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Monday, May 18, 2009

Los Angeles Versus Denver Preview

Western Conference Finals

#1 L.A. Lakers (65-17) vs. #2 Denver (54-28)

Season series: L.A. Lakers, 3-1

Denver can win if…their frontcourt players dominate the Lakers' frontcourt players, Chauncey Billups continues to play at a very high level, Carmelo Anthony is productive and efficient at both ends of the court and none of the Nuggets' "knuckleheads" revert back to their previous ways.

L.A. will win because…the Nuggets have no answer for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have homecourt advantage. Bryant averaged 33.5 ppg, 6.3 apg and 5.3 rpg versus Denver in last year's playoffs, shooting .500 from the field; in four regular season games versus Denver this season, Bryant averaged 31.0 ppg, 2.3 apg and 4.8 rpg while shooting .478 from the field.

Based on what we have seen in the playoffs so far, the Nuggets' bigs may very well get the better of the Lakers' bigs in one or two games, particularly in Denver, but overall the Lakers match up pretty well with the Nuggets; the Lakers swept the Nuggets in the first round last year and while the Nuggets are unquestionably better now than they were a year ago they are not so much better that they will go from being swept to beating the Lakers without the benefit of homecourt advantage.

The Lakers' shaky play at times versus Houston has infuriated Lakers' fans and frustrated many basketball observers but it is important to understand that each playoff series is a separate entity with different matchups and a different dynamic. Even though Denver is theoretically a better team than Houston at the moment, the Lakers probably match up better with the Nuggets than they do with the Rockets. Also, keep in mind that the Lakers prepared for a playoff series in which Yao Ming would be a central factor only to have to throw that game plan out the window when he got hurt--yes, the Rockets lost talent and depth when he went down but his absence also added an element of randomness to the series and that tends to favor the underdog, at least in the short term. This series will be a lot less random and I don't think that it will be nearly as competitive as some people seem to expect--I would be surprised if the Nuggets force a seventh game but I would not be shocked if the Lakers win in five games. The most important thing for the Lakers is to jump on the Nuggets in the first five minutes of game one, win that game convincingly and find out how much the Nuggets have really changed since last season. The Nuggets have just breezed through this postseason without facing any adversity and they have been a good frontrunning team for years but it will be interesting to see how they react to trailing in a series for the first time this year.

Other things to consider: Much like NFL quarterbacks sometimes receive too much credit when their teams win and too much blame when their teams lose, it has become popular to try to explain away all of Denver's newfound success as being a direct result of the trade that shipped Allen Iverson to Detroit in exchange for Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess (who the Pistons re-signed after the Nuggets released him). Billups undoubtedly played well during the regular season and he has performed at an even higher level during the playoffs; Billups probably deserves some of the credit for squashing some of the "knucklehead" tendencies on this team--Carmelo Anthony has actually been observed playing defense this season and J.R. Smith has taken some tentative steps toward becoming more mature on and off the court. Still, the Nuggets have greatly benefited from the acquisition of Chris Andersen and the improved health of Nene and Kenyon Martin; without those frontcourt upgrades the Nuggets would not have finished second in the West in the regular season or made it to the Western Conference Finals.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:45 AM

5 comments

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5 Comments:

At Monday, May 18, 2009 6:00:00 PM, Blogger The Thrill said...

Great analysis David. I was thinking that the Nuggets could win in seven games, but after reading your piece I'm not sure about it anymore.

You make an especially good point that each playoff matchup is a separate entity in itself. I do think the the Lakers match up much better against the Nuggets than they did the Rockets.

I still think that Carmelo_Anthonyis capable of willing this team to victory. He's playing like he did during his championship run at Syracuse.

Should be an awesome series, let's talk when its all said and done.

 
At Monday, May 18, 2009 6:16:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Thrill:

I think that a major factor that people don't understand or appreciate is just how much of an impact game planning has. Gasol and the Lakers were expecting to deal with Yao Ming and then all of a sudden Gasol is facing off with Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry and Luis Scola. Yes, Yao is a better player than any of those guys but the Lakers had to make some adjustments to their game plan, while the Rockets just played free and easy because they had nothing to lose. The Lakers won two of the last three games of that series by lopsided margins, so they obviously made the correct adjustments. Their fluctuating energy/effort levels are frustrating to watch but that should not cloud our judgment.

Gasol is fairly comfortable playing against Denver's bigs, as he showed in last year's playoffs and during this season. Denver's frontcourt is deeper and healthier than it was last year but I think that Gasol will have a good series and a more consistent one than he had against Houston.

The Nuggets also have a serious matchup problem with Kobe, who will probably average more points and shoot a better percentage than he did versus Houston--and Kobe put up very good numbers against the Rockets.

Melo was awesome in college and has played well in this year's playoffs but the NBA is completely different than college: Melo was clearly the best player on the court virtually every night in college but that is not the case when he goes against Kobe.

The Nuggets have tended to be a frontrunning team, so I think that game one is very important to set the tone for the series. Actually, I think that game one in general is more important than many people realize, because the game one winner wins the series about 80% of the time. Orlando went into Boston and took game one and ended up winning the series, even though it went seven games. After Houston took game one the Lakers endured a real dogfight before prevailing. If the Lakers win game one then the Nuggets will feel a lot of pressure and could revert to some bad habits but if the Lakers lose game one then this could be a long series even though I would still expect the Lakers to win.

I think that the Lakers will be very focused and efficient in game one and quite possibly produce their best game of the playoffs so far.

 
At Monday, May 18, 2009 7:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Artest did a lot of damage when he went into the post. He undid all that with his ridiculous adventures beyond the arc. Also Brooks might have just been a little intimidated to not pass the ball to Artest.

Anthony is a better post scorer, a better 3 point shooter, and has a better point guard. How do you think the Lakers would defend him? Or would they be better off giving him his points and shutting down everyone else?

Z

 
At Monday, May 18, 2009 10:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

Artest should have spent the majority of the series on the post, because the Lakers do not have anyone (other than maybe Kobe) who can guard him one on one down there. It has to be obvious to the Rockets' front office and coaching staff that Artest shoots too many threes but I don't know if they are afraid to confront him or if they do confront him and he just ignores what they tell him.

You are probably right that Brooks would be too intimidated to follow Mark Jackson's advice regarding taking the ball out of Artest's hands but Jackson's point is correct. Although Artest is talented and plays good defense he is too undisciplined for my tastes, in contrast to someone like Rodman who may have been undisciplined away from the court but who was very disciplined and intelligent on the court, rarely taking a bad shot or making a bad play (at least, after his first couple years).

I would assume that Ariza will get the initial assignment on Melo and then after that the Lakers will read the overall situation in terms of who is doing damage, who is in foul trouble, etc. When the Lakers go small with Farmar and Vujacic (or Brown) and slide Kobe to the small forward Kobe could end up guarding Melo. Melo has not historically been a great playoff player but he has done much better this year. Melo should use his size and quickness on the block versus Ariza; the Lakers will be very happy if Melo decides to settle for jumpers, even though Melo has a good midrange shot.

 
At Tuesday, May 19, 2009 8:04:00 PM, Anonymous dmills said...

David,

When you watch tonights game in a few hours check out how much iso Denver runs. The Lakers are at their best defensivly against teams that play iso basketball. Also check out the rebounding disparity and more importantly, how many free throws LA will shoot vs Denver's "Physical Defense".

Lakers should roll tonight.

 

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