Karl won't reveal too many specifics about what it takes to conquer Kobe Bryant(notes) and the defending champs. But it's clear the Nuggets aren't lacking for confidence as the Western Conference's top two teams prepare to square off for the second time this season on Friday. Not only do the Nuggets think they know how to win against the Lakers, they believe they can beat them regularly.
"We kind of know how to beat them, what we have to do," Karl said. "We're learning that better, and I think that's a positive."
For years, the Lakers routinely had their way with the Nuggets. That changed in last season's West finals. After losing the opener by two points, the Nuggets won two of the next three games to even the series. The Lakers won the final two games, but the Nuggets believe they learned a lot from the series. Namely, that they don't have too much to fear from the champs.
It might simply be brash talk, but the Nuggets don't seem worried in the least about the mighty Lakers.
"I don't know if they're better," Billups said. "But they won it all. They don't have to be better. Nobody was as good as them.
Adding to the Nuggets' confidence was their 105-79 beat-down of the Lakers on Nov. 13 in Denver – a game, albeit, that Los Angeles played without the services of All-Star forward Pau Gasol(notes). The Lakers scored a mere eight points in the third quarter while Bryant was held scoreless in the second half. After the game, Bryant said the Nuggets "beat the hell out of us," and mentioned that Gasol might not have made a difference.
While the loss was just a blip on the Lakers' schedule, it was a major confidence boost for Denver.
"It mattered to us," Karl said. "I don't think it has a high difference to them as [Lakers coach] Phil [Jackson] would always tell you."
So what exactly is the recipe to beating the Lakers? Having a quick guard like rookie Ty Lawson(notes), Karl said, helps. So does Kenyon Martin's(notes) ability to knock down open jump shots from the elbow of the lane.
"I know what we have to do," Karl said. "I'm not going to totally divulge, but I think we know we can play this type of game and beat them.
"We have a couple ingredients: Kenyon shooting and scoring from the high post. They left him a little free last year. It's a little different this year, a lot better this year.
"The little point guard, they have a history with. I'm not saying they don't cover little point guards well. They just don't like to cover that little point guard from Aaron Brooks(notes) last year to [Tony] Parker in [previous] years. They've had struggles. The little point guard is going through their defense. They can't do much about it.
"It's all bothersome."
While the Nuggets don't give the Lakers much praise, they do admire the champs' focus – a trait, Chauncey Billups said, that Denver still lacks on some nights.
Denver has played well against many elite opponents this season with wins over the Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers. But the Nuggets have also lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings.
"When you talk about the Lakers, you have to play with a serious mindset," Nuggets center Nene said. "You have to play focused. If you don't come prepared, they are going to embarrass you. Their team is good. They have a lot of veterans, a lot of good players. They explore all the parts of the court. They go to the bigs. They go to the smalls. They go to Kobe. When they don't go to Kobe, they have other players that can finish the game who can be the difference in the game."
Just like in the teams' first meeting when Gasol didn't play, the Nuggets and Lakers could have a hard time using Friday as a true measuring stick of where they stand. Anthony expects to miss his seventh straight game and Billups is playing on a sore ankle. Bryant's own ankle problems also could slow him.
The teams will meet twice more this season: Feb. 28 in Los Angeles and April 8 in Denver. Between now and then, the Nuggets don't plan to lose their swagger. They think they're capable of winning a playoff series against the Lakers unless someone convinces them otherwise.
"I'll take our chances against anybody," Anthony said.
Iguodala on the move?
The Philadelphia 76ers are still evaluating their trade options with swingman Andre Iguodala(notes). One source says the Cleveland Cavaliers remain interested in Iguodala, but might need a third team to get a deal done since the 76ers don't seem to want center Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes). While Houston Rockets guard Tracy McGrady's(notes) expiring contract continues to draw interest, his hefty $23 million salary would make him hard to deal for players like Iguodala ($12.2 million this season) and Ilgauskas ($11.5 million) in a three-way deal.
Carrying the torch
Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash(notes) isn't expected to arrive in Dallas for the All-Star weekend until late Friday, causing him to miss the afternoon media availability session. He does, however, have a good excuse: Nash, a native of Vancouver, British Columbia, will be in his hometown to carry the Olympic torch to help start the 2010 Winter Games.
Nash will fly to Vancouver after the Suns play the Portland Trail Blazers in Phoenix on Wednesday. While players have received fines for missing previous media sessions, Nash is confident the NBA will excuse him.
"It's going to be an incredible experience for me," Nash said. "Obviously, for us to host the Olympics, to host the world, it's something very special. And for me to be asked to run with the torch is a big honor."
…An NBA source said the Sacramento Kings are open to moving guard Kevin Martin(notes) and swingman Francisco Garcia(notes) prior to the trade deadline while the Chicago Bulls are still exploring options to trade forward Tyrus Thomas(notes). The Bulls, however, have no interest in adding any player that could negatively affect their salary-cap space for free agency this summer. …One NBA executive said he wouldn't be surprised if the Washington Wizards don't make a major move before the trade deadline because of the uncertainty about their ownership situation and Gilbert Arenas'(notes) future. Still, that hasn't stopped the other Wizards' players from fretting about their own futures. The players think only one of them is safe from a trade: Mike Miller(notes). …Phoenix Suns forward Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) said he expects the team to make him another contract offer soon, but rival team executives insist that hasn't kept the Suns from trying to move him. "I know they're fielding offers and I would be surprised if he isn't dealt before the deadline," one executive said. …While the Nuggets are still looking at ways to add another veteran reserve big man, it seems less and less likely they will get something done before the trade deadline because of financial concerns. Nuggets coach George Karl and his players seem OK with standing pat. "I'm not pushing any pressure or stress that we have to get a player. But I think if we're smart and we keep the phones open, if it's a player that I will play, then I will be positive," Karl said. Said Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin: "I'll rock out with it. I'm fine with what we got."
- The Nuggets
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