The last 25-game stretch will offer no rest for the weary, as the Los Angeles Lakers are now faced with the road challenge of taking on the team with the league’s 2nd-best home record. At 22-3 at the Pepsi Center, the Denver Nuggets are just about the last team you want to have to face on the second night of a road back-to-back.
That said, on the heels of an impressive performance in Dallas, these Lakers finally look as though they are starting to develop the type of chemistry and guile it takes to win a game like tonight’s.
While Denver has a plethora of weapons, their most consistent player has been Ty Lawson. With 25.6 points, 8.2 assists over his last five games, Lawson has averaged 15.7 points, 9.7 assists in three meetings with the Lakers this season.
Since Kobe Bryant seems to welcome all challengers, I’d like to take a moment to remind Mr. Bryant and all of Lakers Nation of what Lawson had to say last time he visited Los Angeles (PG-13 for work):
Frontcourt: If last year’s 7-game series with Denver taught us anything, it’s that their big men can provide as much energy as many guards. If you aren’t mindful on defense, guys like Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee will kill you with their activity and effort. In the Lakers’ last trip to Denver, Faried’s activity and intensity frustrated the Lakers to the tune of 21 points and 15 rebounds, and led to an eventual ejection of Dwight Howard, following a flagrant-2 foul midway through the third quarter.
Danilo Gallinari, recently hampered by a sore thigh, continues to average career high numbers in most statistical categories. At 16.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, Gallinari is the team’s leading scorer and one of their best weapons from beyond the arc. Gallinari attempts 5.4 shots from deep, and hits an above-average .373 percent.
Corey Brewer is also a key contributor in a reserve role. Brewer is precisely the type of versatile F/G coach George Karl loves to utilize, as Karl has a predilection for interchangeable ‘slashers’ that can also knock down the outside shot
Backcourt: As mentioned, the Nuggets are led in the backcourt by 4th-year guard Ty Lawson. His ability to knock down the outside shot (.371 percent on the year) and penetrate/probe with the best of them makes him one of the more versatile point guards in the league, and definitely a tough cover for a team with a backcourt as…’experienced’ as the Lakers.
At times, coach D’Antoni will use Bryant on the quicker guards, but due to Andre Iguodala’s size, Nash is going to have to stay with Lawson to the best of his ability. Even though Iguodala’s numbers are slightly below his career averages (due mainly to Coach Karl’s minute distribution), he remains a player that can impact the game in various ways. Iguodala is always a threat in transition, and remains one of Bryant’s tougher defenders on the other end of the court.
Andre Miller, like (seemingly) every other Los Angeles native, is prone to saving a strong performance for the Lakers. The reserve guards will have their hands full, as Wilson Chandler is also capable of putting up large scoring totals if he gets things going.
Keys To Victory:
Control The Tempo, Bring Total Team Effort – Coming off a hard-fought game in Dallas, everyone is going to need to provide their fair share of support. Not only does this mean finding the open man on offense and helping each other out on defense, but maintaining the pace of the game will be key. Denver loves to get out on the break and play at a frenetic pace, especially in the altitude of Denver. The Lakers will have to fight, scrap, and claw their way to winning the struggle for 50-50 balls, and the rebounding battle.
Get Back In Transition, Guard The 3pt Line – Regardless of the altitude, the second night of a road back-to-back is going to be tough. Whether coach D’Antoni extends his rotation to remedy potentially tired legs, the Lakers must find a way to bring a maximum effort on all defensive possessions. They can’t settle for too many outside shots with an unbalanced court, as Denver will definitely look to exploit them with quick run-outs and constant attacking in the open court.
Defend The Lane/Rim– The guards must find a way to limit penetration, but the big men must defend at the rim. For Dwight Howard, the key will be to stay out of foul trouble when Denver challenges him. Even though the he only had a single block against Dallas (yesterday), Howard’s defensive effort/presence was a major asset in key situations. The Lakers will need a duplicate effort, and plenty of help on the backboards from everyone.
Maintain The Positive Energy/Momentum- Winners of 3-straight and 11/15 overall, the Lakers have actually managed to go 5-3 over their last eight road games. For a team that was 5-15 away from their home crowd at Staples at one point, that’s obviously the best stretch of the season. Even though playing in Denver can be brutal, the Lakers can ill-afford to miss out on too many additional opportunities to finally climb back to (and above) the .500 mark.
Nuggets Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Ty Lawson
SG: Andre Iguodala
SF: Danilo Gallinari
PF: Kenneth Faried
C: Kosta Koufos
Key Reserves: C JaVale McGee SG Wilson Chandler PG Andre Miller
Los Angeles Lakers (28-29) vs. Denver Nuggets (35-22)
6:oo PM PST, February 25, 2013
Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
TV: Time Warner Sports Network
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
VIDEO: Lakers beat writer Mark Medina previews the game with Serena Winters