Lakers Vs. Nuggets Preview: Kobe Bryant Returns As Lakers Begin Preseason
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Following a summer spent wooing numerous free agents to little avail, the Lakers are set to open the season without a superstar teammate to pair with Kobe Bryant. Tonight, however, marks the start of the Lakers’ preseason, as well as Kobe’s return to the court. You can bet Lakers fans from all over will tune in to the early part of the game to get an idea of how well Kobe has recovered from the devastating Achilles injury that sidelined him for most of the past year.

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The Nuggets are looking to rebound from a losing season and return to the playoffs this year. The re-acquisition of shooting guard Arron Afflalo this summer will certainly help with that as he has taken large strides as a player since his last stint with the Nuggets. Head coach Brian Shaw will have his first look at how best to utilize Afflalo’s improved versatility alongside Ty Lawson in tonight’s preseason action.

Frontcourt: Kenenth Faried headlines the Nuggets’ frontcourt and enters the year with sky high expectations in light of his dominating showing at the FIBA World Cup this summer. Although undersized, Faried is a tenacious rebounder and surprisingly efficient scorer. In fact, his performance with the U.S. Men’s National team this summer should come as no surprise considering his averages of 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds over the final 25 games of last season. Defensively, Faried gives 100% effort, but is not always able to overcome his lack of size.

This is where the Nuggets are counting on the oft-malinged Javale McGee to take strides in both his maturity and on-court production. McGee played in just five games last season due to a stress fracture in his leg, but has shown a lack of mental fortitude even when on the court. As the second highest paid player on the Nuggets roster, he will be expected not only to contribute on offense, but to also cover up some of Faried’s defensive shortcomings.

Danilo Gallinari will get the start at small forward and is also returning from injury. Gallinari is a lengthy perimeter player with a nice shooting stroke. Before his injury, he was well-regarded as a perimeter defender, so it will be interesting to evaluate both him and Kobe Bryant should they have a chance to go head-to-head in this game.

Backcourt: Despite their losing record last year, Ty Lawson was one of the top point guards in the league, averaging career highs of 17.6 points and 8.8 assists per game. It’s crazy to think that Lawson was drafted (and then traded) by Minnesota’s infamous David Kahn in the same first round that saw him take Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynn. Lawson is far and away the best point guard of the three and his blistering speed makes him a tough assignment for any of the Lakers’ point guards.

The Nuggets did well this summer addressing their need at the shooting guard position by re-acquiring Arron Afflalo. Afflalo has improved leaps and bounds since his days as a Nugget and will bring another play-making element to their backcourt. This is good news for Ty Lawson as he has seen his field goal percentage dip in each of his seasons as a pro. The addition of Afflalo, who has developed into a well-rounded scorer instead of just a spot-up shooter, will help to alleviate some of the pressure on Lawson.

Things to Watch For:
Develop a Pecking Order on Offense: The preseason is best utilized as an opportunity to evaluate players and develop team chemistry without worrying about W’s. And historically, the Lakers have done exactly that, playing young guys en route to winless 2011 and 2012 preseasons. Regardless of the final score, the Lakers need to begin developing an offensive pecking order. Sure, a fully healthy Kobe Bryant will take the bulk of the shots, but beyond that, it remains murky. Last season’s leading scorer in Nick Young will be sidelined for the beginning of the year and Jodie Meeks and Pau Gasol are playing for other teams now. With so many scorers from last season’s team no longer on the roster, new head coach Byron Scott will have to go to the drawing board on this one and tonight’s contest should give him a little more clarity.

Evaluate the Newcomers: The Lakers have a number of newcomers who are set to have big roles on the team. These include the likes of Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, and Julius Randle. This preseason contest will be a good opportunity to evaluate how these new pieces fit into the Lakers’ plans. Lin will almost certainly see extended run throughout the year as Steve Nash’s minutes will need to be managed. However, with Randle and Boozer, the Lakers will want to get an extended look at each of them as they continue to determine who will get the bulk of the minutes at the four.

Get Kobe Game Reps: There is nothing like actual game action. The pace of the NBA game is hard to replicate even on the practice floor. This will be a good opportunity for Kobe to test his surgically-repaired leg and get reacclimated to the speed of the game. Lakers fans should be more than satisfied If he can put in a handful of good minutes without any setbacks.

Los Angeles Lakers (0-0) vs. Denver Nuggets (0-0)
7:00 PM PST, October 6, 2014
Valley View Casino Center, San Diego, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet, NBATV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Nuggets Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ty Lawson
SG: Arron Afflalo
SF: Danilo Gallinari
PF: Kenneth Faried
C: Javale McGee

Key Reserves: PG: Nate Robinson, SF: Wilson Chandler, PF: JJ Hickson

Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill


Lakers Practice Footage: 5-On-5 Scrimmage, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin

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