Is there anything better than playoff time in the NBA?
After a year full of tumultuous turnover, the Denver Nuggets caught fire to end the season on an 8-2 run, finishing 38-28 and in the sixth spot in the wild West.
They fittingly match up with the hated rival LA Lakers in the fifth postseason meeting between the two teams, the most Denver’s played any opponent in the playoffs.
In those matchups, the Lakers are 5-0; winning three first-round series, most recently in 2008, and taking home two Western Conference Finals against the Nuggets in 1985 and 2009.
True supporters of the baby blue remember the Nuggs nearly going up 1-0 versus LA in 2009 before squandering a four point lead with three and a half minutes to go. They did steal the second game in LA, but gave away Game Three in the Pepsi Center and lost the series 4-2.
LA is 17-4 all-time against Denver in the playoffs, representing how this series pits two virtual opposite franchises and teams against one another in this series, only adding to the intrigue.
One is a star studded squad, the other a starless team.
The Lakers feature Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, who carry their team to victory night-in, night-out.
In contrast, the Nuggets are a true team, averaging six players in double digit scoring each game.
The Lakers play in the biggest market of them all, complete with all the glitz and glamour that comes with celebrities in the crowd.
Denver’s still just a dusty ol’ cow town in many peoples’ eyes across the country.
LA possesses all the experience; Denver doesn’t know how to win a championship.
The Lakers are arguably the most celebrated team in basketball, winning 16 NBA titles over the course of their storied history. Kobe was the catalyst of five of them.
The Nuggets are still looking to make their first Finals appearance, let alone take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
And LA continues that legacy today, with one of the greatest players to grace the hardwood, Kobe Bryant.
Kobe’s dominated the game for 16 seasons, notably destroying Denver numerous times over the years.
Interestingly, while he’s shown no signs of slowing—as the second highest scorer in the game at 27.9 PPG—the Nuggets did contain Kobe this year.
In the three games he played, Bryant averaged only 17.7 points, 7.3 assists and 6.0 rebounds per contest, the lowest scoring total against any team this year, as Nuggets’ defensive specialist Arron Afflalo frustrated the prolific scorer.
Of course, Kobe’s going to play a key role in the Lakers’ equation in this series and Nuggets fans shouldn’t expect him to perform poorly in the playoffs.
And while Kobe is King of LA, his jesters are noting to laugh at.
Bynum and Gasol are the twin towers of Los Angeles, dominant down low on both ends of the floor.
Bynum’s been beastly against the Nuggs this season, at 24.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, he’ll have to be Denver’s focus on defense. When he’s aggressive, Bynum is nearly unstoppable, as his numbers show. Though, Denver does have new defenders to throw at him and matchups against JaVale McGee will be big-time battles to keep your eye on.
Likewise, Gasol is great in the low block, spinning to shake defenders and lay the ball in the rim. Gasol also put up a double-double on the Nuggs, at 16 points and 10.8 boards and Nuggets fans would like nothing more to see the pterodactyl grounded in this series.
Starting center Kosta Koufos, McGee, Timofey Mozgov, Al Harrington, Kenneth Faried and possibly even Chris “Birdman” Andersen will get a run at defending the Lakers’ bigs and it’s likely take all of them working in unison to stop the two.
Offensively, the Nuggets big men need to run—just as they have all year—which will wear out the older Gasol and fatigue the behemoth Bynum. And aggressive play, taking the ball to the hole, is crucial for McGee, Faried and Harrington as it will lead to foul trouble for LA’s frontcourt.
Similarly, Afflalo has to attack Kobe when the Nuggs are on O, making him work on that end and hopefully wearing the aging man down. AAA has been on fire as of late, scoring 19 points per over his last 20 games, a good sign for Denver’s chances to steal this series.
As is the loss of Meta World Peace, who threw an elbow more fitting of the UFC than NBA, delivering the knockout blow to James Harden in the penultimate regular season contest. Artest will miss the first six games of the series, which is a huge loss for the Lakers because Artest’s physical style of play frustrates opponents, namely Danilo Gallinari.
Gallo’s a great scorer, versatile as hell—driving off the dribble with reckless abandon or pulling up behind the arc for a smooth shot—but Artest made him play terribly (10 PPG, 4.2 RPG) in the regular season.
Another key to the Nuggs success lies with Ty Lawson. Lawson, the leading scorer in Denver, is so important because he can push the pace, forcing teammates to run the floor with him or get lost in his dust. Because of Ty, the Nuggets are the No. 1 fast-breaking team in the NBA and the young and athletic team will have to run to win against the methodical Lakers’ half-court offense.
His counterpart, Ramon Sessions, may have the height advantage, but there’s no doubt that Lawson has the speed and quicks to get around any defender in the NBA today.
And beyond the starters, Denver’s depth is decisive.
The play of veterans Andre Miller and Harrington off the bench, as well as relentless worker Corey Brewer, will all play a significant role in the series.
What it all comes down to for Denver is playing their game, their way.
They have to play George Karl’s run and gun fun offense to beat LA. The Nuggs are the highest scoring team and best fast breaking team in the association, if they utilize their youth and athleticism they should win games.
Included in that is playing total team-first basketball, sharing the rock to open teammates and trusting they will score.
If Denver plays their game, they can steal this series against the legendary Lakers, and they will win, 4-2.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being your Denver Broncos Examiner, Rich is your CSU Rams Examiner and Kurtzman also writes for Blake Street Bulletin, Stadium Journey, Bleacher Report, and Mile High Hoops.
Follow Rich on twitter for breaking news, need-to-know retweets and interesting insight on the Rams and everything Colorado sports related.
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A Nuggets / Lakers playoff preview by Rich KurtzmanWritten by Colin Daniels
Rich Kurtzman, a freelance journalist now working with the 'Stands provides this excellent preview of the Nuggets / Lakers playoff series - set to tip of this afternoon. Does Rich think the Nuggets have a chance?
Is there anything better than playoff time in the NBA?
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I never really liked sports until I had a religious conversion when the Broncos lost to the 49ers in that one Super Bowl. Now I'm obsessed with all aspects of the Denver pro sports world. Oh yeah, I hate college football. It's crap. Talk to me on twitter @johnreidydenver