WhatIfSports.com Predicts the 2012 NBA Playoffs
Analysis: After suffering a sweep in the second round last May, little was expected of an aging Lakers squad in the truncated 2011-12 season. Legendary teacher Phil Jackson called it a career, leaving Los Angeles to turn to former Cavs coach Mike Brown, a decision that was not met favorably by those in the City of Angels.
Worse, the team traded away reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom after a botched attempt to acquire All-Star point guard Chris Paul left Odom disgruntled. And we'd be remiss in failing to mention Kobe Bryant traveling to Germany to receive experimental plasma therapy on his knee. In short, a fourth trip in five years to the NBA Finals did not look promising for the Purple and Yellow.
Yet the Lakers held tough, shaking off injuries and trade rumors to compile a 41-25 record, good for a No. 3 seed in the tough Western Conference.
Bryant turned in another fantastic display, averaging 27.9 points despite dealing with a wrist injury. Pau Gasol was able to put trade speculation aside to contribute 17.4 points, 10.4 boards, 3.7 assists and 1.4 blocks.
But the real catalyst for L.A. has been the performance of Andrew Bynum. Able to stay healthy for the first time in his career, the big man posted personal bests in points (18.7), rebounds (11.8) and minutes (35.2). Kobe will undoubtedly get his points, but it's the back of Bynum which the Lakers will ride to their final destination in the 2012 playoffs.
Analysis: The squad's inclusion in the playoffs is testament in itself to the fortitude of this Denver team, as the club was dealt a plethora of injuries and underwent a major roster upheaval midway through the season. Despite prolonged absences from scorer Danilo Gallinari, the Nuggets led the NBA in points (104.1) and assists (24.0) per game on their way to a 38-28 record and No. 6 seed in the postseason.
While coach George Karl undoubtedly deserves praise for keeping the team's focus intact through turbulent times, unwavering guard play from Ty Lawson, Andre Miller and Arron Afflalo was the catalyst for the team's success.
Lawson and Miller have directed the uptempo pace, fueling this engine with a combined 26 points and 13 assists per contest, while Afflalo has bounced back from injures in winter to pour in 18.7 points per game during April.
Gallinari, while still battling a thumb injury, appears to be coming into form, contributing 12.1 the past month. Down low, newly-acquired JaVale McGee has assimilated into the high-octane offense fairly smoothly, and rookie Kenneth Faried has been a pleasant surprise, leading the team in rebounding with 7.7 boards a game.
Though they lack a bona fide star, Denver's depth and speed make the Nuggets a worthy first-round adversary.
Winning Percentage of 1001 Simulations: Lakers - 40.5% - Nuggets 59.5%