Over the previous two seasons the Denver Nuggets have had the Los Angeles Lakers number and with the new added depth, quickness and length the Nuggets could be a team that may challenge the Lakers in the playoffs.
The Nuggets have gone 5-2 against the Lakers since playing the Lake Show in the 2009 playoffs and one of those losses came at the peak of the MeloDrama. And once again on Saturday the Nuggets proved they have the pieces to cause Los Angeles some havoc in the postseason.
To start with, the achilles heel of the aging Lakers squad is defending quick point guards (Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker) and that has been one of the Nuggets strength since the trade with a one-two punch of former North Carolina Tar Heels – Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton.
In past, Lawson had been nearly unstoppable against Los Angeles – up until a hard foul by Andrew Bynum last season shelved him for 12 games. Before the foul Lawson helped the Nuggets jump out to a 10-point lead in that game at the Staples Center before the Nuggets lost 95-89. Going into that game he was shooting nearly 70 percent and averaging 13 points against the Lakers.
Since that hard foul, Lawson has been hesitant to drive against the Lakers – especially with their bigs defending the paint. He was still effective in the first two meetings this season, scoring 17 and 15 points off the bench. However, Sunday the former Tar Heel was bewildered against the Lakers veteran point guard Derek Fisher. Lawson turned the ball over five times and went 1-6 from the field for only five points, but he did hand out eight assists and grabbed six rebounds. He was also on the bench for most of the fourth quarter as Raymond Felton guided the Nuggets to yet another victory.
While Lawson struggled, Felton was on top of his game. The former Knick scored all of his 16 points in the second half and also made an effort to defend Kobe Bryant on the other side of the ball. Felton, who was on the Lakers wish list the past few years, has proven he is a top-10 point guard in the NBA and arguably the best backup point guard in the League.
No Bird, no AAA – No Problem
The Nuggets went into Sunday’s contest without two of their top eight players, but you wouldn’t have noticed it with how Denver played.
Arron Afflalo missed his eighth of the last 12 games due to his lingering hamstring injury, but that didn’t bother the Nuggets. Instead, Mr Do-It-All, Wilson Chandler (who also started at power forward early this season) came in and had the tough task of stopping Bryant.
While Bryant got his 28 points, Chandler made him work for it and did give Bryant troubles with his length.
Chandler wasn’t that affective on the offensive side of the ball, scoring only seven points but he did put his work in and will be up for another tough task on Tuesday to face another top scorer in Kevin Durant.
Chris Andersen also missed the contest due to an ankle injury, which granted the Nuggets fans with two wishes. 1) They got to see Timofey Mozgov play and 2) They finally got to see the Nuggets match the Lakers length with their own length.
It’s hard to think of a Nuggets that have mirrored Mozgov’s size – who is listed at 7-foot-1 and 250 pounds. You may have to go back to Bill Hanzlik’s squad back in 1997, which went 17-65. Little used center Priest Lauderdale was massive 7-4, 325 pounds.
Mozgov, however, is far more skilled and wasn’t intimidated at all by the Lakers big man. The rookie scored five points and grabbed six rebounds in 15 minutes. He also was called for goaltending on two shots, but was far more active than anybody expected out of him.
As Bryant noted at halftime of the game, the Nuggets second string of players could be a starting five.
Felton (as noted above) is a top-10 point guard, Wilson Chandler would start on most teams and should start. JR Smith and Al Harrington could start, but are more dangerous coming off the bench and Andersen could start on few lottery teams, but is also better in a limited role.
Denver is a rare team in the NBA that can go to its bench and not lose any momentum and some times the Nuggets need to go their bench to get a jump-start.
What may be the most overlooked factor of this new Nuggets team is the squads versatility.
Almost everybody on the Nuggets team can play and will play numerous positions. Probably the most impressive of the group has been Chandler, who has started at shooting guard, small forward and power forward and has also defended Tony Parker one game and Bryant the next. He also came up with a key block versus the Kings last week. Martin has shown in the past he can defend every position, defending Bryant, Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan in years past.
While Denver doesn’t have any stars to lead them through the playoffs, this younger and deeper squad may be what the Nuggets need to knock off the Lakers in the postseason.
Tags: Adrian Dantley Al Harrington Arron Afflalo Birdman Carmelo Anthony Chauncey Billups Chris Andersen Dallas Mavericks Danilo Gallinari Denver Nuggets George Karl J.R. Smith JR Smith Kenyon Martin Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Nene New York Knicks Raymond Felton Ty Lawson Wilson Chandler