April 18, 2008
After 1,230 regular season games, the NBA Playoffs are finally here. (Tomorrow!) KD and I will have our own first round predictions later today, but for now we stick with the bloggin' team experts. Up first in the West: Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold and Jeremy from Pickaxe and Roll breakdown the LA-Denver series. Enjoy.
Kurt, Forum Blue and Gold: You win 57 games and finish as the number one seed, and your "reward" is a 50-win team with two all-world players? Where are the Atlanta Hawks?
Still, Denver is the best match up the Lakers could have hoped for, and not because LA won the season series 3-0 (all those games happened before the Pau Gasol trade, so the Lakers look different, and frankly so does Denver). But what the Nuggets want to do are things the Lakers can exploit because of personnel.
For example, the Nuggets want to get out and run. They gamble on perimeter defense trying to create steals, knowing that Marcus Camby is patrolling the paint waiting to erase any mistakes. But with veteran PG Derrick Fisher and wise-beyond-his-years Jordan Farmar handling the ball, the Lakers don’t make many bad passes due to pressure. Plus, the entire lineup — Kobe, Odom, Gasol, Vujacic and so on — are all good ball handlers and passers who can exploit that defensive style. That’s what happened in previous meetings.
Also, keeping Camby in the paint on defense will be hard because Gasol can pull him out to cover that consistent 18-foot jumper. Even Ronny Turiaf off the bench can hit that shot consistently, so Camby will get no rest. Well, except for the crazy amount of time between games in the first round.
Finally, there’s that Kobe guy. The Nuggets are among the 99% of teams that have no good answer to slow Kobe man-to-man, so they doubled and trapped him in every meeting this year. The result in the last game was Fisher had 28, Farmar 19 and Kobe took just seven shots but had 11 assists. And the Lakers romped.
The Lakers are going to score plenty; the key is discipline and defense. If the Lakers get sucked into the Nuggets pace, if they gamble on defense then race down the court and jack up the first three they see because it is open, they’re in trouble. But slow it down, run the offense and it all should fall into place. The Nuggets are not consistent enough to put together seven good games in a row.
Lakers in five, six tops.
Jeremy, Pickaxe and Roll: There is one Western Conference team the Nuggets failed to defeat this season. The Los Angeles Lakers. What makes that even more depressing is all three games were played before the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol. Needless to say after four straight first round ousters in the playoffs — all by a four games to one margin — it is difficult to get excited about what looks to be first round ouster number five.
Any playoff run by the Nuggets will necessitate a serious commitment to defend and therein lies the problem. They have never made that commitment this season. Denver does have the potential to be a very good defensive team and believe it or not they have won close games by playing strong defense in the last five or six minutes. They have very active hands and always have three or four tremendous athletes on the floor. I believe we will see some of the best defense the Nuggets have to offer, but not consistently enough to get the job done.
One reason for hope, or perhaps even cautious optimism, is Denver has never had potential game changing players available to come off the bench. That has changed this season with J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza. Both of them can score in bunches and are no longer completely lost on defense, which is nice. If you are looking for an X-factor in this series, it is J.R. and Klieza.
The question then becomes how can Denver win, or at least be competitive? Let me paint a picture for you.
If the Nuggets are forcing turnovers, running at every opportunity (even after makes) and rotating well on defense they will be in every game. However, if the Lakers are moving the ball, constantly finding their plethora of shooters open behind the arc and the Nuggets are all standing and watching Melo trying to fight through double teams and AI going one on one at the other end you better believe this series will be over in four games.
This Nuggets team knows it was put together to make a playoff run. It is now or never for them. They know what needs to be done.
Unfortunately, the Lakers are just a better team.
Lakers in six (and that is me being cautiously optimistic).