In one of many schedule oddities that the Nuggets will contend with during their lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Denver plays host to the Lakers this evening just a day removed from losing to the Lakers in Los Angeles yesterday.
Records: Denver 2-2 (1-0 at home), lost 2 straight
Lakers 3-2 (0-1 on the road), won 3 straight
Television: Altitude TV
Season Series 2010-11: 2-2
Looking back at yesterday's very disappointing Nuggets defeat to the hated Lakers at Staples Center, it's easy to point to Danilo Gallinari's (inexcusable) missed layup, Ty Lawson's (inexcusable) missed free throws, or the Nuggets' collective squander of a five-point lead late in the game as THE reasons the team lost their second straight road game. And to be certain, those late-game malfunctions didn't help matters any.
But comparing the Lakers game to Thursday's loss at Portland to the Trail Blazers, I see a more concerning pattern emerging from our Nuggets on the road: shoddy rebounding, not enough assists and too many three-point attempts with little in return.
Against the Lakers, the Nuggets were out rebounded 50-36. Against the Blazers, 50-30.
Against the Lakers, the Nuggets laid out just 22 assists. Against the Blazers, a mere 17. Nuggets followers know we need to get into the high 20s for assists to win games.
Against the Lakers, the Nuggets shot 27% from three-point range and yet still didn't hesitate to attempt 26 long-range shots. Against the Blazers, the Nuggets shot a putrid 20% from behind the arc and yet they attempted 20 three-pointers anyway.
(Now you see why Portland was able to overcome a turnover differential of 18 and still beat the Nuggets on Thursday ... only the eighth time this has happened in NBA history since the 1985-86 season).
Playing inside the friendly confines of Pepsi Center tonight, will we see the Nuggets return to the 2-0 squad that opened the season or the team that suddenly can't rebound, pass or shoot from long range like we saw these past two games? The Nuggets can run-and-gun all they want, but against bigger, older teams like the Lakers the Nuggets must control the paint with toughness and rebounding. We saw neither on Saturday.
In theory, the Nuggets should have a big advantage over the Lakers tonight given the immediate travel in-between games (and some possible New Year's partying, too?). After all, our 2011-12 Nuggets were built for back-to-back affairs with our youth and depth. Right?
But don't sleep on these Lakers.
Yes, the Nuggets should have beaten them yesterday and, yes, the Lakers were just 2-2 entering Saturday's contest and hadn't looked particularly good to date. But the Lakers have survived playing five games in seven days and are standing fine at 3-2, and the first four of those games were without center Andrew Bynum (who simply dominated the Nuggets yesterday raising concerns about the Nuggets interior toughness).
I'm looking for a Nuggets victory tonight, but it won't come easy.
Scouting the Lakers...
Kobe Bryant: Leave it to the great Kobe Bryant to see his numbers improve during a tough early season schedule. Bryant almost had a triple-double against the Nuggets on Saturday and it looks as though his experimental surgery in Germany on his knee may have paid off. If there's one weakness we're seeing from Bryant early on, it's that his turnovers are up because he's been trying to do too much.
Andrew Bynum: In his first game back after serving a four-game suspension, the giant Bynum put up 29 points (on 13-18 shooting), 13 rebounds and had two blocks. If the Lakers get a big season out of Bynum, they'll be a force to reckon with come playoff time.
Derek Fisher: I'm getting to a sad point in my life where there aren't too many NBA players older than me. But D-Fish is one of them and he's showing his age. Routinely bested by quicker point guards, Fisher is also losing his shooting touch, making just 11% of his three-pointers through five games this season.
Metta World Peace: Ron Artest's name change appears to have included the inability to shoot three-pointers (he has made one in nine attempts this season). World Peace's 0-8 shooting performance against the Nuggets on Saturday almost delivered a victory to Denver.
The Lakers have already had their dose of a back-to-back-to-back, finishing 1-2 with close losses to the Bulls and Kings, followed by a drubbing of the Jazz in Los Angeles in their third game. Tonight, the Nuggets embark on Game 2 of their first back-to-back-to-back (Milwaukee visits tomorrow for Game 3) and must respond with a victory after yesterday's late-game embarrassment in Los Angeles.