The Denver Nuggets have endured quite the peculiar 2014-15 campaign, in terms of consistency. Denver opened the season with a victory followed by an extensive six game losing streak. Then soon thereafter, the team went on a five game winning streak, appearing to debunk any existing issues until losing seven of eight games to begin the month of December. There’s really no way to explain such a rollercoaster season other than the alleged locker room issues between management, head coach Brian Shaw and the personnel. All of this chaos combined has resulted in a Swiss cheese style of defense and a stagnant offense that relies far too much on its outside shooting.
Frontcourt: With JaVale McGee seemingly on his way out of town, the defensive-minded big-man Timofey Mozgov has gladly stepped in as the full-time starting center. Although he’s not exactly a polished offensive player, he has proven on numerous occasions to be capable of doing some damage. In two of three games facing the Lakers last season, Mozgov scored 20+ points while shooting a combined 72.7%. A legitimate 7-footer, Mozgov poses a tremendous threat on the boards, pulling down a career high 8.1 rebounds per game on the year.
Kenneth Faried, or as many call him “the Manimal,” agreed to a massive four-year, $50 million extension in October further establishing himself as a cornerstones for this franchise moving forward. The exuberant Faried earned himself that favorable extension after a strong Team USA performance, in which he shot an impressive 63.3% serving as the ultra-energy guy off the bench. However, the large sums of money appeared to have negatively affected Faried’s effort when he got off to an underwhelming start to the season. Luckily for Denver, the Manimal has evidently gotten himself back on track lately, averaging a phenomenal 21 points and 19.3 rebounds per game in his previous three contests. The Lakers frontcourt will certainly have their work cut out for them keeping this rebounding machine off of the boards.
A rejuvenated Wilson Chandler has stepped foot on the hardwood this season, as he’s competed in every single game this season without finding some way to injure himself. The valuable swingman has missed a grand total of 117 games over the span of his three full seasons in Denver due to a variety of injuries and one extensive trip to China. Minus the occasional bouts of staggering inefficiency, Chandler is perhaps the hottest commodity on the trade market for contending teams. He’s capable of pouring in at least 15 points on a nightly basis. In addition to his improved scoring (14.5 PPG), Chandler is pulling down a career high 6.1 rebounds per game, which has in turn catapulted the Nuggets into the top three in team rebounds.
Backcourt: It turns out the Arron Afflalo reunion wasn’t such a good idea. The proclaimed sharpshooter has regressed in nearly all facets of his game, particularly in his efficiency. Afflalo’s three-point shooting has dipped nearly ten percent from last season, as he is shooting an ugly 33.8% from behind the arc and a measly 42.9% overall. Meanwhile, Afflalo’s predecessor Evan Fournier is lighting it up with the Orlando Magic producing nearly an identical stat line, but with much more acceptable shooting percentages. Despite his offensive struggles though, Afflalo remains a savvy defender that has the potential to play lockdown defense if he puts in the required effort.
The one pleasant surprise for the Nuggets this season is undoubtedly starting point guard Ty Lawson, who has endured a quietly masterful 2014-15 campaign. After critics questioned whether he could elevate his game to the next level, Lawson has done just that stringing together 19 double-digit assist games and emerging as the bonafide leader on an extremely young team with really no sense of direction. The sixth year man out of North Carolina is finally hitting the prime years of his career and is arguably a top 10 point guard in a point guard-heavy NBA. Though he presents defensive deficiencies due to his undersized 5-foot-11 frame, Lawson’s 16.2 points and 10.3 assists per game have contributed mightily to the improved play of both Mozgov and Faried.
Keys to Victory:
Clear the Boards: Denver is third in the league in rebounds per game averaging 46.0 per game. The Lakers, on the other hand, have plummeted into mediocrity in the rebounding department partly because of Jordan Hill’s recent poor play. That said, Los Angeles simply cannot afford to give up easy points off putbacks, so rebounding and boxing out properly are vital in this matchup.
Scoring: Sounds simple, but this is a game that the Lakers should look to take full advantage of Denver’s lackadaisical 27th ranked defense. At its absolute peak, Los Angeles’ offense is electrifying. Anticipate big nights from both Nick Young and Kobe Bryant in the event of a Lakers victory or defeat, considering Denver’s lack of a prominent on-ball defender.
Wing Defense: With the exception of the occasional Faried monster outing, Denver’s frontcourt is extremely unproductive offensively. Therefore, the Lakers must shift their focus towards containing the Nuggets’ wing players to avoid any type of scoring explosion. Wesley Johnson, in particular, will be key as he highly regarded as the team’s best perimeter defender, despite his constant ups and downs offensively.
Los Angeles Lakers (9-22) at Denver Nuggets (13-18)
6:00 PM PST, December 30th, 2014
Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
TV: TWC SN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Nuggets Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ty Lawson
SG: Arron Afflalo
SF: Wilson Chandler
PF: Kenneth Faried
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: PG: Nate Robinson PF: Darrell Arthur C: J.J. Hickson
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ronnie Price
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ed Davis
C: Jordan Hill
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