Well, we now know the Nuggets will face the hated Los Angeles Lakers in the post-season, starting Sunday, April 29th, at 1:30 p.m. MT. The Lakers, a team the Nuggets and Nuggets Nation is very familiar with. In the coming days, we'll have some different playoff perspectives for you and predictions from your Denver Stiffs team ... let's go to mine, after the jump!
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Team Record: 38-28
First Round Opponent: No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets
How would you describe the Nuggets in the regular season?
A very bizarre Nuggets season, but also a successful one. The Nuggets finished just three games behind the No. 3 seeded Lakers, imagine if the Nuggets hadn't dropped two games to the 21-45 Hornets, two games to the 23-43 Warriors, and a game to the 21-45 Cavaliers? The Nuggets would be the ones with home-court in this first-round series. But alas, injuries and inconsistent play plagued the Nuggets all season, the injuries plagued Nene so much that the team shipped him off to Washington for the talented and raw JaVale McGee.
But all-in-all, I think the season, one of transition, was a successful one and the Nuggets actually drew a somewhat favorable playoff match-up, considering the Thunder and Grizzlies sandwiched the Lakers in the standings. Yes, it's crazy to think that Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol might be beatable from the Nuggets perspective, but there is reason to be optimistic.
What are Denver's strengths? Are there any areas that concern you?
The Nuggets strengths and weaknesses are very closely related. The team loves to play aggressive defense that can create turnovers and fast-break offense. That high-risk / high-reward George Karl style has led to many great games and has also led to the Nuggets leading the league in opposition's 3-pt% at 38.3%! Ouch! It's easy to say, "teams just get hot versus the Nuggets." But it's clear that daring NBA players to beat you with wide open looks doesn't always lead to pretty results.
The Nuggets also are very good at attacking the rim and drawing fouls, the issue there ... they don't shoot free throws at a very fantastic rate. While the Nuggets lead the league in free throws attempted per game, they sit just 25th in made percentage at 73.5%. If the Lakers give the Nuggets the gift of free throws (call it fair refs! ha!), Denver must make them pay with better than a C from the charity stripe.
Oh, and rebounding is going to be the key to this first-round series ... the Lakers have two massive players, and it'll be interesting to see how the Nuggets play the center and power forward positions.
What is your likely playoff rotation? Who is likely to see their minutes increase? Who might fall out of the rotation completely?
I don't see the starting five changing ... Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, and Kosta Koufos should be the starting five, but unlike most teams ... that unit won't be finishing many games.
I have a feeling that Koufos might see some unsteady minutes and possibly Faried too. I say Koufos because I think Timofey Mozgov will see some time. I also say Faried because he has struggled against Gasol and could get into foul trouble or might have a short leash as he's pretty green. Mozgov had a nice confidence boosting game against the Timberwolves by posting 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks in just 13 minutes. Mozgov has played Bynum very well in his two seasons in the league and don't think Karl isn't game planning for that.
Who is most likely to step up their level of play? Do you have a potential "breakout" peformer this post season?
I'm looking at Lawson and Afflalo to make names for themselves in this series. Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake have no shot at guarding the Lawson we've been seeing these past couple weeks and if Ty can feel confident at the rim, he could have a monster series ... maybe even enough to warrant Bryant or Matt Barnes (a la Shawn Marion) to cover him for stretches.
Afflalo is playing the best basketball of his young career right now. He's no longer just a corner three-point shooter. He averaged 17 points in March and 18 points in April. The Compton Kid could really be a difference maker and perhaps negate some of the scoring that Mr. Bryant will be doing by being a threat in his own right on the offensive end.
And if we're looking at big men, well this is McGee's first time in the playoffs, but he could be huge in the transition game with Miller lobbing him treats.
And we can't forget about Gallo - he won't have Ron Artest aka Metta World Peace covering him for a certain six games, so he could go wild in Round One himself. If Gallo is aggressive in this series and getting to the foul line, the Nuggets could pull the upset.
How far can you realistically see the Nuggets advancing in the playoffs?
This is like asking a backup quarterback, "Should you be the starter?" The answer there should always be a convincing, "Yes!" You want your athletes to have supreme confidence and as a blogger I'm confident in this team.
The Nuggets can, and have, defeat any team in the league. The difference in the post-season is that teams need to be able to adjust on the fly and make the right calls at the right time. The Nuggets haven't shown a great ability to adjust on the fly and perhaps my biggest area of concern is pace of the game.
The Nuggets have let the Lakers play their pace far too often this season. If Karl can convince his team to push the pace and turn up the tempo against L.A., then they stand a much greater chance of pulling off the would-be upset. Call me crazy, but I could see this Denver team getting all the way to the Finals and winning the whole damn thing.
But it has to start with this first series against the Lakers ... give me Nuggets in 6.
Nate_Timmons on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Nate_Timmons