Leading up to Thursday’s 1 p.m. (MST) trade deadline, not all is quiet on the Nuggets front. While it’s certainly wise to take Adrian Wojnarowski at his word when he recently said the Nuggets would stand pat at the deadline (I mean, really, when was the last time this guy was wrong about a trade rumor?), it’s equally unwise to support the notion that the Nuggets won’t even consider a minor move, especially given how much Timofey Mozgov’s name has been thrown about lately. Whatever the case may be, rumors will remain rumors and we’d all be lying through our teeth if we said we don’t eat them up with a voracious appetite. So, to satisfy your trade-rumor cravings, here is a short list of what people are talking about right now.
The Nuggets have started their 3-game road trip with frustrating losses to Utah and Golden State in which they failed to close out games they had led by 15 or more points. The final leg of the trip doesn’t get any easier as they wind it up in Los Angeles to meet the Lakers for the first time since being eliminated in game seven of the first round of the playoffs last May. While much of the recent news regarding the Lakers has revolved around their struggles with injuries, chemistry and coaching, they remain a dangerous team loaded with All-Star talent.
To get a better informed insight about what to expect from the Lakers, Roundball Mining Company has exchanged questions and answers with Andy Kamenetzky (follow the Kamenetzky Brothers here on twitter) of the ESPN Los Angeles Lakers Index. If you’d like to see my replies to Andy’s questions, you can read them here. And without further ado, the following are his answers to our questions about the Lakers.
1. Nobody would have predicted, even taking Steve Nash’s injury into acount, that after acquiring Dwight Howard the Lakers would have a losing record 15 games into the season. Is this slow start something that will shake itself out after they adjust to Mike D’Antoni’s system, or do the problems run deeper than that?
Andy Kamenetzky: A little of both, I think. There’s no question the Lakers have flaws. The starting five is out of a video game, but is collectively old and in the case of Nash and Howard, dealing with the effects of recent injuries. The bench hasn’t rounded into reliable form. It wouldn’t kill them to add another shooter. But there’s also no question these struggles are also due in rather sizable part to the early season chaos (training camp injuries, the coaching carousel), a myriad of new faces, and Nash’s absence. It’s been extremely difficult for the Lakers to consistently form a cohesive unit on either side of the ball. Obviously, they’re not the first team in NBA history to deal with injuries and/or drama. There’s an onus on the Lakers to figure it out as best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt. Still, I figured it would take this process would take a couple of months under the best possible circumstances, and these have flirted with “worst possible” status.
2. Pau Gasol took a lot of heat after his performance in the Lakers’ loss to the Pacers, but D’Antoni came to his defense saying ” he’s a big part of what [the Lakers are] going to do.” How realistic is the prospect that he’ll be able to run in D’Antoni’s system and establish good chemistry with Dwight?
Andy Kamenetzky: I think it’s possible. Gasol isn’t a Utopian fit for D’Antoni — the coach has admitted as much — but we’re talking about one of the most creative offensive minds in basketball joining forces with one of the most multi-skilled players of his generation. I’d like to think the two can develop a positive, productive working relationship. I’ve often wondered if the template might be Boris Diaw’s role in Phoenix: A play-making big man who can create for others, work mismatches off the dribble, run the break off a rebound, etc. It’s not a true apples-to-apples comparison, as Diaw is a better outside shooter and was younger, but I do think there are legitimate commonalities. Plus, Howard is mobile enough to begin sequences in the high post, which will allow Gasol to at least begin some possessions in the mid or low post.
Then again, it’s not a perfect setup, which means Pau bears the responsibility to aggressively seek out a comfort zone, rather than wait for his coach to create it for him. Unfortunately, that kind of assertiveness isn’t Gasol’s strong suit. There’s also always a chance that with Kobe, Howard and eventually Nash alongside him, Pau simply won’t be given enough to do to truly flourish. But for the time being, I’m remaining positive that time, plus Nash’s presence, will eventually create a niche for Pau.
3. After landing three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, the Lakers are surprisingly just 18th in defensive efficiency. What do they need to do to improve defensively in general, and what approach should we expect to see them taking in defending the Nuggets in this game?
Andy Kamenetzky: Mostly, cohesion. It’s been a nutty two months, which has impeded the team’s ability to get on the same page defensively. This problem is only heightened by Dwight remaining a step or two slow. By his own admission, Howard’s not fully recovered from the back surgery, which prevents him from being the ultimate last line of defense we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. In the latest loss to Indiana, George Hill floated a game-winner off the backboard over Howard, who’d arrived a hair late to either successfully alter the shot or block it. Before the back injury, I’d have bet the house on Howard in that situation. He’s slowly rounding into form, but not yet “Dwight Howard” as we’ve come to know him.
As for the strategy against Denver, I think the first key is containing Ty Lawson as much as possible, which begins with the defense on ball (Darius Morris or Chris Duhon, unless D’Antoni opts for a defensive cross-match involving Kobe or Metta World Peace over stretches) and ends with Gasol and Howard protecting the rim against inevitable penetration from the speedster. The Lakers will also need to be diligent about getting back in transition, especially as a team that now looks to increase tempo. From there, I think it’s all about keeping Denver, and in particular, Kenneth Faried off the glass to prevent garbage buckets and second chance opportunities. JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos are no slouches on the offensive glass, but Faried is just plain ridiculous (and very entertaining to watch play.) Gasol has struggled at times to keep a body on the Manimal, but needs to find a way to prevent the kid from running roughshod in the paint.
4. Steve Nash’s injury has obviously been a major disappointment and setback for the Lakers after assembling their four future Hall of Famers lineup. How big of an impact will he have in improving the team once he returns from injury?
Andy Kamenetzky: Assuming there aren’t any noticeable effects from the injury, I think Nash will have a pretty big impact. He knows D’Antoni’s system as well as the coach, and no player has ever run it more successfully. With Nash in the fold, the Lakers gain a true floor general, an outside shooting threat, and a player with an unbelievable ability to find teammates in the right spot in the right time. That can only help matters. He’s obviously not a magic bullet, and work will remain at hand after his return. Everyone, Nash included, will have to adjust for the umpeenth time this season. But I do think Nash can make a serious difference. Remember, he was imported from Phoenix well before D’Antoni was in the picture. There were holes to fix, regardless of the coach, and Nash theoretically addresses a lot of those gaps.
5. It seems that many in Lakers Nation are calling for a Gasol trade. But even if — contrary to D’Antoni’s statement — the Lakers did decide to put him on the block, could they get enough talent back in return that on the balance it would improve the team’s chances for a championship?
Andy Kamenetzky: Maybe. Even if Gasol’s trade value has plummeted to the point where he won’t fetch a player close to his caliber of talent — and unless Pau picks up his play, I suspect that will be the case — it’s debatable whether the Lakers even need another A-Lister. One could reasonably argue “Star Player X” swapped for Pau would in turn find himself similarly lacking opportunities, and therefore would be an equally uncomfortable fit. Thus, two or three role players (at least one of which can shoot) to bolster the bench and add depth might actually benefit the Lakers in a more tangible way. And that may be a realistic haul for Pau, even during a down season. The guy’s still a very good player, and we’re not far removed from the London games where he flourished as “el hombre” for Spain.
Update: Check out the 5-on-5 previewing the game on ESPN.com.
As it stands, I’m at my computer early Friday morning. Yesterday the Nuggets were involved in trade talks that included four teams, with Dwight Howard — most notably — going to the Lakers and Andre Iguodala being shipped to Denver. I hesitated to make anything of it, because let’s face it, we’ve been down this road before. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a Dwight Howard trade rumor this summer I’d have a lot of nickels. However, this time it appears to be for real. According to ESPN.com the Nuggets will receive Andre Iguodala in return for Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and a future first-round selection in the NBA Draft. If this is true — which it looks to be — here are five initial observations from the Nuggets point of view…
|Kenneth Faried, F 24 MIN | 5-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 10 PTS | +8
Throughout the series Faried has slowly but surely improved his defense. Tonight his post defense on Pau Gasol was much improved and he produced at high level on the offensive end as well. He did not miss a shot, was the only starter to grab an offensive rebound and would have easily notched another playoff double double had he not been forced to sit out the entire fourth quarter.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 37 MIN | 4-13 FG | 6-6 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 14 PTS | +4
Gallo is still struggling to find his shooting touch. He has remained aggressive after a breakout shooting performance in game four, but was not able to get the same looks to fall in L.A. Gallo’s inability to space the floor with his three point shooting has led to some poor shot selection and less passing. Despite the fact he’s one of Denver’s best passers and their most complete offensive player, Gallo has managed only 7 assist in five games. Offensively, he just isn’t much of a threat and the Nuggets need more.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 13 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | +4
Mozgov had a typical Mozgov game, contributing absolutely nothing in 13 minutes of action. It’s worth mentioning he was able to create space for the guards with some solid screens in the second half, but otherwise provided nothing outside of a big body to push Bynum off the block and foul him a lot.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 35 MIN | 8-19 FG | 2-3 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 19 PTS | +1
Afflalo finally played like himself, scoring more in the first half (13 pts) than he has in any game throughout the entire series. He was extremely aggressive from the opening tip and showed a willingness to step up and attack when Denver struggled to find scoring. Afflalo didn’t play his best and still can’t make a three to save his life, but the dramatic turnaround in production was sorely needed, even if it does make Afflalo’s lackluster start to the series even more confusing
|Ty Lawson, PG 29 MIN | 4-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 8 AST | 9 PTS | +11
The Nuggets typically won’t compete without Ty Lawson carrying the offense, but tonight they were able to do just that. Despite not being able to find his shot, Lawson was able to get into the paint regularly and make things happen. His passing was a cut above anything else we’ve seen in the series and it seemed he was really able to get the pace going without all the added pressure of having to score a lot just to keep the Nuggets within striking distance.
|Al Harrington, PF 27 MIN | 0-7 FG | 3-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 3 PTS | -1
Harrington looked like he didn’t care and played even worse. Injured or not, Harrington is keeping his teammates off the court and the lack of intensity and hustle in his game was tough to take. I have literally never seen a professional player act so indifferent and disinterested in a playoff atmosphere. The Nuggets are counting on Al’s professionalism and unselfishness to help them win. Injury is not a good enough excuse for whatever Harrington is providing them with right now.
|Andre Miller, PG 28 MIN | 8-11 FG | 6-6 FT | 2 REB | 8 AST | 24 PTS | -5
Miller’s finest game all year, and it just so happens he saved all of his best performances for the playoffs. Miller has obliterated the matchup with Steve Blake and been a magnificent player for Denver all series long. Miller’s decision making and point guard instincts are top notch. He makes things easier for everyone else on the floor when he’s dialed in and proved why doubting his unorthodox style can come back to bite you.
|Corey Brewer, SF 15 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -1
Tough to grade Brewer’s performance. He was not much of a factor before catching an inadvertent elbow from JaVale McGee which took him out of commission for much of the second half.
|JaVale McGee, C 33 MIN | 9-12 FG | 3-6 FT | 14 REB | 1 AST | 21 PTS | -6
Another dominant performance. For the first time all series, I thought Denver looked like a legitimately better team with McGee matched up on the Laker bigs. There is not much more to say about McGee’s performance, his superior length and athleticism created spectacular play after spectacular play and it didn’t seem to matter much what the Lakers did in response. JaVale dominated
There was nothing more surprising in Game 4 than how easily the Lakers won. Not easy as in, playing the Charlotte Bobcats easy… but rather, easy as in… they played slow, uninspired basketball for about 46 minutes and still ended up winning without doing anything special. Some may say the Nuggets handed the victory to the Lakers, but I see it differently. Usually when a team hands over the game to its opponent, there is visible frustration or a dazed glare in the player’s eyes as if they’re in disbelief of what’s happening. On Sunday, the Nuggets didn’t show any of these signs. It was as if they didn’t even realize what was actually going on until the game had finally concluded — something eerily similar to what we’ve seen all season long.
|Kenneth Faried, F 36 MIN | 6-16 FG | 0-0 FT | 15 REB | 2 AST | 12 PTS | +5
What Faried has managed to accomplish as a rookie is incredible. He couldn’t sniff garbage minutes at the beginning of the season and is now being marketed as the face of the team. While Faried is still physically overmatched, he’s made strides on the defensive end and established himself as a rebounding force. When the game got close and the Nuggets found themselves struggling to execute, the Nuggets relied on Faried’s energy to pull out a gritty win.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 33 MIN | 3-11 FG | 7-8 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 13 PTS | -1
Another mediocre offensive performance from Gallo, who still has not been able to leave his mark on the series. While Gallo didn’t make plays or shoot well, he started to find his game in the fourth quarter and managed to end his night on a high note. Gallo made several big free throws and grabbed some crucial rebounds late, all while having to guard Kobe Bryant for a majority of his time on the floor. Gallo was solid on Kobe, but is still a non-factor offensively.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 14 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -8
Karl’s decision to start Mozgov paid off as the Lakers were not able to establish their paint defense as easily as they were in L.A. Unfortunately, Mozgov wasn’t able to contain Bynum into the second half and unraveled. His presence was an effective deterrent for Bynum early, but he was awful with the ball in his hands and completely overshadowed by McGee and Faried in a rough second half.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 25 MIN | 3-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 10 PTS | +4
Afflalo’s play continues to decline. His ineffectiveness has reached a point where George Karl decided to bench him for the entirety of the pivotal fourth quarter. There’s no nice way to put it — Afflalo, who was a premier player for the Nuggets heading into the series, has been reduced to a barely visible role player. His defense is unremarkable and he continues to force offense with poor results. Afflalo appears to have lost some confidence and is no longer playing his game.
|Ty Lawson, PG 38 MIN | 9-19 FG | 6-7 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 25 PTS | +23
Lawson proved he can carry the Nuggets for stretches and a game like this proves just how important he is in this series. Denver’s offense was unstoppable when Lawson was at his best and the Lakers quickly got right back in the game when his aggressiveness tapered off. Lawson was amazing, but too unselfish in the second half, where he scored only 7 points and deferred to Andre Miller. Even with all his faults, Lawson produced at a superstar level throughout the first half and the Lakers had no answer.
|Al Harrington, PF 17 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 7 PTS | +1
Harrington was off to a decent start before catching a vicious elbow from Andrew Bynum in the third quarter. Harrington appeared dizzy and unable to get up and down the floor for a good two possessions before play was finally stopped and he was able to be examined. Harrington broke his nose and will have to wear a mask if he’s able to go in game four.
|Andre Miller, PG 32 MIN | 5-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 6 AST | 13 PTS | +17
Miller’s offense certainly wasn’t pretty, but he continues to be very effective off the bench. Andre has played with a lot of confidence in this series and seems to know he can generate good looks against the Lakers reserves. Andre made a huge three-pointer to seal the win and was distributing effectively despite the fact he took some ill-advised shots. The Nuggets need confident decision makers on offense and right now Miller is one of the few consistent options.
|Corey Brewer, SF 16 MIN | 1-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 3 PTS | +4
Brewer had a very sub-par night in terms of production, but I feel he was a positive on defense and a better offensive player than his awful shooting performance indicates. This was Brewer’s worst game of the series, but his hands were all over the place defensively and his trademark energy was a key ingredient in the Nuggets eventually gutting out a win.
|JaVale McGee, C 28 MIN | 8-12 FG | 0-2 FT | 15 REB | 2 AST | 16 PTS | +30
Wow. While I’m still in awe of how thoroughly McGee dominated inside, I can’t say it was totally unexpected. The Nuggets have nothing to lose by throwing McGee out there over Koufos and Mozgov just to see what the kid is made of. McGee played over 25 minutes for the first time in ten games and responded with a Bynum-like performance of 16 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. It was a resounding statement game for McGee, who became the first big off the bench and proved he needs a significant role for Denver to have any chance of getting back in this series.
There was quite a bit to see in Game 1 of the Nuggets first-rounds series against the Lakers. Though we covered most of it in the Rapid Reaction recap, there were still a few notes that went unpublished… until now. Here is some additional food for thought before the Nuggets tee off against the Lakers in Game 2, tonight at 10:30 p.m. EST.
In Roundball Mining Company’s latest edition of our 5-on-5 series we discuss what’s on everyone’s mind: Lakers vs. Nuggets. In addition to our normal trio of contributors (Jeremy, Charlie and I), we’ve asked Brain Kamenetzky of ESPN’s Land O’Lakers blog and Roundball reader Logan Wright to chip in with their take on the series as well.
It the latest edition of Roundball Mining Company’s 5-on-5 series we explore which potential playoff scenarios could benefit or hinder the Nuggets success in the postseason. Fellow readers T.J. McBride and Mitchell Carroll have been selected to participate this time around. If you’d like to contribute next time, be sure and follow Charlie, Jeremey and Kalen on Twitter. As always, please feel free to leave your answers to these questions in the comments section below.
Obviously there’s a lot to be said about this game, but first and foremost: Gallo. Come on man!!! As I recently texted someone, if you’re a 6-10 athletic deer in the open court and the only thing stopping you from making a game-tying layup with a few seconds left in the fourth quarter is a 6-foot Steve Blake, how do you not drop a thunderous dunk over the guy?!? I know it’s easy to sit back from our couches and criticize professional athletes who do things on a daily basis we could only dream about, but a layup!?! I’m pretty sure most people could manage that. Bottom line is in the NBA you simply have to make your dunks, layups and whatever other “gimmes” are offered up by the opposing team. If you can’t, then you should probably kiss your title-contending hopes goodbye.