Thursday, May 14, 2009

Denver-LA Premature Breakdown

With the Dallas vs. Denver series at a premature end and not heading back to Dallas (at least Mark Cuban won't have to give up a luxury suite to K-Mart's mom) and the LA vs. Houston series almost certainly ending tonight in Houston (do I really believe this or am I trying to jinx the Lakers?) it's time to run my Denver vs. LA preview prematurely because that's what I do.

After seeing a few more games I have basically come to two conclusions. Number One, the Denver Nuggets are more than capable of beating the LA Lakers in a seven game series. Number two, if LA flips on the switch, they aren't. I know the two above statements sound contradictory, but bear with me.

Unlike Houston, Denver will have a much tougher time matching up with LA defensively. Since George Karl has been Denver's coach they have always had a tough time on the defensive end. This year really isn't any different. The Chauncey Billups trade has brought over some of the team mentality from Detroit and kept most of Denver's knuckleheads in line; however, LA is so talented offensively it will probably take an extraordinary effort from Denver to hold the Lakers in check.

Denver will not only face problems in their overall lack of defensive chemistry but also in every defensive match up. Houston had Battier and Artest to give Kobe all he could handle. Dahntay Jones is a vastly improved player but he is nowhere near the defensive level of Battier or Artest. The Rockets also didn't have the answers when LA went small because they didn't have the ability to leave anyone on the court wide open when Odom and Gasol were playing in the post. When Bynum, Gasol, and Odom were in they could make Odom beat them from the outside but once LA went small, Gasol and Odom were too talented with interior passing and scoring to be stopped by Houston. This trend should repeat itself in the Western Conference Finals as Gasol and Odom will be too quick, too athletic and too good for Nene and Kenyon Martin if they continue with their smaller lineup (which LA should). Compound this by the fact that they play far worse team defense so the help and defensive schemes won't be there and Kobe, Odom, and Gasol should all be in for big production this series. To have a chance Denver is going to have to make the other guys (Ariza, Farmar, Vujajic, Fisher, Bynum, Walton) beat them while trying their best to contain Kobe, Gasol and Odom. With the Lakers' offensive superiority they will be next to impossible to beat IF they turn on the switch defensively.

We have yet to look at how Denver's offense matches up with LA's defense but I really don't think we have to spend that much time on it. It basically comes down to this: do the Lakers turn on the switch or not. They clearly have superior talent, superior coaching but do they have superior chemistry? If Kobe is able to have his alpha dog competitive nature rub off on his team at all, that will be enough to do better than Denver. But can Kobe do this? I have written and maintained all along that he can't. He is a great scorer, talent, etc but this LA team has become too overconfident and complacent. The fact that a supposed all-time great like Kobe has let this happen to his team does not bode well for the Lakers. If Kobe rises to the occasion, elevates his team and proves me wrong, I think LA will dominate this series. The two keys for them defensively are to keep JR Smith and Carmello Anthony in check and not let the tempo of the game get out of hand. If the Lakers can do those two things, big IF, I can see them taking this series in 6 games or less.

I have mentioned multiple times in this column that the Lakers' need to turn on the switch to beat Denver. I just don't see this happening. The Lakers have all the talent in the world but they just don't have IT. By it, I mean that team chemistry that just takes great teams and makes them unbeatable. They gave Utah hope and let them hang around, then, they did the same with Houston. As good and as talented as they are, it just looks like they are working out there, not having fun.
On the other side of the ball, there is a young hungry star ready to be mentioned with his draft class (Lebron and D-Wade) and I think his performance in this series will put him on their level. Carmello will turn into the star of this series as Denver pulls off the huge upset and takes LA in six games.

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