 points per outing. The flip side is they have the 4th worst defense allowing 101.3 points per game despite being #1 in steals (16 per game).

The Lakers are slowly but steadily climbing the league’s team stat sheets. They’re ranked #19 on offense (93.3 PPG) but have the 4th best defense giving up just 85.3 points per contest. That’s an impressive 10-point difference from last year when they allowed 95.4 points per. It’s still early to tell how well the Lakers will end up playing defense come playoff time, but the early signs are promising that they’ll at least finish in the top 5.

That stingy defense better show up against the Nuggets as they’ll be facing one of the quickest guards in the NBA in Ty Lawson, who is averaging 22.3 points per game and shooting at a blistering rate of 61.9% from the field and 41.7% from behind the arc. However, Mike Brown had a solid plan against Derrick Rose on opening night. Now that the Lakers are better defensively, perhaps Lawson wouldn’t pose that much trouble at all. But for that to happen, the Lakers better be up to the new challenge as a team.

Denver has a couple of players they can throw at Kobe Bryant. Arron Afflalo has always defended Bryant well and newly acquired Corey Brewer had some moments of stopping him when he was with Dallas. But with his surgically repaired knee nearly at 100%, slowing down Kobe might not be as easy of a job as before. Let’s not forget that the offense has given Kobe more room and spots to operate on offense whether to score or set-up his teammates.

Then, there are the 2 beasts inside. The Nuggets only have Nenê as their proven solid post defender. But even he has problems keeping up with both Bynum and Pau Gasol. Denver will need other guys to step up defensively inside or this one will be over before it even starts for them.

The Lakers are 2-1 at Staples Center and has won 2 straight games. Meanwhile, the Nuggets are coming off a loss in Portland and have dropped to 1-1 on the road. This is the 1st of 4 meetings between these 2 teams with the 2nd coming at the Pepsi Center on Sunday.

Matchup of the Game

Arron Afflalo vs. Kobe Bryant: Against the defense of Afflalo, we should see how well Kobe’s knee has gotten better. Arron is an underrated physical defender who isn’t afraid of guarding Bryant. Then again, Kobe is one of the strongest guards in the league and can still shoot over defenders bigger than Afflalo. On the other end, Bryant can’t allow Arron to have too many good looks from behind the 3-pt. line. Afflalo has improved his range immensely the past 2 seasons, so Kobe needs to choose when to help out on defense wisely.

Keys for the Lakers

Inside Game: With Bynum back, the Lakers should keep forcing the Nuggets to adjust their interior defense. It would also help to give Kobe and Metta World Peace their time in the post just to prevent Denver from adapting.

Ballhandling: As I said before, the Nuggets are tops in steals thanks to Lawson’s 4 steals per game average. The Lakers cannot be careless with their passing and dribbling. Bynum and Gasol must also be extra aware of where Lawson is on the floor and when they pass out of a double-team or all of that size advantage would be for nothing.

Defense: Denver knows they won’t stand a chance if they match halfcourt games with the Lakers. In order to have some leverage in winning the game, the Nuggets will try to force the Lakers into turnovers so they can score on fastbreaks. That means that the Lakers better be ready to run back on defense on missed shots and give-aways, and I don’t mean just prevent layups. The Nuggets still have some shooters who will stop and pop a trey on a break if nobody meets them behind the arc.

Game Info

Where: Staples Center
When: Saturday, Dec. 31st at 12:30 p.m.
TV: FoxSports
Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN
Tickets:
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Preview: Nuggets vs. Lakers

LAKERS

The top 2 teams in the west collide tonight for the second time this season. Both teams are in a race to have home-court advantage in the post season, but the Lakers (38-12) have a 9-game lead over the Denver Nuggets (33-16).

Denver is one of those teams that doesn’t play as good on the road and currently has a 11-12 record away from the Pepsi Center. But they’ve been on a roll and gaining momentum for the post-season winning 8 of their last 10 games. Meanwhile, the Lakers are still hanging on to a league-best home record of 24-3 and look to make it 9 wins in a row at Staples Center.

However, there is a chance both teams will not have their franchise superstar due to ankle injuries. Kobe Bryant‘s status will be a game-time decision, but he spent the entire Thursday getting treatments for his sore left ankle to get ready for tonight’s matchup. So I doubt he’ll miss the game. Carmelo Anthony isn’t like Kobe, so he’ll most likely be a spectator tonight.

Kobe’s inability to move fluidly or score more than 5 points Wednesday night’s win against the Bobcats has prompted Phil Jackson to contemplate whether or not to have Bryant rest for at least two games to nurse his ankle. Since the team hasn’t significantly improved with 32 games left in the regular season and the fact that the Lakers will need him as healthy as possible in the playoffs, now will be the best time to do so.

Last time these two teams met back in November, the Nuggets gave the Lakers something to remember with a 105-79 beatdown. The Lakers might not be as giving, but they will certainly give something back in return.

But no matter if Kobe rests or not, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will have to start putting together some 20+ points and 10+ rebounds because their production in the paint at both ends will be crucial as the Lakers try to maintain a top seed in the west while winning more games than Cleveland, who holds a tie-breaker against them should both teams end up with the same record at the end of the regular season.

The Lakers are 6-2 against the Nuggets the past two seasons, including a perfect 4-0 record at Staples Center. The last time Denver won in L.A. in the regular season was back in April 3, 2007 111-105, but they stole Game 2 here during last year’s WC Finals 106-103.

The keys for the Lakers tonight are play tough consistent defense, box-out, and use their bigs often. Even without Anthony, the Nuggets are still dangerous around the perimeter thanks to J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson, Aaron Afflalo, and Chauncey Billups. These guys must be tended to at all times and let the bigs take care of Nene, Kenyon Martin, and Chris Andersen. Denver doesn’t have a true back-to-basket type of player to attack the paint, but they’re quite good at compensating with a helter-skelter type of outside shooting.

But if the Lakers can match their energy, play smart on both baskets, and rebound with as much gusto as the Nuggets’ bigs, they’ll come out as victors. This is an important game for the Lakers because they’ll be facing a potential playoff opponent possibly in the second round. Dropping a second game to them will not bode well for the Lakers’ confidence.

Time to man up.

Tip-off is at 7:30.  TV: FoxSports West, ESPN  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

GO LAKERS!!!

Preview: Nuggets vs. Lakers

LAKERS

The top 2 teams in the west collide tonight for the second time this season. Both teams are in a race to have home-court advantage in the post season, but the Lakers (38-12) have a 9-game lead over the Denver Nuggets (33-16).

Denver is one of those teams that doesn’t play as good on the road and currently has a 11-12 record away from the Pepsi Center. But they’ve been on a roll and gaining momentum for the post-season winning 8 of their last 10 games. Meanwhile, the Lakers are still hanging on to a league-best home record of 24-3 and look to make it 9 wins in a row at Staples Center.

However, there is a chance both teams will not have their franchise superstar due to ankle injuries. Kobe Bryant‘s status will be a game-time decision, but he spent the entire Thursday getting treatments for his sore left ankle to get ready for tonight’s matchup. So I doubt he’ll miss the game. Carmelo Anthony isn’t like Kobe, so he’ll most likely be a spectator tonight.

Kobe’s inability to move fluidly or score more than 5 points Wednesday night’s win against the Bobcats has prompted Phil Jackson to contemplate whether or not to have Bryant rest for at least two games to nurse his ankle. Since the team hasn’t significantly improved with 32 games left in the regular season and the fact that the Lakers will need him as healthy as possible in the playoffs, now will be the best time to do so.

Last time these two teams met back in November, the Nuggets gave the Lakers something to remember with a 105-79 beatdown. The Lakers might not be as giving, but they will certainly give something back in return.

But no matter if Kobe rests or not, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will have to start putting together some 20+ points and 10+ rebounds because their production in the paint at both ends will be crucial as the Lakers try to maintain a top seed in the west while winning more games than Cleveland, who holds a tie-breaker against them should both teams end up with the same record at the end of the regular season.

The Lakers are 6-2 against the Nuggets the past two seasons, including a perfect 4-0 record at Staples Center. The last time Denver won in L.A. in the regular season was back in April 3, 2007 111-105, but they stole Game 2 here during last year’s WC Finals 106-103.

The keys for the Lakers tonight are play tough consistent defense, box-out, and use their bigs often. Even without Anthony, the Nuggets are still dangerous around the perimeter thanks to J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson, Aaron Afflalo, and Chauncey Billups. These guys must be tended to at all times and let the bigs take care of Nene, Kenyon Martin, and Chris Andersen. Denver doesn’t have a true back-to-basket type of player to attack the paint, but they’re quite good at compensating with a helter-skelter type of outside shooting.

But if the Lakers can match their energy, play smart on both baskets, and rebound with as much gusto as the Nuggets’ bigs, they’ll come out as victors. This is an important game for the Lakers because they’ll be facing a potential playoff opponent possibly in the second round. Dropping a second game to them will not bode well for the Lakers’ confidence.

Time to man up.

Tip-off is at 7:30.  TV: FoxSports West, ESPN  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

GO LAKERS!!!

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