The Lakers go on a one-game road trip tonight after their exhilarating victory against the New York Knicks on Christmas Day. The Lakers are currently on a five game winning streak and a victory tonight would bump them over the .500 mark. The Lakers have played with a refreshed and refocused attitude and mindset since the return of Steve Nash. The game tonight will be the end of their back-to-back, which is also the case for their opponents.
Tonight the Lakers face the Denver Nuggets, who are coming off a loss against the Los Angeles Clippers yesterday. The team who forced the Lakers into a seven game series in the first round of the post-season last year is hoping to end the Lakers streak and halt the momentum they have created in the past two weeks. The Lakers have an all-time record of 99-52 against the Nuggets with a 43-33 road record against Denver in the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets are 8-1 at home this season.
Frontcourt: Danilo Gallinari is having some struggles this season with his efficiency from the field. However, when he is on, he is on, especially at the three-point line. Gallinari is averaging 15.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game on 38.5 percent shooting from the field. Kenneth Faried was a rebound killer against the Lakers last season, especially on the offensive boards. Although Pau Gasol has the advantage of length in this matchup, Faried uses his strength and hustle to get easy opportunities. Therefore, Gasol’s defense must match Faried’s energy to limit these easy possessions.
I expect Dwight Howard to have a big night tonight as he has a great advantage against Kosta Koufos. Koufos is averaging 7.5 points and 6.4 boards per game. JaVale McGee will most likely see a lot of minutes tonight, as the Lakers’ size is a factor other teams are typically concerned about. McGee is having a much better season as he leads the team is PER (23.6) and averages 11.0 points and 5.1 rebounds in 19 minutes.
Backcourt: Denver has a very solid backcourt led by Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala. Limiting Lawson’s play-making skills for his teammates and for himself will be critical for the Lakers tonight. Lawson is averaging 14.0 points and 6.9 assists on 41.6 percent shooting from the field. Iguodala was part of the multi-team deal to get Dwight Howard to LA. His season numbers are essentially hovering around his career averages, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t easily break out for a monster game. With Denver, Iguodala is posting 13.6 points, 4.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game. Additionally, Iguodala can give Kobe Bryant a hard time as he is a good perimeter defender.
The Lakers have had a tough timing defending backup point guards and that will be no different tonight since the Nuggets have a very good backup in Andre Miller. After having some issues of coming off the bench early last season, Miller has seemed to find his role in providing consistent contribution for the Nuggets’ bench. However, Miller must be well defended and the more the Lakers can force Miller out on offense, the better. Corey Brewer adds to the Nuggets’ balanced offense quite well. In a little more than 23 minutes per game, Brewer adds 11.3 points on 44.1 percent shooting from the field and 34.8 percent from the three-point line.
Keys to Victory:
Control the Paint: The Lakers dominated the paint against the Knicks yesterday and must do the same against the Nuggets. Denver leads the league in points in the paint with 55.6 points per game. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol must clog the lane consistently and force the Nuggets to shoot outside shots. Perhaps switches might be made by Mike D’Antoni to limit Ty Lawson’s ability to use the pick-and-roll and his skill of driving to the bucket. I would not be surprised if D’Antoni utilizes Darius Morris to guard Lawson.
Pound the Boards: While consistent defense will remain a stressed point for the Lakers this season, the Lakers must win the rebounding battle against a great rebounding team in the Nuggets (ranked third in NBA with 45.9). While the Lakers are ranked first in the league in rebounding, they cannot become passive while boxing out. In fact, the Nuggets lead the league in offensive rebounds, with 13.9 per game. Securing rebounds is essential for controlling the pace of the game and keeping the Nuggets out of transition, as 12 of their 15 players are 26 and have speed and athleticism.
Strong Bench Presence: Since this is the ending game of a back-to-back and it’s on the road, it will be important for the Lakers’ bench to contribute tonight. I am specifically talking about reserves that are named Metta World Peace, who has played brilliantly coming off the bench during the last few games. The starters played heavy minutes and played hard yesterday against New York. The probability that their energy is low and their legs are tired is a reality. Therefore, those that are rotated in need to provide a spark of energy to the rest of the squad.
Los Angeles Lakers (14-14) vs. Denver Nuggets (15-14)
6:00 PM PST, December 26, 2012
Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
TV: TWC Sports Network
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Nuggets Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Ty Lawson
SG: Andre Iguodala
SF: Danilo Gallinari
PF: Kenneth Faried
C: Kosta Koufos
Key Reserves: G Andre Miller, F Corey Brewer, C JaVale McGee