Lakers vs. Nuggets preview: Kobe Bryant returns to Denver for the final time this season

Don't be like Kobe and Faried here -- keep your eyes open tonight! - USA TODAY Sports

A playoff match-up between the Lakers and Nuggets looks very unlikely this season ... unless it happens after the first-round.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season: Game 58
vs
Denver Nuggets (1982 - 1993)
28-29 (10-18 on the road)
2-1 Denver
35-22 (23-3 at home)
February 25th, 2013 - 7:00 PM (MT)
Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
TV Altitude / 950 AM / 104.3 FM The Fan
Probable Starters
Steve Nash PG Ty Lawson
Kobe Bryant SG Andre Iguodala
Metta World Peace SF Danilo Gallinari
Earl Clark PF Kenneth Faried
Dwight Howard C Kosta Koufos
Notes
Silver Screen and Roll Blogs Denver Stiffs
Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill (out)
Injuries Gallo left thigh bruise (day-to-day)
Antawn Jamison is averaging 12.7 ppg in Feb. which is above is season average of 8.8 ppg Stat Corey Brewer is averaging 12.3 ppg in Feb. which is above his season average of 11.4 ppg

What are you up to this evening? Why not bid farewell to the Lakers at Pepsi Center? This is the last match-up of the regular season between the two teams and the Nuggets lead the season series 2-1.

At shoot-around today Karl said he wouldn't bet against the Lakers making the post-season, but cautioned that it might be more difficult with both Portland and Dallas also looking to crack the playoff seeding. There is a five-team race for the final two spots out West with Utah and Houston currently No. 7 and No. 8 and the three previously mentioned teams trying to catch them.

After taking a beating in Los Angeles back on Nov. 30th (122-103), the Nuggets have gone on to win the next two contests against the Lakers (in Denver 126-114 and L.A. 112-105). It has been L.A. that has failed to catch up to the Nuggets run-and-gun style.

Mike D'Antoni likes to run a fast-paced offense (surprise!) and has been able to play a quicker lineup with Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison as opposed to Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill. While Clark and Jamison might be more in D'Antoni's mold as diverse power forwards, Karl would not concede that the the Lakers are better off without Gasol.

Watching Pau and Kenneth Faried battle the last couple seasons was a lot of fun. Gasol the superior fundamental player with creative post moves and Faried the relentless energy guy who refuses to back down to anyone. In last season's seven-game series Gasol averaged 12.9 points and 9.1 rebounds. In Games 5 and 6 Gasol scored just 9 points and 3 points, respectively. But in Game 7 he dominated the match-up with Faried and posted 23 points and 17 rebounds.

Faried held his own against Pau in the post-season as he averaged 10.4 points and 10 rebounds. Faried scored in double figures in five of the seven games and never had fewer than 7 rebounds in any game; including four games of double-figure boards. But in Game 7 Faried was held to just 6 points on 3-5 shooting (10 rebounds).

Have we seen growth out of Faried since that time? Has the young big man incorporated more into his game than he had last season?

Faried has excellent hands, an ability to score around the rim in traffic (above or below it) and a motor that nobody else in the league possesses. For the new aspects of his game - we've seen more jump-hooks, we've seen Faried attack the rim off the dribble from out near the three-point line, some variety of post-moves and some jumpers, as well. Expanding your game in the NBA is a growing process and we've seen some good growth from Faried this season.

Kobe Bryant is a freak of nature. In Chris Ballard's book, The Art of a Beautiful Game, he discusses Bryant's insane competitiveness and how he -- and others like him -- might be "neurological freaks". Bryant might not know how to turn off his competitiveness. He also is a tireless effort and Ballard calls him a "basketball nerd" -- who can incorporate moves into his game that he learns the day before and that's a rare thing.

Competing against Bryant is fun for fans, coaches and players. Beating Bryant is even sweeter.

At 34 years-old, Bryant is averaging 27.1 points per game, which is above his career average of 25.5 ppg. He is shooting a higher percentage from the field than he has since 2001-02 - when he also shot 46.9% from the floor and he's shooting better from three-point land (33%) than he has since the 2008-09 season. To stay that good through a 16-year NBA career is unreal. Like him or not, he's one of the best to ever play the game and his work ethic is something fans should admire.

The Lakers have won three in a row and (Boston, Portland, Dallas) need every win they can get. Make no mistake, this is a litmus test game for Bryant and his teammates. The Nuggets are almost unstoppable at home (23-3) and this is the second of a back-to-back for the Lakers. Bryant knows his team can't afford to drop a lot of games the rest of the way and the Nuggets want to show that they are the better team.

I can't wait for this one ...

Observations from shoot-around

Gallo was in obvious pain during the Nuggets most recent road-trip -- especially in Washington. He's dealing with a thigh bruise, but is expected to play tonight and looked okay at shoot-around.

The Nuggets big men were working on some rotations and coverage plans for Dwight Howard. The L.A. big man has had a frustrating, and injury filled, season, but still is a load in the post. Steve Nash loves to run the pick-and-roll and Howard should be the ideal man to pair with him - it'll be interesting to see how Denver can defend against Howard tonight.

After shoot-around Wilson Chandler was on the far end (opponent's bench area) working with Chad Iske and John Welch on a variety of catch-and-shoot situations. He was getting up a lot of shots in preparation for tonight's game. In addition to Chandler, the two young guns (Quincy Miller and Julyan Stone) were working with Melvin Hunt (hoop near Nuggets bench) on a lot of different shooting drills.

Watching Miller and Stone became very interesting as the shooting drills quickly turned into a competition between the two players and Hunt. The three were taking turns trying to match three-point shots and Hunt would poke some fun at Miller when Q would dunk some errant shots while the guys were lining up the next spot on the floor in which to shoot.

Chandler and Quincy cleared out and the final two men on the court were Hunt and Stone -- who were not playing one-on-one and jawing at each other (friendly banter) as they each tried different post-up moves. It was great to see the young guys out there getting in extra work as they look to get better.

Often times younger players are left watching a lot of stuff during practices as the regular rotation guys get a lot more reps. It's important to get in work when they can and with the Nuggets it is nice to see guys taking time to work on their games.

***

Denver Nuggets Tickets

Nate_Timmons on Twitter
ntimmons73@yahoo.com

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