The struggling Los Angeles Lakers don't have it easy following a tough loss to the Indiana Pacers Tuesday night. They will remain at home, but take on the young and talented Denver Nuggets on national television tonight. Denver is coming off of a tough loss of their own, suffering a 106-105 defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors Thursday night.
Los Angeles wants to get back into the swing of things following the loss to Indiana. The team's shooting, as a whole, was awful in that game and everything but the signature fast-paced offense of coach Mike D'Antoni.
The Lakers shot just 31.6 percent from the field, committed 19 turnovers (10 alone by Kobe Bryant), and will need to be more consistent against a tough Denver defense.
Denver has seen its own share of struggles all season long. Even after acquiring the dynamic Andre Iguodala via the Dwight Howard trade, coach George Karl's boys have struggled to maintain consistency.
The Nuggets started the season on a three-game losing streak, then won four in a row, then lost three again, then won four again, and have now lost two straight. Against the championship-caliber Lakers, they'll look to avoid what appears to be becoming a regular pattern this season.
Los Angeles is going to be just as hungry for a victory, which is going to make for some great basketball tonight.
Time: Friday, November 30th, 10:30 p.m. EST
Records: Los Angeles Lakers (7-8) vs. Denver Nuggets (8-8)
Betting Lines: Not available as of Friday, November 30, 8:26 a.m.
Injuries: Steve Nash (leg, out), Steve Blake (abdomen, out), Kobe Bryant (illness, expected to play), Wilson Chandler (hip, out), Danilo Gallinari (illness, expected to play)
Key Storyline: Lakers Look to Regain Stride Against Young, Struggling Nuggets
The Lakers were the story of the offseason, acquiring both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. The move made them the favorites to win a championship, but 2012-13 has been anything but a championship season.
From former coach Mike Brown's failed Princeton offense to Nash's leg injury to Pau Gasol's struggles, the Lakers have stumbled out of the starting gate and have yet to truly get back on track. They are lucky enough to be in second place in the Pacific Division and just two games out of first place, but need to start playing some better basketball.
That makes it all the more important that they defeat the Nuggets tonight. These two teams squared off in the first round of the playoffs last season, and Los Angeles managed to win in seven games. Denver has made a lot of improvements to the roster since then, and this game will be anything but an easy ride.
Denver too is looking to get back on track. Even with the highly talented Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup, they have stumbled to an 8-8 start.
A loss tonight would extend the Nuggets' streak to three games. They simply cannot afford for this to happen. The team is already in third place in the deep and talented Northwest Division, and will need to play even harder with Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio's return fast approaching.
Unfortunately for them, the Lakers are going to want to win just as badly.
Key Matchup: Kobe Bryant vs. Andre Iguodala
The Nuggets need to have one mantra on defense tonight: stop Kobe Bryant. The five-time champion and future Hall-of-Famer has been thriving in D'Antoni's system and did his best impression of Michael Jordan in the Lakers' game against the Pacers. Hampered by flu-like symptoms, the Black Mamba scored 40 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
Bryant, leading the league in scoring with 27.7 points per game, will make it all the more difficult for Denver to stop him, but they have just the man for the job. Andre Iguodala is a fine defensive player, and has been holding his own in the scoring department this season, too. The former Arizona Wildcat is averaging 15.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Iguodala has also played some fine basketball over his last five games, embracing his role as a shooting guard. He has become more conscientious with his scoring, averaging 20.4 points per game and shooting 53 percent from the field. On defense, he has averaged 1.4 steals over this stretch.
He and Bryant will thus have their hands full of each other for the entirety of the game. Bryant is just 100 points away from 30,000 for his career, and will want to put a dent in that tonight. Iguodala will need to stop him on offense if Denver wants a shot at winning, and he too will be looking to have a solid scoring night.
This is a battle that has every possibility of being fought to a stalemate, but the winner of this will easily be on the winning team by the final buzzer.
X-Factor: Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol has struggled mightily over his past five games. He is averaging just 10.8 points and 8.4 rebounds over that stretch and is shooting just 39 percent from the field. On the season, he is averaging just 13.8 points and 9.3 rebounds, and shooting 42 percent from the floor.
The 7'0" Spaniard has not adjusted well to Mike D'Antoni's system, and has even called for more touches in the low-post. With second-year forward and rebounding machine Kenneth Faried guarding him tonight, he simply must get some playing time and exploit the mismatch. Faried is talented, but is only 6'8" and at a disadvantage guarding Gasol.
Gasol must also have a good game because the last thing the Lakers can afford to do during their rough stretch is overly rely on Bryant. These two made a fine 1-2 punch under Phil Jackson, winning titles together in 2009 and 2010, and there's no reason why the same shouldn't happen in D'Antoni's system.
On top of that, it's become clear during Nash's absence that the Lakers are relying on two men to carry the offense: Bryant and center Dwight Howard, and maybe some chipping in from Metta World Peace. This approach is becoming predictable and will only hurt the team in the long run.
Gasol must thus embrace his role in the offense, be it in the paint or on the perimeter. He must fight hard tonight and do all he can to win his battle with Faried, otherwise Denver will have a fighting chance at winning.
The Lakers are a team whose greatest asset is their collective experience, and that's why they will win tonight. Kobe Bryant, surely feeling better at this point, will be ready to have a great game and a fine scoring night.
Dwight Howard will prove to both Kosta Koufos and Javale McGee that he is the superior center to both and have a fine night in the paint.
Most importantly, Pau Gasol will look like his old self and be a threat from many areas. He'll have some time in the post and use his experience to give Faried a lesson in playing in the paint. At times, he'll also stretch the floor and sink some key jump shots.
Who will win?
That isn't to say that Los Angeles will absolutely blow out Denver. The Nuggets are still a very talented team and will have a few scoring runs of their own, and maybe even a few leads. Andre Iguodala will continue to play well on offense, and teammate Ty Lawson will do a great job of creating plays and playing defense on rookie Darius Morris.
Unfortunately, Denver will only be able to do so much against the experienced Lakers. They are a team with a bright future, but tonight just won't be there night. After a hard-fought battle, they will be on the losing side and the Lakers will celebrate being back at .500.
Los Angeles Lakers 114, Denver Nuggets 108