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Preview: Lakers vs. Nuggets

With another impressive victory on the road in Dallas on Sunday, the Lakers (28-29) have fought their way back within a single game of the .500 mark since Dec. 28, 2012. More importantly, they are now within 2 and a half games behind the 8th seed Rockets in the west. But the Lakers don't have time to celebrate their 3rd-straight win yesterday. They'll head to a place where it's hard to win as the visiting team.

The Pepsi Center has been one of those arenas in the NBA that vividly reminds the Lakers that they're not at Staples Center. Since its completion on Oct. 1999, the Lakers are 10-15 in the regular season. In fact, the purple and gold have not beaten the Denver Nuggets (35-22) in this building since Game 4 of the opening round of the 2012 NBA playoffs. It's not something the Lakers would like to reminisce, especially tonight.

Despite winning 11 of their 15 games (including 4 of the last 7 games away from home) since their 4-game losing streak in January, the Lakers have to continue to gather wins in order to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Including tonight, there are only 25 games left in the season. Twelve of those are on the road. If the Lakers are to need at least 45 wins to get the 8th spot, they can't finish the regular season any worse than a 17-8 record.

It's a tall order to beat the Nuggets tonight, who are looking for their 9th-straight win at home, but not impossible. And if the Lakers are to fly back to Los Angeles with the victory, they will have to follow Kobe Bryant's lead yet again.

In the first 3 games against Denver, Kobe is averaging 27.7 points on 44.6% shooting and 7 assists. But since the first game of the 2nd half of the season, Bryant has become a different animal on the floor. He has learned to balance his scoring and facilitating his teammates. Because of it, opposing teams are finding it hard to double-team him which gives him the freedom to pick-and-choose how he wants to score and where. The result? A 31.3 points per game average on 52.5% clip.

The Nuggets might not have their leading scorer available tonight. Danillo Gallinari has a bruised thigh and is questionnable for tonight's game. Gallinari is averaging 16.9 points per game this season. However, the Nuggets are one of the deepest teams in the league who can surely compensate for Gallinari's absence.

Ty Lawson and Andre Igoudala have been problems for many teams all season long. Lawson has been averaging 15.7 points and 9.7 assists against the Lakers this year. But in the last 10 games, he's getting 22.7 points and 8.7 assists per. Igoudala seems to save his best for the purple and gold. For the year, he's averaging just 13.1 points and 5.3 rebounds. Versus L.A., he's up to 15.3 points and 6 assists an outing.

From there, you have JaVale McGee (10 PPG/4.8 RPG/1.9 BPG), Corey Brewer (11.4 PPG) — who always look like a superstar against the Lakers, Andre Miller (9.1 PPG/5.8 APG) — who the Lakers can't seem to stop despite having a half-inch vertical on his iffy jumpshots, and of course, Kenneth Faried (12.1 PPG/9.6 RPG).

Unlike the Mavericks, the Lakers are facing a younger, more athletic team that still believes they are the better team. But the Lakers have been playing like they understand what's at stake now that there's only 2 full months of the regular season left and with the team still outside looking in.

Tonight is the 4th and final meeting of the season between these 2 teams with the Lakers trying the even the season series at 2-2.

Matchup of the Game

Steve Nash vs. Ty Lawson: Despite no longer the traditional point guard for the Lakers, Nash has shot well as the pseudo off-guard. The Lakers will need him to, not only make his shots, but to help relieve Bryant some of his ball-handling responsibilities. The Nuggets have done a good job at forcing Kobe to be a volume shooter this year. He scored 40 points on 13-of-24 shooting the last time the Lakers were in town, but that didn't exactly translate into a W for the purple and gold. However, we might see the same Bryant as Sunday who will find a way to score as well as feed his teammates. But the game will go a lot smoother for the Lakers if Nash can share some of the passing load since that will make the Laker offense less predictable.

Keys to the Game

> Rebounds: The Nuggets rank 2nd in the league in attacking the boards. They average 45.2 rebounds per game with 13.5 of those coming on the offensive end. So, the Lakers can't rely soley on Dwight Howard to get to those missed shots. This is gonna have to be another team effort tonight.

> Defense: Denver is 3rd in the NBA in scoring getting 105.2 points a game. They also rank 5th in shooting efficiency averaging 47.2% from the field. A lot of those shots come from fast breaks and dribble penetrations. The best way to prevent that is take care of the ball and to have an active, physical defense.

> Dwight Howard: He wasn't much of a factor in the last game at the Pepsi Center having only 12 points, 7 rebounds and 1 block. That can't happen again tonight if the Lakers are to get their 4th-win in a row. Both Kobe and Nash have to find him early and often on offense so his defense will be there for the Lakers the entire game.

Watch Out For

LAKERS: Metta World Peace: Regardless of what a lot of Laker fans think of him, MWP is right up there with Kobe when it comes to sensing the importance of winning games. His physical defense on Dirk Nowitzki on Sunday was one of the reasons why the Lakers avoided what would have been a huge loss down the stretch. He might not ignore shooting the ball tonight, but look for him to put on another solid defensive outing.

NUGGETS: Corey Brewer: As I said earlier, the Lakers have been making a superstar out of him this season. Brewer is averaging 11.4 points for the year but 16.3 points versus the Lakers, including a team-high 27-point performance in Denver back in December. The Lakers lost that game 126-114. I'd say Brewer was the difference in that one.

Game Info

Tonight
@ Denver Nuggets
Tip-off: 6:00 p.m. (PST)
Pepsi Center
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

LAKERS: Pau Gasol (foot) and Jordan Hill (hip) are both out.

NUGGETS: Danilo Gallinari (thigh) could be game-time decision.

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Preview: Lakers vs. Nuggets


(Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

This is probably the last time Kobe Bryant will get to see his good buddy Carmelo Anthony put on a Nugget jersey since the Lakers (31-13) and the Denver Nuggets (24-17) won’t meet again after tonight’s game until April 3rd at Staples Center. By then, Melo will most likely be traded somewhere. His trade saga may have put the Nuggets in limbo, but that doesn’t mean they’ll play the 2-time defending champs any different than when they defeated them 118-112 at the Pepsi Center back in Nov. 11th.

The Lakers owned a 14-point lead in the second half of that game before bench guys Ty Lawson, J.R. Smith and rookie Gary Forbes for Denver took turns chomping at that lead and turning it to one of the early disappointing losses for the purple and gold. With possibly their final game with Melo versus the team that denied them in the playoffs twice in a row before last season, expect a Nugget team in full force tonight.

Meanwhile, the Lakers have run out of excuses why they haven’t turned things around with already 44 games under their belt and with Andrew Bynum back for his 22nd game tonight. Their offense may have picked it up a bit the past couple of weeks, but their defense has yet to fully commit itself as their ally. Usually, when a team like the Lakers are having this much problems and showing little-to-no improvements on the defensive end, the age factor is almost always is the biggest culprit. You don’t have to be an analyst to see that the Lakers are slower on defense, to loose balls and around the boards this year. They’ve also shown little desire to move without the basketball on offense for the most part of the season.

January is almost over, which means that the tougher part of their schedule is yet to arrive. Watching the Lakers play like a lottery team that’s only been together this year isn’t exactly comforting to all Laker fans. Former Rocket and Laker coach Rudy Tomjanovich once said: “Never underestimate the heart of the champion.” That may be true, but no one ever said you can never question the heart of the champion. Let’s just hope the Lakers come out very interested in playing this game.

The Nuggets have the second-best record at home in the West at 19-4 and have won 4 of their last 5 games. The Lakers are 14-8 on the road but are a dismal 1-6 against teams with a winning record away from Staples Center. The Lakers have lost the last 4 games at the Pepsi Center by an average of 11.5 points. They’ll look to break that streak tonight and, hopefully, start another string of wins in the process.

GO LAKERS!!!

TP&G Blog’s Matchup of the Game

Ron Artest vs. Carmelo Anthony: This won’t be the only matchup that could have an effect on the outcome of the game, but it is the most intriguing. Artest have done well defending Melo in the past, but look for him to take Anthony in the post tonight.

Keys for the Lakers

1. DEFENSE!: Lack of D was the biggest reason why they lost the last meeting in Denver. At this point, the Lakers are known around the league to falter defensively in the second half. Therefore, they shouldn’t expect a break defensively at all in this game.
2. Focus: The other reason why they’ve been losing again. But if they come out flat early in this game, they’ll have plenty of trouble to worry about other than establishing themselves on both ends of the floor.
3. Bench: The second unit for the Lakers have to step up big time tonight, especially when it comes to dealing with Lawson and Smith. Whichever bench plays harder will probably win it for their team.

Game Info

Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. (PST).  TV: KCAL-9 (Los Angeles)/ESPN (national)  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

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Preview: Lakers vs. Nuggets

If the Portland game at Staples Center was the first big test for the Lakers (8-0) at home, then tonight’s game against the Denver Nuggets (4-4) at the Pepsi Center will be their first true test on the road. Last season, the Lakers went 1-3 versus the Nuggets losing by an average of 13 points per loss, including a 26-point shellacking on their first meeting in Denver. The 2-time defending champs haven’t won at the Mile-High City in the regular season since Nov. 1, 2008.

After the Lakers played one of their vintage games against teams that see wins as rare as diamonds, Derek Fisher voiced his strong, straight-to-the-point criticism of the team by calling how they played “irresponsible, reckless and disrespectful”. He went to say that complacency and arrogance are causing the team to approach games against sub-par teams with half the effort and determination they do with the better teams.

I can’t say I disagree with him.

But Phil Jackson gave the team another extended film session picking out their mistakes against the Timberwolves after Wednesday’s practice. Phil did the same thing after the game against the Raptors, so it’s safe to say he’ll keep doing this until the players get the message. But will they? We’ll find out.

The Nuggets are coming off of a nasty loss against Indiana, 144-113, but that hardly comes as a surprise. They’re one of those teams who play much differently on the road than they do where the fans cheer for them. Denver is currently tied with Memphis for the 7th highest scoring offense in the league scoring 104 points per game while allowing 102.4 points per outing (15th).

Carmelo Anthony is tied with Kobe Bryant as the NBA’s 6th highest-scoring player putting up 24.1 PPG. Melo is shooting 49.3% from the field, 47.4% from distance while averaging 7.4 RPG, 3.1 APG and 1.6 SPG. But, trade talks regarding Anthony hasn’t died down and getting booed by Nugget fans in his first game at home didn’t help Denver’s cause either. The trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 2011, but this is probably the last few times we’ll be seeing Melo in a Nugget jersey.

This is the first meeting between these two teams. As much as Nugget fans were disappointed in hearing their franchise superstar wanting out of town, they haven’t lost their love for the purple and gold. The Pepsi Center is one of the most hostile arenas for the Lakers, so don’t expect anything less from Nugget faithfuls tonight. But since when do games involving these two teams didn’t have a playoff feel to it?

Matchup of the Game

Ron Artest vs. Carmelo Anthony: Melo averaged 25.7 PPG against the Lakers last season. He scored 21 points in their only loss versus the Lakers, but he shot his most inefficient game at 7-of-19. In fact, the Nuggets tend to lose when Anthony shoots below 44%. So, it isn’t a mystery for Artest to keep Melo uncomfortable on offense.

Keys for the Lakers

Offense

1. Energy & Execution: The Nuggets are active, physical defenders and love to help each other out defensively. They like forcing teams with post-players like the Lakers to beat them from the perimeter by consistently double-teaming in the paint and playing deny defense. The Lakers can’t get suckered into that and just be patient running the Triangle through Pau Gasol. Denver tends to get sloppy and desperate defensively when teams are executing well offensively against them.
2. Protect the ball: Denver is 6th in the NBA in steals averaging 9.1 per game and are a notch better than the Lakers at 11th in forcing turnovers (16.5 per game). So, the Lakers can’t afford to have too many lazy passes or brain-dead decisions in this game if they want to stay unbeaten.
3. Control tempo: Against bigger teams, the Nuggets will try to score as fast as possible. They do that out of turnovers and even on in-bounds plays after the opposing team scores. The Lakers need to be aware of that and run a halfcourt set as much as possible.

Defense

1. Defend the Perimeter: Denver does their damage outside the paint more than in the post. Melo has a strong post-up game, but that won’t do him any good against Artest who is a better post defender. The Nuggets have a host of guys who can shoot from behind the arc, but they’re harmless if the Lakers pay close attention to them.
2. Play Smart defensively: Al Harrington, Nene and Melo love to pumpfake near the rim, so the Lakers must remember their size advantage over them and stay home until the ball goes up.
3. Challenge shots: It’s much easier to score for any team when the defense aren’t even putting their arms up. Against a trigger-happy team like Denver, the Lakers will need to challenge around the perimeter but without fouling.

Game Info

Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. (PST).  TV: TNT (national)  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

Preview: Lakers vs. Nuggets

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game Three

This is it Laker fans. The game that will tell us if the Lakers (55-22) really care about winning or, better yet, defending the title in the playoffs. They’ll be facing the team that was once dubbed as the team in the west who can derail them to another championship. But, they could very well still be that team.

The Denver Nuggets (50-27) were breathing down the necks of the purple and gold as the #2 team in the west but something happened to them after losing to the Lakers at Staples Center. They lost 6 of the last 9 games in March resulting in their demotion down to 5th place.

I guess it’s better to still be looking for momentum heading into the playoffs than losing it in the fashion as Denver did. But hold on, the Nuggets seem to be playing inspired ball again. They’re motivated by their head coach in a way that no other coach in his situation could. George Karl recently finished his final round of chemotherapy to help battle his throat and neck cancer, and he is fighting it every step of the way. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?

By the way…Get well, coach! (Yes, Denver even us Laker fans have sympathy.)

Meanwhile, the Lakers are still waiting for that undeniable motivation that will finally awaken them as a team. I can certainly wait until the playoffs, but I wouldn’t mind if they give us Laker fans a glimpse of that championship attitude we know they have at least two games before the season’s end.

Tonight would be a perfect time to do it.

There’s really no need for me (or anybody) to go into details as to what the Lakers have to do to win this ballgame because it’s practically been the same things they didn’t in almost all of their losses. We know what it is. They know what it is. All haters alike know what it is. So it’s safe to say it’s pointless to say there are other more key elements they need to take care of.

The defending champs are 1-2 against the Nuggets. Losing to them for the third time might prove to be a huge mistake if they find themselves in another playoff series. We all know what Denver is capable of even with the Lakers are playing at their best. But if the Lakers have to deal with an inspired Nugget team, it opens up a lot of possibilities. Most of them aren’t so good for us.

I do hope that the Lakers don’t look at this as just a chance to send a message to Carmelo Anthony and company. I hope they think a little bigger and see this game as an opportunity to prove something to themselves, to each other, to Laker fans, to the entire coaching staff, to Jerry Buss, and to everybody that calls Los Angeles their home that they’re still the champs and that they care about defending it against all comers.

Five games might not look enough to see any signs of life. But all we’re looking for right now is that spark or that twitching of a finger that says everything is back to normal.

Preview: Lakers vs. Nuggets

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game Three

This is it Laker fans. The game that will tell us if the Lakers (55-22) really care about winning or, better yet, defending the title in the playoffs. They’ll be facing the team that was once dubbed as the team in the west who can derail them to another championship. But, they could very well still be that team.

The Denver Nuggets (50-27) were breathing down the necks of the purple and gold as the #2 team in the west but something happened to them after losing to the Lakers at Staples Center. They lost 6 of the last 9 games in March resulting in their demotion down to 5th place.

I guess it’s better to still be looking for momentum heading into the playoffs than losing it in the fashion as Denver did. But hold on, the Nuggets seem to be playing inspired ball again. They’re motivated by their head coach in a way that no other coach in his situation could. George Karl recently finished his final round of chemotherapy to help battle his throat and neck cancer, and he is fighting it every step of the way. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?

By the way…Get well, coach! (Yes, Denver even us Laker fans have sympathy.)

Meanwhile, the Lakers are still waiting for that undeniable motivation that will finally awaken them as a team. I can certainly wait until the playoffs, but I wouldn’t mind if they give us Laker fans a glimpse of that championship attitude we know they have at least two games before the season’s end.

Tonight would be a perfect time to do it.

There’s really no need for me (or anybody) to go into details as to what the Lakers have to do to win this ballgame because it’s practically been the same things they didn’t in almost all of their losses. We know what it is. They know what it is. All haters alike know what it is. So it’s safe to say it’s pointless to say there are other more key elements they need to take care of.

The defending champs are 1-2 against the Nuggets. Losing to them for the third time might prove to be a huge mistake if they find themselves in another playoff series. We all know what Denver is capable of even with the Lakers are playing at their best. But if the Lakers have to deal with an inspired Nugget team, it opens up a lot of possibilities. Most of them aren’t so good for us.

I do hope that the Lakers don’t look at this as just a chance to send a message to Carmelo Anthony and company. I hope they think a little bigger and see this game as an opportunity to prove something to themselves, to each other, to Laker fans, to the entire coaching staff, to Jerry Buss, and to everybody that calls Los Angeles their home that they’re still the champs and that they care about defending it against all comers.

Five games might not look enough to see any signs of life. But all we’re looking for right now is that spark or that twitching of a finger that says everything is back to normal.

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