The Lakers are back beneath the .500 mark (15-17) for the first time at this point in a season since the 2005-06 season. Trouble is, that team was led by a nightly starting lineup of: Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Brian Cook, Chris Mihm, and Smush Parker. Obviously, the level of expectation wasn’t quite what Lakers Nation anticipated from this year’s team. Tonight’s opponent is the Nuggets, and even though Denver got the better of the Lakers in their last meeting (at 18-16) these Nuggets have endured their own early season struggles, as well.
The prior two meetings with Denver were like night and day, which has been a common theme for this team from night to night. In the aforementioned second match-up, the Lakers were led by 40 points by Kobe Bryant, but they weren’t able to get enough players into the flow of the offense. Also, as has been the case far too often this season, they were unable to get any timely stops in the second half. In the first meeting, although Bryant experienced an off night by his standards (5-15 FGS), the Lakers were powered by the most all-around offensive attack of the 2012-13 season.
Antwan Jamison, who rarely sees action these days, came off the bench and scored 33 points. Jodie Meeks also chipped in with 21 points of his own, and the Lakers got 61 points from their bench for the first time in years. Hopefully, the Lakers can relocate that balanced attack and defensive intensity for tonight’s meeting with the Nuggets.
Frontcourt: It’s just this simple, if the Lakers’ big men don’t keep Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee off the backboards, this is going to be a long night. Almost sounds like a broken record, but the energy and effort the Lakers’ big men bring on both ends will likely be a major determining factor. The big men will also have to defend the perimeter, as Danilo Gallinari is shooting 51.5 percent from behind the arc over his last five games.
JaVale McGee has shown signs of improvement following his off-season training camp with NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon’s footwork camp, and always tends to have high-energy games against the Lakers. Coach George Karl, who likes balancing out his lineups in order to attack opposing teams in waves, utilizes McGee and Andre Miller with his second unit. Corey Brewer is also experiencing a career year off the Nuggets’ bench, as he is one of six players that averages double-figure scoring for the Nuggets.
Backcourt:The Lakers have struggled to defend quick opposing guards for seemingly a decade, and Ty Lawson, although recently slowed by a sore achilles, is one of the quicker and more difficult guards to defend off the dribble. Lawson, limited by several injuries along the way, is still averaging 13.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game on the season. As mentioned earlier, Andre Miller is always a serious concern, as he routinely plays well against the Lakers.
Andre Iguodala’s statistics might not leap off the screen at you (13.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists), but his all-around game and veteran leadership has been some of the few truly bright spots of the early season for Denver.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Keep The Opposing Big Men Off The Glass– Dwight Howard, Jordan Hill, and Pau Gasol must control the offensive and defensive glass. The Nuggets, struggles aside, are tough enough to beat on an even playing field. If you give them additional opportunities by not rotating, filling, and helping on the defensive end, then you are going to be in for a long night against this gritty Nuggets’ group. You must control the glass, especially at home.
Limit Guard Penetration– It’s nearly impossible to keep guards as quick as Lawson or crafty as Miller completely out of the lane, but the Lakers have to do a positive job of at least limiting their ability to get into the teeth of the defense. The Lakers cannot afford to consistently place Dwight Howard and the other big men in positions of vulnerability and expect positive results. Communication and consistency on defense will be key.
Limit Transition Baskets– The mark of a poor defensive team is a susceptibility to giving up major fast break and transition points. Depending upon the given night, this Lakers team has shown an ability to at least limit opposing teams from getting out on the break and scoring the easy buckets. In order to win this game, they will need to find a way to at least limit the Nuggets from fully capitalizing on their advantage of youth and exuberance. As mentioned, the Nuggets like to hit you with waves of energy and effort. The Lakers simply must find a way to either limit the Nuggets’ effectiveness or match their intensity and effort.
Full Team Effort & Involvement– We know Kobe Bryant can score 30+ at the drop of a hat. What the Lakers need is a total team effort on both sides of the ball, for a full 48 minutes. Whichever rotation of players Coach D’Antoni chooses to go with simply need to come to play with energy, aggression, and pride.
Denver Nuggets (18-16) at at Los Angeles Lakers (15-17)
6:30 PM PST, January 6, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: Time Warner Sports Network
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Denver Nuggets’ Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Ty Lawson
SG: Andre Iguodala
SF: Danilo Gallinari
PF: Kenneth Faried
C: Kosta Koufus
Key Reserves: C: JaVale McGee SF: Corey Brewer PG: Andre Miller