Nuggets-Lakers: Western Conference Finals Preview

Mark SaltzContributor IMay 18, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts in the third quarter against the Houston Rockets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 17, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. 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.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

In 1992, the world was atwitter with the potential clash between two American decathletes in Barcelona. 

One obstacle stood in the way of Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson battling for Olympic gold—qualification.

O’Brien failed to make the United States squad, while Johnson went on to score a bronze.  All the money Reebok put into the campaign floated away with O’Brien’s Olympic hopes.

Now Nike and Vitamin Water are pushing ads featuring Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.  Though they aren’t boasting of a matchup between the two in the NBA Finals, they are definitely whetting the public’s appetite for the clash of the titans. 

However, there is one small obstacle—qualification.


Key Matchup

In the Western Conference semifinals, Pau Gasol faced a physical Houston Rockets' front line.  Against Denver, he will be matched up against Kenyon Martin. 

The banging and rough play that left Shane Battier bloody in the last series could be light compared to what Gasol will face in the Western Conference finals.  When he needed to play tough, he was fully able and capable in Game Seven against the boys from Space City. 

He will need to do more of the same against the rugged play from Denver’s front line—especially Mark Cuban’s favorite thug, Kenyon Martin.


Key Mismatches

Los Angeles

Kobe Doin’ Work was an insight into how one of the game's greatest plays.  In the jocumentary, Mr. Bryant explained how he likes to be grabbed, clawed, and scratched because it reminded him of the bumpy play of the '80s.  Dahntay Jones is capable of being that tough. 

The key will be containing Kobe.  Mr. Jones said, "Easier said than done" about the task of keeping No. 24 in front of him for 48 minutes. 

Can it be done?  Sure.  But is it likely?  Mostly, no.



Carmelo Anthony is smarter than he is given credit for.  The wherewithal to continue after many players would have assumed there was a whistle in Game Three against Dallas proves he can play the right way. 

Although Trevor Ariza had an offensive burst to begin Game Seven against Houston, his defense will need to be as stellar facing ‘Melo.  Anthony could be the counterbalance to match the scoring of Kobe. 

Alias (the Band) Factor

For the unlearned in '80s music, Alias sang the song “More Than Words Can Say,” which includes the lyric I need you to know.


Los Angeles

Since coming back from his injury, Andrew Bynum has been more Jekyll and Hyde than pure phenom.  Being shy won’t serve him well against Nene.  Will he rise to the occasion or become a shrinking bench flower?



This is the seventh-straight trip to a Conference Finals for Chauncey Billups.  In 2004-2005, under Dean Smith’s apprentice, Larry Brown, he played brilliantly. 

However, in the last couple of appearances, someone shut off the light and he became a non-factor.  Perhaps playing for another Tar Heel, George Karl, will light a fire under Billups.



Against H-town the Lakers were inconsistent.  Dishing out a 40-point victory and then getting beaten by double digits—only to return the favor again.  Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountain revue was anything but inconsistent, experiencing a mere hiccup in Game Four.

Denver seems to be on a mission since Chauncey was exchanged for Allen Iverson in what Michael Scott would call a win-win-win.  The Lakers owned the regular-season series against the Nuggets.  They did the same against Houston, only to be pushed to seven games.

This Denver team is reminiscent of the Detroit Pistons squad from 2004 that quickly dispatched the Los Angeles in the NBA Finals.  Nobody outside the Motor City gave them much of a shot.  Everybody now is salivating over LeBron v. Kobe.

Will the Lakers learn from Dan O’Brien, or will Denver vault over the opposition?


The Nuggets will win in the series in seven.  They are more focused and more physical than Lakers in this postseason.