There's something particularly loathsome about the Lakers (31-13). Whether it's their myopic, bandwagon jumping pseudo-fans. Or the fact that they live on national television. Or the fact that they seem to have built in advantages courtesy of David Stern that virtually guarantee that they stay locked-and-loaded. Maybe it's their arrogant coach who can't seem to give other teams credit when they beat the Lakers.
The Lakers aren't playing horribly. They have picked things up in recent days despite their sloppy play, but they are coming off a loss to the Dallas Mavericks. They are healthy, they are as talented as ever ... even though Phil Jackson seems to be bored out of his mind, as well as the team. I'm not going to sit here and fault the Lakers for playing uninspired basketball, they have earned the right to be disinterested in the regular season. Kudos to them. Which makes it a perfect time for our dysfunction-laden Denver Nuggets (24-17) team to sneak up on them and grab a victory on national television (ESPN).
Players to watch
Kobe Bryant: He is who he is. Even though he's on the tail end of his career he is still one of the best players in the NBA. Hands down. There's not much I can say about him that hasn't already been said. While injuries have been catching up to him the last couple of seasons, it can be said that he leaves his best for the playoffs. As much as I hate the Lakers, I do bear a grudging respect for Kobe Bryant and his skill. He is always dangerous regardless of age and injury status.
Pau Gasol: The older Gasol (the llama) is formidable in the middle. Although this year, at least in the games I've watched he seems a bit off. Maybe it's because Andrew Bynum was out for the first part of the season, but he seems to mix great games with horrific disappearing acts. Regardless, he always seems to step it up against the Nuggets. Kenyon Martin will obviously have his hands full again.
Lamar Odom: Much like our own J.R. Smith, Odom is the wild card in the Lakers offense. When he's is going good, the Lakers are unstoppable. When he's playing disinterested the Lakers are vulnerable. Chris Andersen usually pissed off Odom sufficiently enough to distract him, but with Birdman out of the lineup for the forseeable future it's up to Melvin Ely and Al Harrington to matchup with Odom.
Ron Artest: Its always fun to watch the Artest vs Carmelo Anthony matchup. It can be argued that Ron-Ron's defense against Melo in the second to last showdown with the Lakers last season was the reason they pulled out the win. He is tough but extremely erratic on the offensive end. Phil Jackson recently told him to stop chucking up corner threes. Lets see if he continues this in tonight's game.
Nuggets of Wisdom:
The only major injury the Nuggets have is to Chris Andersen. It can be argued that, with the way he was playing, it's not necessarily a bad thing. The Lakers are healthy and seem to be finding a groove, so with all the Nuggets distractions you'd think that this was easy pickings for the Lake-Show.
I don't buy into that. Against the Thunder, the Nuggets showed grit and determination they have rarely played with this season. They came back from a deficit in the second half and it seemed like everyone played well in their chosen role. J.R.'s defense has been quite good the last couple games (aside from the Spurs game) and it's nice to see him diversifying. Harrington seems to be increasing his three-point shooting percentage but is horrific to watch on a fast break ... seriously. Awful.
Carmelo Anthony played arguably his best game of the season against the Thunder on Wednesday night, and for that matter so did Chauncey Billups. It's my own feeling that both men were relieved to get beyond the New Jersey Nets trade and focus on basketball. I'm thinking both players will have a great game tonight. If you can't get up to play the Lakers you might as well pack it in. I expect a great game from all players and the Nuggets will win.
Keep an eye on Ty Lawson. When he gains confidence he's great to watch. He sliced up the OKC defense on Wednesday and became that quick X-factor that we all like to watch.
Oppositions take: Silver Screen and Roll