The Lakers begin their quest to capture their seventeenth championship title in Los Angeles. This afternoon they start their first round series against the offensively charged Denver Nuggets. Every starter except Ramon Sessions has had a full week of rest, as Mike Brown chose to rest them during the regular season closer against the Sacramento Kings. Therefore, the starters should be rested and ready to go. The Nuggets have remained a top team despite suffering exits from stars like Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. Coach George Karl is proving his superstar status as a coach by developing a fast-paced, energetic and high scoring team that revolves around teamwork. The Nuggets are 4-17 all-time against the Lakers in the playoffs.
Frontcourt: Danilo Gallinari averaged 14.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists during the regular season. Gallinari is a threat along the perimeter and the three-point line. Therefore, Gasol will need to come out of the paint to defend him on most occasions. On the flip side, Gasol should work the post on the offensive end and take advantage of his offensive strengths. Kenneth Faried will start, but Al Harrington will most likely get more minutes due to the Lakers’ length. Faried averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 boards per game this season. Center Kosta Koufos will get the starting nod today and averaged 5.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this season. Andrew Bynum will need to use his dominance over Koufos to generate high levels of offense and defense. Expect JaVale McGee, who averaged 11.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.16 blocks per game this season, and Timofey Mozgov to defend Bynum throughout the game as well. Veteran Al Harrington is having a solid year off the bench for Denver and will be matched up primarily against Pau Gasol. During the regular season Harrington averaged 14.2 points and 6.1 boards per game.
Backcourt: Ty Lawson is a great point guard and has the potential to become a superstar in the league. Ramon Sessions will need to step up his defensive abilities against Lawson to try to limit his game, especially his ability to use his speed to penetrate through the defense. Lawson averaged 16.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game this season. Kobe Bryant’s defensive assignment will be Arron Afflalo, who George Karl considers to be the team’s leader. Afflalo averaged 15.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Veteran Andre Miller is coming off the bench this year, but his presence and ability could easily lead the starting lineup. Miller has brought leadership to the bench, and he averaged 9.7 points, 6.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game this season. Corey Brewer can also not be ignored off the Nuggets’ bench, as he puts up solid numbers consistently.
Keys to a Lakers’ Victory:
Limit the Nuggets Bench
Led by Al Harrington and Andre Miller, the Nuggets had the second best bench in the league scoring wise, barely being beat out by the San Antonio Spurs. Denver’s bench averaged 41.6 points, 18.5 rebounds, 10.1 dimes, 3.7 steals, 2.4 blocks and shot 47.3 percent from the field. Overall, the Lakers will be facing probably the best bench in the league in the first round. The biggest advantage for the Nuggets is that they are so balanced as a team. The Nuggets had six players average double-digits points this season. The Lakers second unit will need to step up and limit Denver’s bench from building momentum.
Keep Them Under 100
The Nuggets led the league in scoring this season with a 104.1 average. Denver also had the second best field goal percentage in the league with 47.6 percent shooting during the regular season. The Nuggets went 7-18 when their opponents held them under 100 points. They had an 0-4 record when being held under 90 points. During the regular season series against the Nuggets, the Lakers held them under 100 points in three out of their four matchups. The Lakers were 2-1 in those games.
Run Offense Through the Bigs and Kobe
Everyone knows how important the front court offense is for the Lakers; their contribution is key as the post-season continues. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have put up strong numbers in each of the games against Denver in the regular season. In fact, it has been either Gasol or Bynum who have been the statistical leaders for the Lakers during this regular season series. Bynum averaged 24.8 points and 11.8 rebounds against Denver this season. Gasol added 16 points and 10.8 boards against the Nuggets this year. Meanwhile, Kobe only averaged 17.7 points this season against Denver. Bryant was sideline for the last regular season matchup with his shin injury. Sounds odd complaining about a player only averaging 18 points against a team, but we are talking about Kobe Bryant. However, on the bright side Kobe averaged 7.3 assists and six boards per game against Denver. Look for Kobe to increase his points to the 23-25 point range. However, Kobe must do this while not forcing shots, getting others involved and remembering to feed the bigs down low.
First Round, Game 1
Denver Nuggets (0-0) at Los Angeles Lakers (0-0)
12:30 PM PST, April 29, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 AM (English), 1330 AM (Spanish)
Nuggets Projected Starting Line-Up:
PG: Ty Lawson
SG: Arron Afflalo
SF: Kenneth Faried
PF: Danilo Gallinari
C: Kosta Koufos
Key Reserves: F Al Harrington, C JaVale McGee, G Andre Miller
Nuggets Injury Report: F Wilson Chandler (labral tear): out, G Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain): out