West Finals Preview: Lakers vs. Nuggets
The Lakers took long enough, but they finally dispatched of the pesky Houston Rockets, and were able to advance to the Western Conference Finals. And now that they've gotten there, they'll face a team that has been patiently waiting for them over the last six days: the two-seeded Denver Nuggets.
Denver has arguably been every bit as hot in the post-season as the undefeated Cleveland Cavaliers. But their style of play is simply a bad matchup for this Lakers team.
How L.A. Can Win
The Lakers have advantages in this series that they did not in their recent seven-game slug-fest with the Rockets. The biggest one? They can score. Easily. Especially if you don't have a team of gritty, lock-down defenders hawking you for 48 minutes -- which is something that the Nuggets definitely do not have.
Sure, Denver beat the Mavericks in five games. But let's not forget, the ending of one of those five was extremely controversial, and Denver's recipe for success in beating Dallas will be a recipe for disaster if they try to win in the same way against the Lakers.
The Nuggets beat the Mavericks by outscoring them. Don't believe me? Check it: Denver allowed Dallas to score 105, 105, 119, and 110 in their last four games of the series. L.A. will be perfectly happy to get into an uptempo game with this Nuggets team, and if Denver wants to push tempo, trust me: they're going to regret it.
How Denver Can Win
It's not as complicated as you might think, but the Nuggets will have to change it up a little bit if they're going to take down the Lakers. Denver gets mini-runs several times a game by forcing turnovers and converting them into fast break baskets. L.A. doesn't turn the ball over that much, so Denver will need to play better defense in the half court set to force L.A. to miss shots.
Offensively, they'll need to outperform Andrew Bynum on the inside, which is very doable with Nene and Kenyon Martin patrolling the paint. Bynum is a huge question mark in this series, just as he's been at the start of every single game through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Nuggets will need to get stellar performances from Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, while holding Kobe Bryant in check, and dominating the Lakers' front line of Bynum and Pau Gasol. It's not impossible, but it's going to be tough to do four times in seven games.
Video Clip to Get You Pumped
Yes, this was ancient history in NBA terms, as this play where Carmelo Anthony choked out Sasha Vujacic happened back in 2007. But players tend to get under each other's skin in a long playoff series, and I'm sure we'll see Sasha on 'Melo at some point in these Conference Finals. Anthony's game has matured, but what about him as an individual? We'll find out soon enough, but this serves as a reminder of what could happen if Carmelo's team is getting rolled and Vujacic enters the game and begins to play his extra-physical brand of basketball.
Stud of the Series
Stepping away from the obvious choices, I'll go with Andrew Bynum here. He's going to have to step up and play the way he did in Game 7 against the Rockets for the Lakers to be able to have their way inside against the deep Nuggets' front line of Nene, K-Mart, and the Birdman.
L.A. has a lot of weapons, and they may be able to prevail even if Bynum is a no-show. But if he makes his presence felt, it could be a very short series for the Nuggets.
Dahntay Jones. I know he usually plays less than 20 minutes per game before heading to the bench in favor of J.R. Smith. But Jones has the unenviable task of checking Kobe Bryant to tstart the game. And if Kobe happens to get going on his watch, it's going to be a long night for the Nuggets.
The Nuggets happen to be playing their best ball of the year right now, but their style simply isn't conducive to taking out this Lakers team. While Denver likes to outscore their opponents, the Lakers would prefer to do the same -- but see, they're a whole lot better at doing so than the Nuggets are.
That being said, Denver's more than solid, and this should be a competitive series with very few blowouts. When it's all said and done, however, it's the Lakers that should advance to the NBA Finals -- in six games or less.