With the Los Angeles Lakers closing out the Rockets series on Sunday they are now poised for an immensely dynamic series with the Denver Nuggets. Both teams are extremely heavy on athleticism and offensive firepower. Both teams enjoy to completely beat down the competition and both teams are very fun to watch. For anyone who enjoys watching chalkboard, fundamental, basketball this is the wrong series for you because there are bound to be plays that can invoke heart-attacks. This is going to be like watching 2 sluggers duke it out for bragging rights; it sure will not be anything like a Lennox Lewis fight – more like a George Foreman slugfest. Not lacking in star power, this series has the following players, Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Nene Hilario, Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen, Jordan Farmar, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Paul Gasol, Andrew Bynum and, Trevor Ariza; I mean, “Wow!” This is going to be fun. I could not wait to evaluate the matchup.
As far as the Nuggets are concerned, they need to continue playing that physical, top-flight and above-the-rim style of basketball. George Karl has the lucky task of managing this super lineup. He has to make sure that the big men handle all of their assignments because that will put some serious damper on the Lakers attack. Andersen and Martin have to continue to be physical with Gasol and Bynum on the defensive end because the Lakers frontcourt has not done a good job responding to physical play. On the other end, Chauncey Billups has to run the offense to its maximum potential. Billups will have to make sure that J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Linas Kleiza and, Nene get good touches on a consistent basis. By holding their ground on defense and getting out on the break, Denver might have a chance to break the will of the Lakers at the end of each game. The big issues as far as the Nuggets are concerned are that the Nuggets do not have a lot of ballhandlers (they really have to watch out for turnovers) and they also do not have anyone on their team that can cover Kobe Bryant (J.R. Smith is athletic enough but it is doubtful that he has the stamina to harrass Kobe for the span of a ball game). Both issues will be the achilles heel for the Denver Nuggets in their battle against the Lakers.
With respect to the Lakers, they really have nothing to lose in this matchup. Lakers beatup on the Nuggets pretty well during the regularly season and they have been beating up on the Nuggets on a consistent basis in recent years. They have the home advantage and are extremely tough to beat when they play at the Staples Centre; also, the Nuggets are not very good on the road (despite their relative success so far in these playoffs). Kobe has to continue to be aggressive early on in the ball games and he has to make sure to get his teammates involved on the offensive end. The Lakers have a serious advantage if they decide to push the pace of the game because Jordan Farmar is proving to be a solid player on the break; he makes good decisions, shoots high percentage shots and is a tremendous ball handler (his only knock is that he plays some shotty defence at times). Phil Jackson has the luck of making sure he gets Farmar some solid playing time and playing in situations where he can be very effective. The biggest advantage the Lakers have though has to be Lamar Odom. Odom has been the enigma on this Lakers team for too long but now it all makes perfect sense – this series is taylor-made for his skills. His size, mobility and plethra of skills will definitely create problems for the Nuggets on both ends of the court. His resourcefulness and depth makes him the biggest asset for this Laker team because he allows them to be continuous when they go to the bench or have to change pace and he can play 3 (maybe 4) spots on the floor. He does a great job of staying out of foul trouble and is able to cover his assignments on Defense. On the offensive end, he can really wreck havoc on the Nuggets when they decide to go small. If he can get up to 20 and 10 in any of the games, Lakers should win easily. He is the X-factor. Phil Jackson needs to get him in the game plan ASAP.
Overall, I cannot wait to get this game on the road. The battle begins at 9pm E.T. tomorrow. If Odom shows up, Lakers win big.