I am going to crank up my combination spin machine/hype machine and say that this tonight’s matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers. The spin is the Nuggets season really began with the addition of Chauncey Billups so for the purposes of tonight’s game we should consider them 7-1. That leads us to the hype machine where we can bill the game as the battle of the 9-1 Lakers against the 7-1 Nuggets which in my mind makes this the marquee game of the first month of the NBA season.
I dare anyone here to tell me I am wrong and that you are not excessively excited over this game.
Nuggets fans know what is at stake here. A win would put expectations at an entire new level for this team, and I think deservedly so. A loss will be disappointing, but not devastating. We still will know this team is probably the best Nugget team we have seen in two decades.
Heading into the game tonight I think the Nuggets have two things in their favor, the law of averages and the fact the Lakers played in Phoenix last night. Unfortunately, even though I brought them up, I do not take much comfort in either of those things. As far as the law of averages goes, yes the Nuggets will eventually beat the Lakers again, but not necessarily tonight. As far as the back to back issue for the Lakers their win in Phoenix last night looked almost effortless. No Laker had to play more than 34 minutes and only three (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom) played more than 30. I am not sure how fatigued they will be although Kurt at Forum Blue and Gold told me that they tend to get sloppy in the fourth quarter of their second game in back to backs. That factor certainly took a toll on the Nuggets in the first meeting, but they were coming off an overtime battle the night before.
We have made a big deal about the Nuggets defensive improvement, but the Lakers have at this point in the season taken an even larger step forward in that area. The Lakers are currently first in the league in defensive efficiency with a rating of 95.2. What makes them so strong is they do a great job of taking away the things a team does best. The Nuggets killed the Clippers on the pick and roll earlier in the season and they played the Lakers the next night. The Nuggets pick and roll game was almost completely neutralized by the Lakers scheme of bringing help immediately before the ball handler came off the screen.
The Nuggets pick and roll has improved since then as Chauncey adds the jump shot to the equation. The Lakers were not afraid of Allen Iverson pulling up from behind the screen, but Chauncey is great at doing just that.
The other primary strategy Los Angeles will employee is to double Carmelo, especially in the post and on the wing they will bring help as soon as he puts the ball on the floor. I think the way the Lakers guard Melo the Nuggets will be better off if he scores 16-18 points and ends up with seven or eight assists than if he scores 25 points with four assists. Of course, 25 points and eight assists would be nice too. Melo has done a pretty good job of not forcing his offense even though I think he is setting for midrange jumpers a little too often. If he continues to pass out of the double team the way he has been it will make the Nuggets much more difficult to guard. Should he try to force his way into scoring opportunities the result will be an ugly 7-21 shooting night.
Defensively the Nuggets will have to rotate to shooters like Vladimir Radmanovic, Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar. Denver must also be ready to help close off the driving lanes for Kobe or Farmar and recover quickly once they do. The guards will have to pinch down on Andrew Bynum and Gasol to prevent them from getting the easy layups off of penetration.
Believe it or not, Kobe has only scored over 30 points once this season and it was against Denver. Benjamin Hochman from the Denver Post had a line in his story today that it is “likely” Kenyon Martin will start out guarding Kobe. If that is the case it would be very disappointing. Hopefully the Nuggets are just using him to disseminate disinformation to the Lakers. Denver did not use that strategy in the first game and now that Chauncey is on board and Dahntay Jones is in the starting lineup, for defensive purposes mind you, I would be surprised, and probably a little bit hurt, if Kenyon spends any time covering Kobe.
I will leave you with two more things to watch out for. First, the potential for foul trouble will once again be a huge factor. In the first meeting this year Nene was able to get two quick fouls on Bynum. However, if the tables are turned and Nene or Kenyon get into foul trouble the Nuggets might be in big trouble with the Lakers poised to dominate the paint on both ends with Bynum and Gasol. Secondly, the Nuggets need to take care of the ball. You cannot afford to throw away possessions against a good defensive team. If their turnovers start getting into the high teens, or heaven forbid, the twenties it will be a bad sign.
Even though my brain says Denver is fighting an uphill battle tonight, I cannot stop thinking about how exciting a win would be. I am afraid we are in for one of those games where my daughter tells me I am scaring her (she does not like sudden loud noises although I really wish she would toughen up) and my wife keeps telling me to calm down.
Make sure you visit the aforementioned Forum Blue and Gold before the game. Kurt is a great blogger and I was fortunate enough to have him ask me to explain to his readers how the Nuggets are different with Chauncey in town as opposed to AI. You can check out my response and see his game preview here.