How long can the Denver Nuggets continue their home court dominance? They have won 16 straight games in the Pepsi Center and so far in the 2009 NBA Playoffs the Nuggets have won each of their six home games by at least 12 points.
Of course the Los Angeles Lakers are not the New Orleans Hornets nor are they the Dallas Mavericks. As Kobe Brant has enjoyed pointing out after game two the Lakers had the best road record in the NBA at 29-12. To put that in perspective there were 20 teams who failed to win as many as 29 games at home.
To expect another home blowout might be presumptuous. Of course, after the four conference finals games that have been played the Nuggets three point win in game two has proven to be the largest margin of victory. One of these games has to be over before the final possession, right? If not health care facilities in Denver, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Orlando better stock up on defibrillators.
After two games I do not know that any of us have a better grip on what to expect. Was the resurgence of Linas Kleiza for real or was it a one night only special event? Are Anthony Carter and Dahntay Jones both going to be restricted to spot duty? Will George Karl trot out the big lineup again? Will either of these teams run? Can the Nuggets keep the battle on the boards even or will the Lakers size slowly wear them down? Is this all we can expect out of J.R. Smith? Is this all we can expect from Lamar Odom? Is this all we can expect from Andrew Bynum? Will Nene be the guy who scored 14 points in the first half of game one or will he be the guy who scored six points in the three halves since then? How long can Kobe carry this team on both ends of the floor? Will Phil Jackson demote Derek Fisher from potential game two hero to watching Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown from the padded folding chairs? Who will blink first Kobe or Carmelo?
Pretty much all we do know at this point is both of these teams seem to be very evenly matched and you do not want to build up a double digit first half lead and end up scoring 103 points. That has not worked yet.
I believe at this point in the series both teams feel just as confident as they did when the series began. They are both laying in their beds right now thinking to themselves that they should be up 2-0. Neither team has landed a blow that has rattled the other. The only way I see that happening is if one team wins both of the games in Denver.
As good as the Lakers are on the road, they do not play better there than they do at Staples Center. On the other hand we can expect the Nuggets to play better than they did in those first two games when they were on the road. While both teams are confident it is clear that the Nuggets have the advantage until the Lakers knock them off in Denver. That might happen tomorrow or it may not happen at all. Plus if there was any doubt in the Nuggets’ heads before game one, they have been obliterated.
I am pumped because tomorrow I will be attending my first playoff game since the 2005 series against the Spurs. If you want to say, “hi” or “you suck, quit blogging” or “go Nuggets” I will be planted in section 342, row 4, seat 1 and I will have my baby blue Nuggets shirt on. I would love to get a chance to meet some of my loyal readers so if you have a minute stop on by. I have a good bladder and no desire to pay what it costs for a hotdog and a Sprite Pepsi so I will be there all game long.
Featured Nuggets Blogs: Pickaxe and Roll | Denver Stiffs | Nugg Doctor | Nuggets Nuggetz | Nugg Love check out the Kobe Stop Crying sign pictures and Chauncey’s inbound pass off the back of a defender from his George Washington days
Take this with you: Some numbers for your consideration:
And now your additional nuggets from game two of the 2009 Western Conference Finals:
Just like that, Billups exploded. Chauncey scored seven points over the final 1:11 of the second quarter, including his brilliant self inbounds pass off Kobe’s back. Even with Melo and Kleiza hitting shots Denver did not get all the way back in the game until Billups went off.
Game two was another matter. Kenyon did provide the bulk of the Nuggets’ offense early on, but defensively he was just watching the game. At 8:28 of the first quarter Carmelo missed a fast break three point attempt and Dahntay missed a tip attempt. The Lakers grabbed the rebound and started down the floor. Both Kenyon and Nene stayed back never crossing half court on the quasi fast break by Denver. Fisher brought the ball up and Kenyon met him at the three point line on the right wing. Chauncey came over to help, but never was able to get in position. Kenyon slid off of Fisher anyway opening up a lane to the rim. Even though he left Fisher he had inside position on Gasol. Fisher drove on to the rim where Nene challenged his shot and caused a miss. For some reason as Fisher drove by Kenyon actually drifted away from the lane sacrificing his position on Gasol and as the shot came off the rim Pau was there to tip the ball in.
Time and again in the early part of the game Kenyon was just watching the action. Martin played every second of the first 14:41 and did not have a single rebound to show for it. Kenyon would play another 2:29 after returning in the second quarter before collecting his first, and only defensive rebound of the game.
Try it with a friend, family member or coworker right now. Get behind them, put your hand on their back while you are both pushing on each other. Then have them spin one way or the other. Next do the same thing with your forearm. Which one do you think is more effective as a defender? If you still doubt that I know what I am talking about I can put you in contact with people who can vouch for me in this area.
Carter played only six minutes. It was the fewest minutes he was on the floor all season behind a nine minute outing against Toronto on December 2, 2008 (fondly remembered in Canada as the game that ended Sam Mitchell’s coaching career). Kleiza definitely ate into Carter’s minutes, but if LK can keep hitting his threes, do not forget he was 7-14 from behind the arc against the Hornets in round one, Carter will not have much of a role in this series. Plus with Denver possibly going big with Melo and Kleiza as the swingmen instead of AC and J.R. as we have seen in the small lineup that had success against Dallas it will relegate AC to strictly the few minutes of backing up Chauncey he received in game two.
While I appreciate Scott Hastings, I think he gets a little too consumed with the officiating. I wish we had the option of watching the game on Altitude, but as far as national commentators go Van Gundy and Jackson are doing a good job of pointing out important details during the game.
I did not realize that Van Gundy had picked the Lakers in five, but in his defense, when you come out and say something, and you know a lot of people are going to hear/read it, you want to be right. If you follow fantasy football and read the work of Matthew Berry on ESPN.com you will know that he would rather be right on a prediction than be wrong and as a result have one of his fantasy teams win that week. There is a high premium on accuracy whether it be in post game analysis or in making future projections. Of course, everyone who prognosticates in public will be proven wrong at some point, but we do not have to like it.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 91.3 – Not much running with 15 combined fast break points.
Defensive Efficiency: 112.8 – Getting a little high, but not too bad.
Offensive Efficiency: 116.1 – Very solid performance.
Make sure to check out the firsthand account posted by Jezru at Pickaxe and Roll! Good stuff.
I wrote after game one there should be no question the Denver Nuggets are a capable opponent for the Los Angeles Lakers. If there were still any doubters the Nuggets’ 106-103 game two victory has permanently closed debate although at this point the only people who needed convincing of the Nuggets’ prowess were the most hardcore Lakers fans.
It cannot be overstated how much the Nuggets are playing in the playoffs. They never played this well for this long during the regular season. With there being so much pressure, both internally and externally, to get out of the first round I believe this team was really chomping at the bit for the playoffs to start from the time they acquired Chauncey. George Karl said on multiple occasions that he thought Denver would explode once they made it past the first round. Well, he was absolutely right. The early success against the New Orleans Hornets has fired this team to an entirely different level of confidence. I lost track of how many times I heard analysts talk about how the Nuggets were a team comprised of knuckleheads. If you let knuckleheads taste success they become very dangerous just like in Bad News Bears.
Both teams were a little sluggish to start the game. After a relatively uninspiring first six minutes the Lakers slowly began to take control thanks to some seriously lazy play by Denver. Time after time Denver was beaten back in transition or standing and watching as a Laker player retrieved a missed shot and placed it snuggly in the basket. Things looked bleak as we were witnessing all the worst aspects of game one with an extra lack of interest thrown in for good measure.
Things slowly began to turn around in the middle of the second quarter. The catalyst was Carmelo Anthony. Melo started the game 1-6, but somehow willed himself into the zone (at least inside the three point arc). With the Nuggets down 14 Melo came out of a timeout and proceeded to pour in the Nuggets next 14 points in order to ensure they did not fall further behind. I think it was an incredibly significant moment in Carmelo’s career and you can read more about it here (#3).
While Melo kept Denver close with his scoring it may have been his recommendation that George Karl reinsert Linas Kleiza into the game with just under four minutes left in the second quarter that actually turned the tide. Karl complied and for the first time I can remember Denver went big.
The Nuggets had a lineup of Nene, Kenyon, Kleiza and Carmelo all on the floor with Chauncey. The Lakers did not get another offensive rebound for the rest of the quarter and Denver closed the half out on a 14-2 run.
There are a lot of Nuggets fans out there who have a strong dislike for Kleiza. He definitely regressed this season and he is typically a complete liability if his three point shot is not falling, which it has not been for months. I myself have been considering him nothing more than an asset to be traded in the offseason. Kleiza likes playing against the Lakers and he had a nice series against them last season. With J.R. clearly limited the Nuggets need someone off the bench to score. Kleiza might end up becoming a difference maker in this series. Kevin Arnovitz of ClipperBlog and TrueHoop fame has a nice segment on Kleiza in the Daily Dime (#8).
Love him or hate him you have to admit without Kleiza the Nuggets are down 0-2 in this series. What I loved about Kleiza’s play, I have definitely not written that in a very long while, was he knew Denver needed to keep the Lakers off the offensive glass and he was in the lane right at the rim on every shot attempt. His effort bore fruit as he pulled down eight big first half rebounds. His example was able to convince his teammates how important it is to swarm the paint. The Nuggets actually collected more offensive rebounds than the Lakers did, 14 to 13, and the total rebound battle was a virtual tie as well with L.A. claiming one more rebound than Denver, 43-32.
The Nuggets also remedied their free throw shooting although things were ugly early on again. Denver actually made 17 straight free throws and 18 of their final 19. The one miss sent hearts racing as it gave the Lakers the chance to tie the game up with a final desperation heave by Derek Fisher. Nene did a great job of fighting through an arm tackle by Paul Gasol and challenging the shot. He forced Fisher’s typically high arcing shot to a slightly higher trajectory than intended and the shot fell a foot or two shy of the mark.
It was a great win and I just cannot get enough of Carmelo right now. There is still room for improvement. He attempted a ridiculous number of threes, six, that left me begging for him to stop chucking them up. Those six three point attempts unduly drove his shooting percentage down. Carmelo ended up converting 12 of 23 two point attempts, which is very impressive. Melo also had a couple of very bad turnovers coming down the stretch. One was a pass directly into the teeth of the defense with no obvious recipient in the vicinity. The other he over dribbled moving at a snail’s pace on the perimeter coming off a screen and allowed Ariza to swoop in from behind and take the ball.
Even so the will and determination Carmelo is displaying is a new side we have not seen in the past. We all know Melo is competitive, you have to be in order to play at the highest level. What he has added is that will to succeed and to win and it is reflected in everything he does. Last season in the first round series against the Lakers if Melo found himself on Kobe, you could see him looking to switch off at the earliest possible moment. He has done a complete 180 as he now welcomes the challenge and is doing a pretty darn good job.
There was some consternation at the end of the game as there was a controversial jump ball resulting in a Laker turnover.
I watched the jump ball at the end of the game in super slow motion multiple times and the lane violation that the officials supposedly missed on J.R. was not nearly as clear cut of a call as the announcers and pundits would have you believe. J.R.’s first step was actually outside the circle and by the time his second step touched the ground inside the circle Gasol had already swiped at the ball, although he did miss it. yes, J.R. was in the circle before the ball was touched, but if you are going to stick to the letter of the law, the player who first set foot inside the circle was Lamar Odom who had his foot over the line before J.R. touched down inside the area in question.
The Lakers wanted Carmelo to be called for a foul after Ariza had gained possession. What happened, once again thanks to super slow mo technology, was Ariza’s left foot landed on Odom’s left foot and when Odom took a step it caused Ariza to lose his balance. Melo did not push Ariza. It was a very good no call.
There is much more to discuss, but I must get at least some sleep tonight. It is a shame I did not get to talk about Chauncey at all yet, but look for additional bullets sometime on Friday.
With tonight’s win game three just became much more exciting.
A few more game one thoughts as we prepare for game two:
“They did a good job. I couldn’t get it.”
Following Chauncey’s second three pointer with 6.0 seconds remaining Carmelo was all over Kobe trying to deny him the ball, but Kobe ran directly to the inbounder to make sure he received the pass. On the play Chauncey was recounting the Lakers did not defend him any more vigorously than Melo did Kobe. The difference was Chauncey ran parallel to the baseline about ten feet away instead of running to the passer to make sure he could receive the ball.
That is enough of game one. It is funny how I can write so much about something that was so frustrating.
With game two on the horizon I could not sleep last night.
Despite being completely worn out I laid in bed for almost two hours before I nodded off. Game two is not necessarily a must win, should the Nuggets lose I can definitely see them winning both games in Denver and tying the series at two. However, if they go down 2-0 and have to win four of the remaining five games I do not see any way they win this series.
That being said, I think we see the Nuggets play their best all around game tonight and I even went so far as to predict a Nuggets victory. The one disclaimer I will make is if J.R. Smith is clearly limited by his calf strain, which I have still heard referred to as a knee injury in more than one place, it will require Carmelo and Chauncey to both have big nights.
Much of the analysis of game two centers around how Melo will surely not be able to score so easily and that bodes well for Los Angeles. I agree that Melo will not shoot 14-20 and 4-5 from downtown, but I will not be surprised to see him put up another 30 point game. He may have to work harder to get to the rim and not settle for so many jumpers, but he can score on this Lakers defense and on Kobe.
What was most impressive about Kobe’s offensive performance in game one was that he was able to do it while working so hard on defense. Even so, there were times, especially when he was guarding Chauncey, that Denver chose to go away from him. In game two, whoever Kobe is being guarded by must attack him and make him expend energy. He cannot carry this team on both ends of the floor over a seven game series.
Los Angeles can only get away with moving Kobe from guy to guy as long as players like AC and Dahntay are on the court who can be covered by Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar or Shannon Brown.
When it comes to keeping the Lakers off the offensive boards it will require a conscious effort by everyone on the floor. We talk about team defense, but seem to consider rebounding an individual effort. Rebounding is also a team skill and against a team like the Lakers requires all five players to do their part. The bigs must do a better job of clearing space, but that is easier said than done. Gasol in particular is very good at prepositioning himself for offensive rebounds before the defender realizes the shot is going up.
The guards need to either crash the lane if the shot is from the lane or get to the elbows if it is a longer shot so that they are in position to chase down a long rebound.
Other than the rebounding both Nene and Kenyon did a solid job on defense. They continually forced Gasol off the block and keeping him a little further out than he likes to operate. They did a lot of switching, which was fine as the Lakers did not look to post Bynum on Kenyon when the Nuggets did so. If L.A. decides to go at Martin when he switches onto Bynum, Denver will probably have to double him.
When it comes to double teams Denver would obviously prefer not to have to double anyone. However, they seemed like they were prepared to double Kobe after he put the ball on the floor and they showed some desire to have a guard come down to dig at Gasol in an effort to force him to pass.
When the Nuggets do double team they must be prepared to rotate. Gasol is an excellent passer and when Odom is in the game the Lakers have four players all capable of hitting three pointers on the floor at the same time.
Another way to keep the Lakers from getting open looks from behind the arc is to get back better in transition. On a couple of different occasions in the second half of game one Kenyon was stuck guarding Fisher in the corner. Of course, Kenyon wants to be ready to help on a drive or rebound so he stays as close to the lane as possible. The result is Fisher is left open and he made Denver pay.
Both team also need to do better at running when the opportunity presents itself. They combined for 14 fast break points in game one. I expect both teams to top that mark in game two. Of course, if Denver cannot garner any defensive boards they are not going to be able to run. That is another reason why limiting the Lakers’ offensive rebounds is so important.
I do believe the Nuggets will win. I honestly had a bad feeling about game one. I was excited before the game, but not the kind of excited you are before opening a birthday present. It was the kind of excited you get when you have to line up to run suicides for conditioning. That is bad excited.
For game two I feel a little more as if I am going to get a present tonight and less like I am going to be sprinting for a good 20 minutes.
Take this with you: Denver was able to get Bynum in foul trouble because they were not afraid to attack him. J.R. and Melo both drew fouls by going right at him. They will need to continue to do so tonight. Nene fouled out in game one and he must do a better job of avoiding contact when he is covering the pick and roll. He uses his hips too much to slow down the ball handler and referees will call that every time.
The highly anticipated additional nuggets from game one of the Western Conference Finals:
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 94.6 – Pretty high considering all of the Lakers’ offensive rebounds prolonged many of their possessions.
Defensive Efficiency: 111.0 – Decent, but not great. The Nuggets held L.A. to 41.1% shooting for the game which goes to show how all of those offensive rebounds let the Lakers off the hook.
Offensive Efficiency: 108.9 – That is the Nuggets’ second worst rating of the playoffs behind their 106.4 in game three at New Orleans.
We are going to chat with Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold today at 2:00 PM Mountain time. We will dig into game one of the Western Conference Finals series between the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers and will look forward to game two. Get your questions for Kurt and I ready!
For the first time in the postseason the Denver Nuggets trail in a series. There are two ways to look at tonight’s 105-103 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers. Either Denver proved that they can hang with the Lakers and good things are ahead or the Nuggets proved that even when Carmelo plays what may have been the best game of his career and Denver outplays the Lakers for a vast majority of the game they still cannot win in Los Angeles.
There is some pretty good evidence to support both sides of the argument.
In the Nuggets’ favor if there was any question that Denver was going to be a match for Los Angeles, the debate is over. Denver is playing at a much higher level than they did at any time during the regular season. There were a couple of points in the game where the regular season version of the Nuggets would have fallen apart and been knocked out early.
On the other hand, this game set up perfectly for Denver. They got out to a quick lead to build their confidence. Andrew Bynum was in foul trouble for most of the night. Carmelo played an absolutely incredible game and they had a lead late in the proceedings. It is difficult to imagine Denver having as good of a chance to win in Los Angeles as they did tonight.
If Denver does rebound and win game two (or game five or game seven) in L.A. it will be because of Carmelo. Melo was nothing short of amazing in game one. Offensively he not only continued his hot shooting, but he went nova.
Carmelo drained 14 of his 20 attempts including 4-5 from behind the arc. Before the series I suggested that Melo and the Nuggets had figured out the Lakers’ defense, but I never expected him to go from completely contained as he was for the first three games this season to finding the cracks as he did in game 80 that was featured in my film room segment to being completely dominant as he was tonight.
Unfortunately, Carmelo was not much of a factor in the closing seconds. Following a charge call at the 2:07 mark, Anthony did not get another touch for the rest of the game. Kobe deserves some credit for that as he treated him like an employee at Cordillera (sorry, I could not resist), but the Nuggets consistently went away from him. Nevertheless, I think we can safely expect Carmelo to have a big series and as a result Denver is going to put up a big fight against L.A.
The sad thing is this game was the Nuggets’ to lose after Chauncey hit his first of two huge threes in the closing minutes at the 1:38 mark to put Denver up 99-97 and they lost it. A monsoon of mistakes down the stretch undid 46 minutes of tremendous effort.
The downslide started when on the ensuing Lakers’ possession the Nuggets forced a bad three by Derek Fisher, but Nene got out of position on Gasol, who of course went to the rim for the rebound, and as a result Nene chose to do the Paso Doble and gave Gasol an earnest embrace. If Nene did not realize it before, he now knows you cannot make a play on a rebound with both hands snuggly attached to a seven foot Spaniard. Nene’s grasp did not prevent Pau from grabbing the ball though, which he did, and was fouled. Pau made both free throws to tie the game.
At the other end of the floor Chris Andersen, in the game for Nene who fouled out in 32 minutes of floor time, missed a short attempt badly triggering a free for all for the basketball. A jump ball was called and Los Angeles gained control. Melo forced Kobe into a missed jumper, but Gasol prevented Chauncey from collecting the rebound giving the Lakers yet another second chance.
They capitalized on that second chance thanks to a bonehead reach by Kenyon Martin. After Melo failed to fight through a screen from Gasol as vigorously as he had on previous possessions and that forced Kenyon to switch onto Kobe. Martin did a good job, but chose to reach for the ball resulting in a predictable foul. Kobe made both free throws putting the Nuggets down two.
Next came the play that made even junior high players queasy. Anthony Carter was inserted into the game for Andersen and it was his job to throw the ball inbounds. There were three huge errors on the play that for all intents and purposes ended the game. George Karl drew up a play for Carmelo who set up on the right block and ran off a triple screen towards the ball. Gasol, he has popped up a quite a bit in these closing possessions, stepped out and covered Melo preventing him from coming open for the pass. Mistake number one occurred at this point as Carter did not turn to look at option two, Chauncey coming off a double screen, soon enough. He was still looking at Carmelo when Chauncey came open.
Mistake number two was the weak floating pass that Carter threw to Chauncey. He was being covered by the 6’ 10” Odom and for some reason Carter decided instead of making a high ball fake to get Odom’s hands in the air and following it up by throwing a crisp bounce pass the best pass for the situation would be a high floater over the head of the lanky defender. It was just an abominable pass, one that a halfway decent junior high player would never think of throwing.
As the ball hung in the air with Trevor Ariza closing quickly there is still hope for Denver. Chauncey simply has to come towards the ball to cut off Ariza’s angle. Doing so would result not only in Chauncey receiving the pass, but probably a foul as well with Ariza running at the ball in fourth gear. Enter mistake number three as Chauncey was actually fading away from the pass. Everything went wrong for Denver and Ariza took the ball up the floor.
There was still hope for Denver as there was roughly a five second difference between the game clock and shot clock. If they could get one more stop, they would have a chance to tie or win in the closing moments. Carter made one last mistake as he lunged at the ball, he did not reach, he lunged, which Kobe was dribble with his right hand. A quick between the legs crossover from Kobe’s right hand to his left allowed him plenty of room to drive past Carter leading to another foul before he could reach the rim.
Two more free throws and the Nuggets were down four. An amazing Billups’ three from the corner brought Denver to within one, but two more Kobe free throws pushed the lead back up to three.
Los Angeles fouls J.R. Smith before he can get a potentially game tying three off. J.R. makes the first free throws and misses the second, but Denver could not collect the carom. Over the final 1:38 the Nuggets made numerous mistakes. Basic principles of boxing out, playing defense with your feet and not your hands and making the correct pass went out the window and little details like that cost the Nuggets a huge game one win.
There is also the little issue of free throw shooting. Denver took 11 more free throws than the Lakers did, but they only converted three more than L.A. That is not good. The two biggest offenders were J.R. Smith who shot 2-6 and surprisingly Chauncey who missed his first three before making the next six. If Denver can just muster shooting 71.5%, 25-35, they get the two points they were missing.
Denver did a lot of things right. Their offense in the first quarter was exceptional with great ball movement even though it fell off quite a bit as the game wore on and the Lakers’ defense awoke. Despite Kobe’s large point total, they did a decent job of keeping him out of the lane for most of the game and Denver did not allow the Lakers to get many easy buckets in transition or in their early offense.
Unfortunately there were some pretty serious things that went wrong too. Even though Bynum did not play much, the Lakers still dominated in the area of offensive rebounds. The Lakers collected over 36% of their missed shots. The league average is right around 25%. Kobe proved to be too much for Dahntay Jones to handle and despite his best efforts Anthony Carter did not get the job done either. Even without trying to double much the Lakers took 25 threes and made 11 of them good for a 44% conversion rate.
The really frightening news is J.R. Smith sprained his knee on the final play where the Nuggets were fighting to gain control of his missed free throw. The official word from the Nuggets is vague as they say his status will be updated sometime on Wednesday.
Look for additional thoughts tomorrow, or actually later today.
Watch the game live online on ESPN360!
I was intending to put together some final thoughts on the series and then post some game one insights in a game thread, but sadly we are running out of time so I am going to have to combine both into one final pre-series post.
In my previous posts I have focused on matchups such as Bynum and Gasol versus Kenyon and Nene and how Carmelo can finally break out against the Lakers, but have not paid much attention to the most important key of all and that is how the Denver Nuggets defend the Lakers.
It all starts with Kobe and filters down from there. No matter who is guarding the Mamba they must make sure he gets nothing easy. On the other hand, if you pay too much attention to him and double and triple team him, you get Pau Gasol roaming the lane scoring on a barrage of dunks and layups.
What is the answer? Denver will trap Kobe off the pick and roll, but when he has the ball look for them to expect Dahntay Jones, J.R. Smith, Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony or whoever is guarding him to play him straight up, keep him out of the lane and force him to shoot jumpers.
The problem with playing him straight up like that is Kobe has an excellent post game and he can take Jones, J.R. and Chauncey down on the block and drain turnaround jumpers over them all night long. If the Nuggets do trap Kobe outside of coming off of a ball screen, look for them to do it when he has the ball in the post.
Denver will need Dahntay Jones to do a very good job on Kobe when Jones is on the floor. If he cannot at least make Kobe work hard for his points, Denver cannot afford to have him in the lineup. I expect Kobe to draw fouls on Jones quickly and do not be surprised to see Dahntay collecting four or five fouls in just ten or 12 minutes.
Even if Jones plays the best defense of his life it is unfair to expect him to put the clamps on Kobe. No one can shut Kobe down and few teams have been successful in even containing him. If Kobe is looking to score, he will get his 30 points and if he is on fire, he will get 40 or more. One thing to keep an eye on is Kobe has only made four of his past 16 threes. Denver will have to hope he remains cold from long distance, but we all know it is only a matter of time before he goes off.
If Kobe is wreaking havoc on Denver and they must adjust their defense to commit more resources to covering him the Nuggets must make sure they rotate perfectly. The Lakers’ shooters will make their open shots. I do not care that Derek Fisher or Jordan Farmar or Sasha Vujacic have been in shooting slumps lately, they will make their shots in the conference finals. If Denver is consistently giving up open looks to those guys the Nuggets will be in trouble. Equally as important as making sound perimeter rotations is ensuring their interior defense remains intact.
Players like Gasol, Bynum and Odom are all great finishers in the paint. If Denver shows cracks in the lane the Lakers are a great passing team and they will feed the ball to one of their big men at the rim. Look no further than Gasol’s 36 point outburst in game one of the Nuggets/Lakers series last season where ten of his 12 made baskets were assisted (he made 14 shots, but only 12 are on record in the play by play at least that I can see).
The other potential issue for Denver defensively is if they have to bring a double team to help Kenyon guard Pau in the post. If you double Pau, it opens up the floor for Kobe and if Kobe drives or is red hot from the perimeter your defense is going to get embarrassed.
Looking at the Lakers’ defense they really struggle to contain penetration. Their guards play hard on defense, but Fisher and Vujacic are just not quick enough to contain athletic guards. Much has been made of how Aaron Brooks shredded the Lakers’ defense in the semifinals although as everyone has pointed out the Nuggets do not have a Brooks type player. Do not let that fool you into thinking that Denver cannot get into the lane against the Lakers.
Chauncey may not have blazing straight line speed, but he is great with the basketball and when he wants to drive, he gets in the lane. You can count on J.R. Smith to find his way into the lane more than a few times and Anthony Carter is also capable of getting into the paint off of ball reversals when there is a gap in the defense.
The Nuggets are not only going to be facing the Lakers, Denver will also have to fight history. To me anything that happened two or five or especially 20 years ago is practically meaningless. The truth is tonight will be the first time these two teams with this mixture of player face each other with both teams fully healthy so who cares who won a series 24 seasons ago?
That being said, a negative history can weigh a franchise down. A team and their fans can get conditioned to expect failure. The Lakers actually have a ten game postseason winning streak against Denver, which is the fourth longest streak of its kind ever behind a 12 game winning streak the 76ers held over the Knicks from 1968-83, a 12 game winning streak the Lakers held against Seattle from 1980-89 and a 12 game streak Boston compiled against Chicago from 1981-87. In addition to the losing streak Denver is 2-14 since joining the NBA in 1976 in game ones on the road. Denver also has to deal with their history in Los Angeles where they have not done well over the previous 12 seasons.
The one thing this Nuggets team has going for them in that area is they are the team that is defying the franchises’ sorry postseason history. They are the ones who are overcoming those past embarrassments. I do not think they will be at all intimidated and I expect them to play well throughout the series.
If you listened to the NBA Today podcast from May 19, you heard me say that my official prediction is the Lakers in seven games. Do not let that disappoint you, I have undersold the Nuggets in each of the first rounds and hopefully I am doing so again. Denver has an excellent shot at winning this series and as long as they can play competent defense and players like Carmelo, Chauncey and J.R. continue to shoot the ball the way they have been there is no reason why Denver cannot represent the west in the NBA Finals.
I doubt that the Nuggets are going to get a lackadaisical effort from the Lakers like the Rockets did. Then again, there is no guarantee that L.A. truly sees the Nuggets as a legitimate competitor and they may certainly overlook Denver as they did Houston.
Enough talk. It all starts tonight. If Denver can steal game one that could be the only spark they need to get over the hump against the Lakers and it would be a great step towards winning this series.
Take this with you: The Lakers are the first team the Nuggets have faced in this postseason that provide multiple difficult matchups. It seems Denver has taken a large step forward since the regular season ended, but we will not know if that is truly the case until tonight.
One more thing. It is not fair that I wrote all of this without mentioning Chris Andersen so I just wanted to say, “Birdzilla!”
Two of the most important keys to this series are how much Andrew Bynum can play and how well Carmelo Anthony handles the Lakers’ defensive scheme that has given him fits in the past.
When I talk about Bynum being a key to this series I am not saying he is going to average 18 points and 11 rebounds. What I mean is his presence makes Pau Gasol a much better player. With Bynum in the game Gasol obviously plays power forward and that means Kenyon Martin has to cover him. Without Bynum on the floor Pau will play center and thus Denver can use Nene or Chris Andersen, who at both much closer to his length and weight than Kenyon is, to check him.
I have put together some video clips to show both how difficult Bynum and Gasol can make things on Denver and how much better the Nuggets matchup with Gasol with Bynum on the bench. It does not matter if it is due to ineffectiveness or foul trouble, Denver needs Bynum off the court.
Moving on to Carmelo, everyone knows by now what a difficult time he has had scoring against the Lakers. Despite the fact he has been guarded by players like Luke Walton and Vladimir Radmanovic he has been taken out of his game. The reason is the Lakers’ scheme.
Carmelo has almost exclusively received the ball on the left or right wing. Whoever is defending Melo will crowd him and wall off the middle and force him to drive to the baseline. As soon as Carmelo catches the ball they pre-rotate help over to the ball side block. This defense takes away Melo’s jumper because the on the ball defender is not worried about the drive. He knows he already has help. The help defender does not worry about Carmelo’s ability to shoot, he is only concerned about keeping Melo from getting to the rim.
In the past Carmelo has either forced a contested jumper, dribbled away from the pressure or driven into the teeth of the defense. Looking at the clips from game 80 we can see he might have figured out how to combat this scheme.
During this game Carmelo began getting the ball closer to the middle of the floor making the pre-rotated helper less of a factor. That allowed him to get to the rim and finish. Also, he used his passing ability to earn his teammates better shots. The way Carmelo has played so far this postseason leads me to believe he will continue to use his ability to pass as frequently as his ability to score. When he does so he is a much more dangerous player and the Nuggets are a much better team.
I also recommend looking back at my Film Room segment on how the Nuggets defended the Lakers in their game 59 victory.
A few links to keep you busy while I work on posting some more good stuff.
Kurt Helin and I face off on the ESPN NBA Today podcast’s battle of the bloggers where we talk about everything from Kenyon Martin vs Mark Cuban, Vince McMahon vs Stan Kroenke and of course, the Denver Nuggets vs the Los Angeles Lakers.
The L.A. Times Lakers Blog has some great video from Lakers’ practice yesterday where Kobe and Phil Jackson talk about facing off with the Nuggets.
On NBA.com Chris Tomasson paints an ugly picture for the Nuggets based on their past history, but Denver is embracing the challenge and doubters such as Shane Battier.
Brian at Empty the Bench looks at what Chauncey has to do in order for Denver to beat the Lakers and it does not all involve making shots or setting up teammates.
The Nugg Doctor has posted his series preview.
By the way, the NBA Draft Lottery is tonight. I love the drama of the lottery and the draft. Never before has the lottery snuck up on me as it did this season, but with Denver in the conference finals I think you can understand why.