Game 1 of the Denver Nuggets' matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers was ugly. It was so one-sided that it almost seemed like Andrew Bynum stayed in the game in the 4th quarter just to toy with the Denver Nuggets.
As one-sided as this affair was, however, there are some simple adjustments that the Denver Nuggets can make to get better. Much better. The good news is that none of these changes should be very difficult to implement.
While I have a world of respect for George Karl and all that he has accomplished just to be coaching today, I figured I would chip in my two cents in the form of a slideshow.
Brewer needs to start
It should go without saying that the Denver Nuggets' starting lineup didn't start very well against the Lakers in Game 1.
While it is easy for most analysts to chalk up their poor start to relative inexperience or lack of effort, I think it's painfully obvious that the Nuggets' starting five just didn't match up well physically with the Lakers' starting five.
Kenneth Faried, while extremely active and hardworking, doesn't match up well against Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. He doesn't have the body mass to bother Gasol or Bynum in the post on defense, and he hasn't refined his post moves enough to be a threat on the offensive side.
I know that benching Faried may sound absurd to many Nuggets fans, but I think it would be the best move George Karl could make going into Game 2.
Taking Faried's place in my starting five is Corey Brewer, and my starting lineup would look like this:
PG - Ty Lawson
SG - Arron Afflalo
SF - Corey Brewer
PF - Danilo Gallinari
C - Kosta Koufos
By replacing Faried with Brewer, Denver instantly becomes better suited to face the Lakers' huge frontcourt. It also gives Denver a spark off the bench when you add Kenneth to the mix.
I already liked the fact that Koufos was starting. He is the one big guy Denver has that isn't afraid to get physical with Bynum. The playoffs are not the place to play soft, and Koufos is a guy with great size that will mix it up a little in the post. Denver needs more physicality, and in my opinion, he is a must play for Denver to be successful.
I also like the idea of Gallinari matching up with Gasol. While Pau has a couple inches on Danilo, he has never been a physical player in the post. The best thing Denver could do to neutralize Gasol is to make him work on the defensive side, and Gallinari is Denver's most effective scorer.
Corey Brewer will match up favorably against Devin Ebanks, who had his way against Gallinari in Game 1. Brewer is also a guy you love to have on the floor to get under the skin of Kobe Bryant. The more you have Afflalo and Brewer on the floor when Kobe is in the game, the better.
The Nuggets can't get pushed around
Game 1 had the feel of a preseason game.
I didn't see any hard fouls. I didn't see bodies hitting the floor for loose balls.
This was an exhibition game for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. When Denver traded Nene away, I thought the days of the Nuggets getting overpowered by Pau Gasol were over. Denver has plenty of size, so it's time to dig in and get tough.
Andrew Bynum is well-known for losing his cool when things get testy, and Pau Gasol is notoriously soft for a big man. The Denver Nuggets are shooting themselves in the foot by playing soft. If you foul out, you foul out. Denver has four seven-footers to rotate in. Why not try and get under the skin of Bynum and Gasol?
Arron Afflalo, Andre Miller and Corey Brewer need to just keep doing what they've been doing. If anyone wants to know what it means to get physical, focus on these three guys on the defensive end. It is fun to watch these guys frustrate opponents.
In my years of watching Carmelo Anthony as a Nugget, there are two players I remember getting into his head and making him lose his cool. Bruce Bowen, and none other than Corey Brewer.
Ty Lawson has taken a lot of undeserved heat for his lackluster performance in Game 1. While Ty could certainly get better, his play was the least of the Nuggets' problems.
The Lakers blocked 15 shots Sunday. A ridiculous number by all accounts.
The problem I see is that the Nuggets are making it very easy for Bynum to camp out under the basket because none of Denver's big men, aside from Gallinari, get more than an arm's length away from the paint.
Part of the problem is personnel, which should be at least partially cured by my proposed lineup change. With the new starting five, Koufos is the only guy the Lakers don't have to worry about on the outside. Everybody else can shoot the three ball, and even Koufos has a decent touch out to about 15 feet.
The beauty of Denver spreading the floor is that number one, it gets Bynum out of the paint so our guards can drive. Number two, when Bynum or Gasol crash the paint to stop whoever is driving, their man has a dunk if they cut to the hoop.
If there is one thing we know about Lawson, it's that nobody can stay in front of him one on one, and he has great vision driving to the hoop. If you cut, he'll find you! Give Lawson an outlet.
Denver has a ton of depth. While it's been tested with injuries to Rudy Fernandez and Wilson Chandler, Denver's strength is still the fact that there isn't a significant drop off between their starters and second string.
The Lakers have a strong starting five, but they have an average bench.
A huge key in this series is that if Denver would not only run on the fast break, but also spread the floor on offense and move without the ball, they could really turn the odds in their favor.
There is no reason the Nuggets can't make Bynum, Gasol and Bryant run in circles on defense. If you're on the court for the Nuggets, there should be no standing around because there is a fresh set of legs on the bench that George Karl has at his disposal.
Bynum, although improved physically, isn't a guy that's able to hang with a team that commits to running. He's built for power, not for wind sprints.
For the Kenneth Faried fans that are still reading, stay with me! This is where he comes in and shines.
I love the combination of Andre Miller, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee coming off the bench as a unit. Andre and JaVale already have a little connection going on with the lob pass.
Now imagine adding Faried to the mix.
I think the second-string guys could really put points up in a hurry if they come in and run the floor and slash to the basket every chance they get.
Faried and McGee don't match up well with Bynum and Gasol offensively. If you put either one of these two against L.A.'s second string, it's a completely different story, especially with Andre Miller directing traffic.
If the Nuggets' starting five can keep the game close, the Lakers shouldn't have a chance in this series. It's all about getting the most out of what you got, and I think the Nuggets will get a lot more out of Faried when he isn't forced to deal with a pair of seven-footers in the post.
Game 1 was very close, until the Nuggets continually left Steve Blake wide open on the perimeter not once, but four times.
The result was him nailing three three-pointers in short succession and blowing the game wide open at a time where it was anybody's game.
Denver is one of the very worst teams in the NBA at defending the three-point shot, and it's not a coincidence or bad luck. They over think defensively, switching on every screen.
There are definitely times when you just have to switch because of a well-executed screen, but if you can get around it, do it!
Denver is athletic and quick enough as a team that they can stick to straight up man-to-man defense most of the time.
I think the Nuggets would also be surprised at how many offensive fouls they could draw on screens if they would ever try to fight through them. Sometimes screen setters can't help but lean into a guy that's trying to get around them.
If they do that, it's a turnover, plus a team foul.
Another fatal flaw in Denver's defensive scheme is that they try to double Kobe all the time.
Denver's best bet is to let Arron Afflalo or Corey Brewer do what they do best, and play Kobe man to man. They don't need help bad enough to leave shooters open on the perimeter. I'd rather bet my money on Afflalo defending Kobe than bet against a wide-open jump shot from one of his teammates.
George Karl is one of the most experienced and successful coaches in the history of the NBA. I trust his judgement and expect the Nuggets to look a lot better.
Hopefully he and his coaching staff have seen some of the same things a lot of those watching the game have seen. It's not easy to see everything on the sideline in the heat of battle.