Nuggets at Lakers preview: No sympathy for Kobe, Howard

Doug Pensinger

The Nuggets embark on one of their three away games in the month of January to pay a visit to the hated Lakers in Los Angeles - on the second night of a back-to-back.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season: Game 36
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19-16 (8-14 on the road)
Series 1-1
15-17 (10-7 at home)
January 6, 2013 - 7:30 PM (MT)
STAPLES Center - Los Angeles, California
TV Altitude / 950 AM / 104.3 FM The Fan
Probable Starters
Ty Lawson
PG Steve Nash
Andre Iguodala
SG Kobe Bryant
Danilo Gallinari
SF Metta World Peace
Kenneth Faried
PF Pau Gasol
Kosta Koufos
C Dwight Howard
Notes
Denver Stiffs Blogs Silver Screen and Roll
Wilson Chandler (out) Injuries Dwight Howard (questionable), Chris Duhon (day-to-day)
First of 3 total away games in January for Denver Stat Only Sacramento, Phoenix, New Orleans have more home losses in West (7)

While the Nuggets are three games over .500 with one of the toughest schedules in the NBA - it's apparently not enough to quiet continual calls for trades and firing George Karl among some Nuggets fans. It's fun to me to imagine how coddled, the 16-titled Lakers fans must feel.

With the typically soft Lakers road schedule (including Los Angeles Clippers "away" games and games just up the road against the Golden State Warriors) and 17 home games, one might expect to see a team with a payroll over $100 million dollars near the top of the conference standings nearly halfway through the year.

Instead, after an offseason which netted Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Lakers sit two games below .500 and ten games behind Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific Division. The Lakers have already fired former coach Mike Brown after a disappointing 1-4 start, and the murky performance of Mike D'Antoni to date makes one wonder if there might be yet another coaching change in Los Angeles before season's end.

Despite the up-and-down performance of the Nuggets to date, this young team has a number of home games in front of them to continue to gel. Meanwhile, the fourth-oldest squad in the league, the Lakers, struggle to find answers in the play of Metta World Peace (nee Ron Artest) and Darius Morris, while Dwight Howard continues to brick free throws during home losses with the third worst record in the conference 10-7 home record.

I can certainly count myself amongst those who thought the Nuggets would hold a better record at this point in the season, but at the same time I'm not surprised that such a young team has struggled with the issues that so commonly plague young teams - like taking every game seriously (such as the recent debacle against the Minnesota Timberwolves) and free throw shooting (Nuggets remain last in the NBA at just 68% from the line).

Yet the Nuggets still retain a tenuous hold on the 8th seed out West, while the Lakers would be out of the playoffs if they started today. The Nuggets were lucky to be able to rest their starters during last night's blowout against the Utah Jazz, since they'll need all their energy to compete with a motivated Lakers squad who got dominated by the Clippers just two nights prior (despite a furious comeback that fell short).

While the Nuggets struggle to determine their collective identity, their issues are nowhere near those of the aging, expensive Lakers. Dwight Howard recently called out his teammates on the seeming lack of chemistry between them. With a new head coach and two new major pieces to integrate, the Lakers don't appear to be recovering from their tailspin anytime soon.

The last time the Nuggets played the Lakers in LA, the Lakers thrashed them with a combination of Jodie Meeks three pointers, Antawn Jamison's throwback 33 point performance, and excellent inside-out play. Hell, Dwight even made a three pointer.

Tonight, the Nuggets must focus on utilizing the energy they retained from a mostly garbage time fourth quarter against the Jazz and put it into getting good shots and playing tough defense against the Lakers. I'm interested to see how a newly-motivated Andre Iguodala performs against a desperate Kobe Bryant and a discombobulated Steve Nash. Half the fun for me lately is watching Nash chat animatedly on the sidelines with D'Antoni. One can only imagine what must be said between those longtime friends. I would love to see another motivated night from Ty Lawson and Iguodala.

Both JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos will have their work cut out for them against Howard, but as long as they stick to the "Dwight in the paint = foul" rule, the Nuggets should be well for wear. Lawson must use his speed to the utmost against the aging legs of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, while McGee must remain disciplined against the imposing frontcourt of Pau Gasol and Howard.

***

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