The Denver Nuggets will start the postseason on Sunday at the Staples Center, where they have only beaten the Los Angeles Lakers twice in the last three years.
This year the Lakers have won both the two games played at the Staples Center and they have developed a new go-to guy in 24-year-old center Andrew Bynum.
Kobe Bryant is second in the NBA in scoring with 27.9 points, but Bynum has become a bigger part of the Lakers offense. He is averaging career bests in points (18.9) and rebounds (11.8) and will be a tough matchup for the Nuggets in the post.
Los Angeles also have a new coach in Mike Brown, who has guided the Lakers to a 41-25 record and the Lakers also have a new point guard in Ramon Sessions, who was acquired at the trade-deadline.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, feature a practically new team with only three players (Arron Afflalo, Ty Lawson and Chris Andersen) that have been on the squad past last year. They also feature a team have five players that are scoring more than 10 points a game and also three big man that are 7-foot or taller (JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos).
POSITION BY POSITION MATCHUP
CENTER: Andrew Bynum vs. Kosta Koufos/JaVale McGee
Bynum has been a force this season and the Nuggets are one of the teams that he has done most of his damage against. Bynum averaged 24.8 points and 11.8 rebounds against the Nuggets this season – including scoring more than 29 points twice against Denver.
In the last matchup the Nuggets played all three of their 7-footers (Koufos, McGee and Mozgov) to matchup with Bynum’s size. Bynum still had 30 points, but he also had four turnovers. Of the Nuggets’ big men, McGee had the most success, playing 28 minutes to score 14 points and 10 rebounds.
And while Koufos will probably get the start, it will be McGee that will get the majority of the minutes. McGee has played great for the Nuggets down the stretch. During the final four games he averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and shot .643 from the field. The most impressive stat has been his ability to stay out of foul trouble.
If McGee can cause Bynum problems, the Nuggets have a great shot at beating the Lakers.
Recently, Jordan Hill has stepped in as Bynum’s backup and scored 14 points and 15 rebounds in the Lakers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
POWER FORWARD: Pau Gasol vs. Kenneth Faried
This will be a matchup to watch, as the Lakers want to take advantage of Gasol’s size against the 6-foot-8 Faried. No doubt, Denver will try to double-team Gasol anytime he gets the ball. However, tbe veteran big man is a very talented passer and can find his open teammates. He is averaging nearly 4 assists a game this season and had five assists in the Lakers’ April 13 win over the Nuggets.
Faried is one of four rookies to start in the playoffs and may be the best rookie in the postseason. He is averaging 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds, despite being at the end of the Nuggets’ bench for most of the year. He plays with unlimited energy and tends to play his best in the fourth quarter. However, Faried needs to run the floor to have success against Gasol’s length.
When Faried is out, veteran Al Harrington will be on the floor. Harrington was an ideal sixth-man candidate, averaging 14.2 points and 6.1 rebounds off the bench. Harrington gives the Nuggets instant offense and veteran leadership off the bench.
Josh McRobert will also see time for the Lakers and is averaging 2.8 points and 3.4 rebounds.
SMALL FORWARD: Danilo Gallinari vs. Devin Ebanks/Matt Barnes
This matchup changed a bit when Metta World Peace was suspended for most of the series, which may free up Gallinari, who has struggled against the Lakers this season.
If the Nuggets are to win, Gallinari needs to play better than he did against the Lakers in the regular season. He shot .283 against Los Angeles and averaged only 10 points a game. With World Peace out, Gallinari needs to be aggressive and attack the basket. He is shooting nearly 5 free throws a game. No doubt, Gaillinari will want to take advantage if Devin Ebanks starts the game against him.
Ebanks has played a bit more of late, due to World Peace’s suspension and Bryant’s injury. He is a good defender, but may have postseason jitters.
Barnes scored a season-best 24 points against the Nuggets on April 13, but lately he has struggled with injuries. He is tough, physical and at times dirty. He has been called for three technical fouls in the series.
Corey Brewer will see time behind Gallinari. And while he doesn’t have much of a jump shot, he gets his point off the fast break and gets the minutes due to his pestering defense. When he is on the floor, don’t be surprised if he defends Bryant, Steve Blake and Sessions.
SHOOTING GUARD: Arron Afflalo vs. Kobe Bryant
This is another important matchup for the Nuggets. Bryant hasn’t played well against the Nuggets and the biggest reason why is due to how Denver defends him. They are constantly pestering him, bumping him and are conscious of where he is on floor. If they lose him or let him get on a roll it will be a short postseason for the Nuggets.
Bryant is averaging 33.5 points in 10 postseason games against the Nuggets.
Afflalo has picked up his offense as of late, averaging 18.7 points and shooting .521 from the field in the month of April. In fact he has shot below .50 percent only three times in the last nine games. When he shoots over .50 percent the Nuggets are 20-8.
POINT GUARD: Ty Lawson/Andre Miller vs. Ramon Sessions/Steve Blake
Like Gallinari, Lawson has struggled against the Lakers this season. And a lot of it has to do to the pace the Lakers play. Lawson is the catalyst of the Nuggets’ high-octane offense, but if the Lakers make the Nuggets into a half-court team Lawson and the Nuggets are in trouble.
Lawson is averaging only 12.3 points against the Lakers and is shooting only .40 percent from the field. He played so poorly in the April 13th meeting with the Lakers that he was benched for most of the second half.
Ramon Sessions wasn’t stellar in his lone game against the Nuggets (7 points and 6 assists), but he has played really well for the Lakers since being traded to Los Angeles – averaging 12.7 points and 6.2 assists.
Despite being a backup, Andre Miller will likely play nearly 30 minutes a game for the Nuggets. He is averaging 9.7 points, 6.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds this season and is averaging 15.3 points and 5.8 assists against the Lakers.
Miller isn’t a vocal leader, but he has done a good job orchestrating Denver’s bench. Especially with how he is finding Brewer and McGee for highlight dunks.
X-FACTOR: Danilo Gallinari
It’s hard to find one single player as the Nuggets X-factor, but if there was one player that could have changed the outcome of some of the regular season games it was Gallinari.
In the first game of the series, Gallinari missed an open layup that would tied the game with less than a minute left in the contest.
And in the three losses, Gallinari has shot only 6 of 30 from the field and averaged only 6.7 points a game.
Another x-factor is McGee, who has the size, length and defense to give Bynum fits. If he can stay out of trouble and slow Bynum, the Nuggets have a shot at beating the Lakers.
Topics: Al Harrington, Andre Miller, Andrew Bynum, Arron Afflalo, Chris Andersen, Corey Brewer, Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets, Devin Ebanks, George Karl, JaVale McGee, Jordan Hill, Josh McRoberts, Kenneth Faried, Kobe Bryant, Kosta Koufos, Los Angeles Lakers, Matt Barnes, Metta Worl, Metta World Peace, Mike Brown, Pau Gasol, Ramon Sessions, Steve Blake, Timofey Mozgov, Ty Lawson