We are in the last days of the off-season as training camp begins Monday for the Los Angeles Lakers. We have already been able to watch the first glimpses of most of the Lakers partaking in drills and workouts, with the footage of Dwight Howard receiving the most attention. However, all players will finally get together on Monday, when the campaign to reach the Finals and reclaim the Larry O’Brien trophy will begin. The season is highly anticipated in Lakerland by fans and with the new-look Lakers, every team will be gunning to be the Lakers and will treat the regular season match-ups like playoff games.
I will now conclude my series discussing the top competitors in the West that will try their hardest to stand in the Lakers way of winning the Western Conference Finals. I began by analyzing the Lakers’ biggest Western competitor, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Next, I turned the attention to another Lakers’ rival, the San Antonio Spurs. I didn’t include the Los Angeles Clippers in my series because that battle was already discussed in length by Lakers Nation’s own Jabari Davis.
I would like to conclude this series by discussing a sleeper team in the West, in my opinion, the Denver Nuggets.
The team that gave the Lakers headaches in the playoffs last season by forcing the first round series to seven games will aim to challenge the Lakers and the rest of the West in the same way. However, this year they will be improved because of the addition of a newly Gold medal Olympian, Andre Iguodala, who was a part of the four-team Dwight Howard trade. The Nuggets did lose Al Harrington and Aaron Afflalo in that same trade to the Orlando Magic, but it is widely agreed upon that the Nuggets did benefit from that trade.
Iguodala’s presence will improve one of the Nuggets’ biggest weaknesses, defense. Specifically, the Nuggets were the worst team in defending the three-point shot last season. Iguodala’s ability to defend the perimeter should greatly benefit the Nuggets in the effort to improve defensively. Let’s not forget about Iguodala’s ability to handle the ball on the break, which Laker fans know all too well that Denver loves to run, and the addition of his 12.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game to the offense.
Further, Javale McGee has spent the off-season working with Hakeem Olajuwon with his footwork and post moves, which is expected to push McGee to playing up to his physical potential. McGee is an energetic and a hustle-type player, which gave the Lakers some problems during the first round last season. Additionally, Ty Lawson has the potential to finally have a break-out, consistent season this year. Lawson ran circles around Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake during the 2012 post-season with a 19.0 points, 6.0 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game average, and by shooting a scorching 51.4 percent from the field.
George Karl is a little like Gregg Popovich as they each have their own specific system and coaching philosophy that continues to stand the test of time, regardless of the players who fill in the specific roles. Karl has a fast-paced, athletic and highly energetic offensive system that can easily wear opponents out, especially when playing in the high altitude in Denver. As stated before, Iguodala’s defense and the improvement of McGee’s defense, especially with his timing, will make the Nuggets sleeper contenders in the West.
…in terms of pure athleticism, it’s tough to find another roster as stacked as the one in Denver. There’s speed and athletic skill at every position. And aside from the stocky Lawson at point, Denver is one of the longest teams in the league. The core of Lawson, Iguodala and McGee is an intriguing trio that could leave defenses scratching their heads. It’s certainly a group with the makings of a contender. The much-needed advancements on defense and Lawson maturing into a legitimate, trustworthy leader will be major factors in guiding the Nuggets’ transformation.
As far as the match-ups between Denver and the Lakers, the moves Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss made during the summer has made the Lakers faster, more athletic and stronger on defense in the inside game. While Steve Nash’s offensive abilities are something that every team, player and fan are well aware of, his defense against Ty Lawson could be a potential conflict. However, Lawson primarily uses his ability to cut to the rim to generate his offense. That’s where the physical presence of Dwight Howard can be a threat and force Lawson out to the perimeter.
The Lakers are making a big splash already in the NBA and they haven’t played one second of real game time together yet. The Thunder and the Spurs remain as the biggest competitors to the Lakers in the West, but do not fall asleep on the Denver Nuggets. Be prepared to witness entertaining, fast-paced and more athletic match-ups between L.A. and Denver during the regular season and possibly in the playoffs.
In case you missed it – Lakers LRT chats about the Clippers and the L.A. rivalry:
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