Game 3 Preview: Nuggets vs. Lakers

WCF's shift to Denver, Pepsi Center ready

 

Series: Denver 1 - Lakers 1
Tipoff: 6:30 p.m. Mountain (ABC)

 

"We're not the best road team in the NBA for no reason," - Kobe Bryant

Kobe is referring to the Lakers 29-12 NBA-best road record. But that was their record during the regular season. In the playoffs the Lakers have posted a much more pedestrian 2-3 record away from the Staples Center.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets are the only team left in the playoffs who have yet to drop a game on their home floor. The Nuggets boast a perfect 6-0 record at the Pepsi Center (16-0 if you count the regular season) and have not lost at home since March 9th (Houston Rockets).

Denver has been beating teams at The Can by a margin of 19.2 points per game by averaging 113 ppg, while giving up an average of only 93.8 ppg. Denver truly feeds off their sixth man at home, not J.R. Smith, but rather the crowd. Each game I've attended seems louder than the previous and I expect to damage my hearing even more tomorrow night.

Obviously, as these playoffs continue to progress the level of opponent gets better-and-better and we all know from Games 1 and 2 that we should expect a close game tonight against the Lakers.

L.A. will be heading into their third game three on the road and they are currently 1-1 in game threes. The Nuggets are also 1-1 in game threes, but for the first time in these playoffs they'll be playing this game at home.

I expected Denver to come out in Game 2 and play a tough hard fought 48 minutes. Though the game was hard fought ... the Nuggets have yet to put together a full 48 minute effort. Going home with a win fresh under their belts I expect Melo and Co. to come out and be fired up ... how could they not be when the crowd will be going bonkers?

 

Ramblings ... thoughts ... adjustments for Game 3:

-After watching the Altitude post-game report late Thursday night Scott Hastings informed us that J.R. Smith was basically playing on 1 1/2 legs and he noted that J.R. was just not getting his proper lift. Having only one game off inbetween games does not provide for a lot of rest, but I'm hoping it'll be enough for J.R. Swish to make his first appearance of the series.

I noticed in Game 2 that J.R. attempted just a few drives and when he did he was not really looking to get up to the rim. I don't quite know if this was because of the injury or not (hoping it was), but if J.R. was not himself ... it was good to see him making some other plays out there.

There was talk about his lane violation towards the end of game two, especially by the announcers, but I'll take Jeremy's word for it as he had video evidence to go back to review. You can read his take on it here. Basically he stated that it was Lamar Odom who was in the circle before J.R. and that's good enough for me as anyone who is familiar ... Jeremy will call a spade a spade.

J.R. grabbed 4 rebounds, dished out 3 dimes, and had a block in game 2 to go along with just 3 points on 1-6 shooting. J.R. has sort of turned himself into a one dimentional guy in this series taking 9 of his 13 shots from beyond the arc. If he's going to be out there playing then he must find the will to get himself to the rack. We saw Josh Howard do it last series on two bad wheels and now is the time to battle through injuries.

 

-Carmelo Anthony should star in Transformers 3 ... we can call him MELOTRON or something. Much has been made about Melo missing the all-star game this season and his defense has been knocked throughout his career as his glaring weakness. I recall a few seasons ago when Melo asked to cover LeBron James during the regular season ... it seemed then that Melo was more wanting people to hear about him asking for that duty than actually accepting the challenge.

Fast forward to this series with Melo telling ESPN that he informed George Karl that #15 wanted to guard #24 at times and to forget having KMart cover him because that resulted in a sweep last season. Melo now is showing he's accepted the challenge and is even making Kobe work when he's covering him. Defense has always been more about effort above anything else and it's great to see Melo excert that effort.

Offensively I don't think Melo could be doing much more. He got to the foul line for 14 free throw attempts in game 2, took his outside shots (0-6, but you have to respect Melo's three ability now), had his pull-up jumper going, was hitting fadeaways, got to the rim, and above all else ... got on the offensive boards! Of Melo's 9 rebounds in game two ... 5 of them came on the offensive glass or 36% of his teams offensive boards (14).

In the series thus far Melo is averaging 36.5 ppg, 7.5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Melo has taken over and is carrying his teammates. This is exactly what a superstar is asked to do and expected to do. Melo wants to continue to prove his name indeed belongs among the Kobes, LeBrons, and Wades of the NBA, but more importantly I believe Melo wants to just win.

 

-Kenyon Martin must be on his best behavior. KMart, after drawing a complete and total phantom technical when Pau shoved him from behind, now has 5 technical fouls in the playoffs. KMart is $7,000 lighter in the pocket book because of the techs and also is just 2 techs away from drawing a mandatory suspension from the NBA for one game.

Martin has been Denver's best offensive big man in this series. He's shooting 58.3% in two games (7-14 and 7-10) and scored 15 points in game one and 16 in game two.

The easiest way to look at KMart's offensive success ... the Lakers are not really paying any attention to him. We all know Kenyon's jumper is not the most reliable shot around, but he's shown he can hit the mid-range shot so far (even though the Lakers must feel good whenever he shoots.) Kenyon's most effective shot has probably been his running laser that I think should fall more often than not, since he shoots it so much, but it sure isn't pretty. Kenyon has also done a great job of finding the soft spots near the rim where he can grab the easy pass and throw down uncontested dunks.

I've been surprised that L.A. isn't contesting dunks too much and I would think that has to change, but Denver's bigs are pretty quick to the rim and powerful. Kenyon had some issues receiving passes during game two and I don't think his broken finger would effect him there, but his catch and lay in from Nene late in the game helped secure that win.

 

More after the jump below ...

 

 

 

-Nene's passing ... I'd much rather see Nene finish around the rim and it seems weird that he led the team with 6 assists in game two. Nene played 35 minutes in game two and recorded: 6 points on 3-5 shooting (2-3 from the foul line), 9 rebounds (1 offensive), 6 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and 5 fouls.

Nene's had two huge contributions in game two, aside from his nice defensive rebounding. The first came at the 4:26 mark of the 4th quarter when Nene found himself at the foul line. At that point the Nuggets were on an 11 of 11 streak from the charity stripe and Nene pushed it to 13 of 13 with two huge makes to give Denver a 97-95 lead.

The second came with roughly :30 seconds left in the game when Nene caught a difficult pass from Billups just inside foul line and started towards the hoop ... instead of going for the difficult layup in traffic and perhaps drawing a charge, Nene dumped the ball off to Kenyon for the go ahead layup 103-101.

 

-Linas Kleiza is back in the rotation ... for now. LK's game two performance will not be forgotten ... not by the fans, but more importantly, not by George Karl. With J.R. not in a groove and Denver's bench needing a lift, LK will be in the game tonight. It's completely up to the Lithuanian how many minutes he'll play. I don't think there is a single person who knows the Nuggets that is thinking LK is totally back after such a surprising game, but we've seen LK heat up before. Kleiza is streaky, but if he's heating up right now ... Denver's bench is going to be solid.

Klieiza's 16 points and 4-7 shooting from deep won game two for Denver. LK provided that spark usually seen by J.R. this season and helped Melo's cold 1-6 start not look so glaring. Karl pointed out LK's 5 defensive and 3 offensive rebounds as his biggest contributions and Karl wont hesitate to call on #43 tonight.

With LK on the floor Denver is a much bigger team. The 6'8'' 245 pound tweener (small forward/power forward) gives Denver a much more diverse option. Like LK said in his post-game interviews ... when he's out there he's going to get open looks because he's not the focal point of the offense. If he continues to hit some shots and shows hunger for the boards then I'd like to see him out there playing.

 

-Dahntay Jones must adjust to the refs. Jones picked up two quick fouls on Kobe when he placed his forearms on Kobe under the free throw line. The first whistle should have shown DJ that the officials were going to call the quick foul ... on the very next inbound Kobe got the ball and Jones again placed his forearm on him under the free throw line and what do ya know ... another whistle. Jones should have known better on that play. Dahntay is pretty overmatched against Kobe and he's not going to get the benefit of the doubt from the officials for anything so he must figure out a way to maximize his time on the floor.

Perhaps aside from making Kobe work a bit getting his shots, Jones should look to drive the ball on Derek Fisher. Jones is an athletic freak and should take advantage of having the aging Fisher on him.

 

-Mr. Big Shot ... get right at the charity stripe. The Nuggets are shooting 75% from the foul line in the playoffs averaging 33 free throws a game, but only converting roughly 25 a game. Poor foul shooting has caused Denver to lose three games in these playoffs and I don't really know how they can improve it at this point. It's not like you can magically get better overnight here ... well Billups can.

Billups is 19-25 in the series thus far from the charity stripe good for only 76%. Billups' final miss allowed the Lakers to attempt a game tying three pointer as time expired ... it's funny that I'm complaining about a guy who went 13-16 from the charity stripe ... heck he got there for 16 attempts!

Well Billups was 36-38 for 94.7% against the Hornets and 30-31 for 96.8% against the Mavericks in the first two rounds. It looks like CB7 will be shooting more free throws in this series than he did in those other two and I fully expect him to get back to sinking just about everything in Denver. Maybe he hates those L.A. hoops?

Billups is shooting his playoff lows from the field and three-point land as well this series at 39.3% and 36.4% respectively. He must just hate the Staples Center right? It probably has nothing to do with Kobe guarding him from time-to-time ... ha.

Something I'd like to see Billups improve on? How about when he's going to the hoop he actually try converting some And1 plays ... it seems like he's just sort of looking for contact and not going for his shot as much. But his ability to get to the foul line has his scoring average right on par at 22.5 (22.2 in the playoffs.)

 

Pregame Notes:

  • Denver has only given up three 30+ point quarters to the Lakers in eight total quarters ... that's huge
  • The Nuggets must do a better job on the defensive glass ... the Lakers first 4 offensive rebounds resulted in direct put-back layups (8 points) 
  • Denver averaged 22 assists per game in L.A. ... I expect that number to increase tonight

ntimmons73@yahoo.com

 

 

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