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What's up with Carmelo vs. the Lakers?...

In response to my brief recap of Friday night's awful performance against the Lakers, I suggested that Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony consistently cowers when playing the Lakers. I took some heat for it in the comments but readers of this blog should know that I've consistently defended Melo, I've given Melo props for resurrecting a once-dormant franchise and was one of the first to call out how stupid it would have been to trade him back in May when the rumors were swirling around. Moreover, one of the many reasons I applauded the Chauncey Billups acquisition is that it returns Melo to being the team leader and should expand Melo's already great game even more.

That being said, against the Lakers Melo plays as cowardly as George Karl coaches ineptly. And while we can - and should - lay into Karl for being completely unable to put together a competitive game plan against the Lakers, Melo deserves plenty of the blame in these games, too. A true superstar welcomes and relishes the opportunity to impose his will on the best teams in the NBA. And yet against the Lakers, Melo plays timidly, half-heartedly and irresponsibly.

During the Nuggets nine game losing streak to the Lakers, Melo has averaged 19.4 points on an atrocious 28.5% from the field to go along with four turnovers, five free throw attempts and 7.6 rebounds per game. That's one more free throw attempt per game than he has turnovers.

And the stats don't tell it all. Against the Lakers Melo regularly chucks bad shots with plenty of time on the shot clock, rarely - if ever - drives the ball to the basket (hence the measly five free throw attempts per game) and does his best matador impersonation on the defensive end. Are you telling me that Trevor Ariza and Vladimir Radmonovic could stop Melo if he put his head down and took it right at them? No chance.

Certainly Karl deserves criticism for not putting Melo in a better position to succeed against the Lakers. But Mike Brown coaches LeBron James just as poorly on the offensive end, and yet James routinely punishes opponents with sheer will and overpowering strength (just ask the Celtics). We can blame Karl all we want and Melo is no James (and never will be), but 28.5% shooting and five three attempts per game against the Lakers is unacceptable.

I won't spend too much time complaining about a couple bad losses to the Lakers in what has otherwise been a very exciting and positive season so far. But until Melo and the Nuggets at the very least put up a competitive effort against the Lakers (the blueprint for which has been outline here), our Nuggets will always be settling for playoff seeds rather than playoff victories.