Nuggets Vs Lakers: An NBA Western Conference Finals Preview

Sean StancillSenior Writer IMay 14, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 09:  Chauncey Billups #7 of the Denver Nuggets has his vision blocked by Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on April 9, 2009 in Los Angeles , California.   (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.

The Nuggets' streaked by the Hornets' and the Mavericks in only 10 games and are awaiting their opponent in the Western Conference Finals.

Los Angeles on the other hand have been battle-tested going against the physical likes of Utah and Houston so far in the first two rounds and have gone to sleep in several of their games.
Should the Lakers' advance here are the matchups for a possible Nuggets'-Lakers' series:
Chauncey Billups vs Derek Fisher
Two of the game's smarter point-guards will clash in this series with veteran leadership being the focal point of their respective operations.
Billups' has been a significant reason why the Nuggets' have gotten this far in the postseason and they will need another push from Mr. Big Shot to get to the Finals.
In the Western Conference Semis, Billups reverted more to his face-up game than his usual post when being guarded by a guard of his body type (Jason Kidd) and consistently was able to slash to the basket.
Against L.A., Billups will be greeted by the tandem of Gasol and Bynum in the paint, making his lay-ups and inside shots much tougher than they were against the likes of Dampier and Dirk last round.
When being guarded by Fisher, Chauncey will look to orchestrate the offense through his post-up game and if he elects to pass it will be through a double-team and to an open man. If he elects to attempt the jump-shot it will be with ease, he can shoot over the smaller Fisher and see over the defense with his height advantage as well. 
For Fisher, he can't be content with just settling for the three-ball and must take the ball to the basket as out of his element as he sounds. It bails out his defenders and gives them time to rest and doesn't get any of his teammates involved unlike when a drive occurs and the chance for a dish when the defense collapses towards him does. 

Dahntay Jones vs Kobe Bryant
Now that the Lakers have Trevor Ariza back and at full strength, Bryant won't have to expend as much energy guarding Anthony during crucial stages of the game.
However, this also is true for the Nuggets' where Kenyon Martin was assigned to guard Bryant late in the fourth quarter during their first-round series last year.
Bryant does it all in the sense that he is the perfect game manager, pushes the tempo when needed and can get to the basket and create contact when his team needs points. 
Jones won't be able to single-handedly stop Bryant but if he wants to help his team he must play exceptional defense and continue that when the help arrives. If you can force the ball out of Bryant's hand the Lakers' are a less effective team.
The Nuggets' applied this very logic in the first round against the Hornets' and forced Chris Paul into 24 turnovers and Dirk Nowitzki into 15 more.
If Denver can frustrate Kobe, Los Angeles' offense will become stagnant and the result could be catastrophic given the Nuggets' prowess on their end of the floor.
Though with that being said, Bryant is extremely crafty and will find ways around the Nuggs' litany of defenders.
I give this edge to Kobe Bryant due to his abundance of wisdom and knowledge of the unflappable triangle offense.

Carmelo Anthony vs Trevor Ariza
Anthony was a non-factor in the meetings during the regular season and averaged less than 15 points per game in their four meetings against Los Angeles but he's recently picked up his play and is starting to resemble all the qualities of a superstar.
He averaged 30 points in their five-game demolition of the Dallas Mavericks and sank the game-winning three from the right elbow in Game Three that spelled the end for Dallas and the beginning of advancement for the Nuggets.
Melo is also becoming more committed on the defensive end, a trend we haven't seen prior to this season. With the even scarier thought of Anthony becoming a true two-way player in the future, the Lakers' have much to contest with.
Defensive ace Trevor Ariza will be assigned to guard Carmelo should the Lakers advance past the Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals. Ariza is long and is a good perimeter defender.
He has quick feet and his athleticism really helps him on both ends of the floor. On defense it allows him to maneuver around opposing screens and spring into the air to contest shots and on offense he converts on drives and more often alley-oops. 
This will be Ariza's toughest assignment of his young career and it will be a tall order. Anthony likes to operate preferably from the elbows or from the the top of the key which gives him the advantage when taking his man off the dribble and creates the right angle when getting to the basket.
If that is negated by weakside help, Anthony executes a few dribbles and takes a sweet pull-up jumper to soften up the defense.
Because of his new-found motivation, I give the edge to Melo in this matchup.

Lamar Odom vs Kenyon Martin
This appears to be the most interesting match-up of the starting lineup when comparing the two teams.
Despite Odom's bad back, it's unlikely Phil Jackson will continue to insert Andrew Bynum in the starting lineup when the reward is greater for the Lakers' should Bynum come off the bench.
Take into account that the Lakers' can close out the Rockets' with Odom in street clothes and there's a high chance Odom will be in the starting lineup pitting him against Denver Nuggets' F Kenyon Martin.
This will be the first time Lamar will be guarded by the opposing team's best one-on-one defender and it will be key to see how he handles the situation.
He can react by being flustered with Martin's abrasive tactics and turn the ball over or by calmly mulling over his options, taking a few between the legs dribbles and figuring out the best interest for his team.
Odom will be L.A.'s X-factor and if he's bottled up by Martin the Lakers' will lose a big dimension of their offense and their team as well.
Martin's activeness around the basket will cause problems for the thinner Odom whose game flourishes out on the perimeter and gradually develops down near the post. 
Both of their games heavily rely on finesse, so it will be interesting matchup.

Pau Gasol vs Nene'
Gasol is longer, more skilled, and is a monster on the offensive glass. He had 18 offensive rebounds in three games against Denver this season and totaled 45 boards in those meetings.
If the Nuggets' want a shot they must do their work early and begin to box out the Spaniard as soon as the shot is being hoisted, Second-chance points prove to be real killers and against a team like the Lakers', Denver can't afford not rebounding the ball.
As for Nene' his task is simple: get into the body of Gasol and score points. The Lakers' struggle with Gasol in foul trouble and his slimmer body will be a disadvantage when guarding Nene'.
The Brazilian must use his mass and barrel into Pau instead of using his finesse moves which he was forced to do against the slower centers he faced in the first two rounds. 
The Nuggets have outscored their opponents by an average margin of 15 points in the Playoffs when Nene' scores in double-figures and boast a sparkling record of 6-0.
I'm going for the underdog and giving the edge to Nene'.