I have teamed up with Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold as the never ending previews for what may be the never ending playoffs continue to roll in. Kurt has been kind enough to let us know why the Lakers are so good and what Denver should be wary of when the games get underway.
I have done the same for his readers and I will post a link to my insights when it is ready.
First off, I think this is going to be an entertaining series where the games will be closer than some (particularly giddy/drunk Lakers fans) think. It's a sign of how tough things are in the West that a 50-win team with two All-World players to lead it, a team that would be a popular darkhorse candidate in the East (behind the legit Boston and Detroit teams) is the 8th seed. Crazy.
As someone who follows the Lakers, let me give you a few things to look for.
On offense, the Lakers are amazing right now. Some would say unstoppable, although I wouldn't go that far. But, you can't bottle them up for long. To start, here is the ultra-short breakdown of the "triangle" offense the Lakers run plays are not set in stone like most offenses, rather the goal is to read and react to what the defense gives you. Double Gasol in the post or Kobe, and they should be able to pass out and thanks to the spacing the offense calls for someone should get an open shot. Either an open three or diving to the hoop. To defend the Lakers you have to be disciplined.
What makes that hard is Kobe and Gasol. I don't think you need much of a primer on Kobe, he gets his share of publicity. And like 20 other players' share. One thing about his offensive game, to quote Bruce Bowen, is "he has no tendencies." He can go right or left, drive to the hoop or pull up from three. That versatility makes him even tougher to cover, you can't force him toward a weakness.
Gasol is going to be a bigger problem for you because he can play inside or out. Camby can defend him in the post, but I expect the Lakers to get Gasol the ball on the wing 18 feet out, and force Camby to come out on him. That will slow Camby's amazing help-side defense, or Gasol will get open midrange jumpers (which he will hit consistently).
All the attention on Gasol and Kobe has really freed up Lamar Odom lately, who has become a consistent 15 and 12 guy every night. Odom is doing what Marion used to do in Phoenix, he gets his points without "plays" being run for him. He finds points in the gaps, he moves well without the ball, he crashes the boards. (The one difference, Odom likes this role and Marion chaffed in it.)
Finally, the rest of the Lakers role players can shoot and are good passers, Fisher, Radmanovic, Walton, Vujacic. They get to spots and if you ignore them they can have big nights. But you saw that this year with Fisher and Radmanovic having good nights against Denver. The Lakers are a very deep team, the bench can more than hold its own and the versatility of players gives Phil Jackson a lot of tools to play with.
The real question about the Lakers is defense, they can play it well, but do it inconsistently. Coming into the end of the season the Lakers had good defensive games against New Orleans and San Antonio, although even in those games they didn't play 48 minutes of defense. With the amazing weapons the Nuggets bring to the table, the Lakers will have to be focused.
Know that you will see almost exclusively man-to-man defense. The only time zone really comes in is occasionally they will go to it mid-play on the pick-and-roll, the big will stay out high at the top of a 1-2-2. That coverage is mixed in with other defenses for the pick-and-roll, but if it works they'll go to it a lot.
With no Andrew Bynum (don't ask, we don't know either, but with a 20-year-old stud with a long career ahead of him, better to be safe than sorry) the Lakers lack a real intimidator in the paint, ala Camby. Gasol is a solid post defender, but if you can get in the lane the Lakers are not great at changing shots.
The big question is what will the Lakers do with Carmelo. I imagine a few people will get their chances, but look for Odom and Radmanovic to get the main assignment. The Lakers tried Luke Walton earlier this season on him and Melo made him look slow. Which really isn't that hard, but the Lakers likely won't return to that. I expect the Lakers will use taller, longer guys this time in hopes of disrupting his flow.
Where the Nuggets will cause the Lakers problems, other than AI or Melo going off for 50 on any given night, is if they suck LA into an up-and-down game. This Lakers team likes to run and can do it (Gasol runs the floor well for a big) but in this match up they need to be disciplined. The Nuggets are simply better at run and gun. If it becomes about getting up and down the court, if the Lakers jack up open threes 7 seconds into the shot clock, it plays to the Nuggets strengths. And nobody is more willing to slip into that mode than Kobe, he's very good at that style. But it's not how the Lakers as a team win.
I think you'll see the Lakers slip into that for flashes, and then Phil Jackson will call a time out. He will beat the discipline thing into their heads. And, for the most part, the team plays that way. I think they'll play that well often enough to win close games consistently. Sorry to say this to you, as I think you as fans deserve better (plus I love Denver as a city, one of my favorite places to visit), but I like the Lakers in five games, maybe six.
Thanks to Kurt for taking the time to give us an idea of what we are in for. He has put together a great post analyzing the three regular season meetings which is well worth reading.