Nuggets vs. Lakers: What to Watch for in Western Conference Meeting

Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIIOctober 8, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 6: Darius Johnson-Odom #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at STAPLES Center on October 10, 2013 at 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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In a rematch of the first round of the 2012 NBA playoffs, the Denver Nuggets will play the Los Angeles Lakers. It will be the second preseason clash between these two teams, and it will go a long way towards revealing how ready each squad is for the regular season.

The question is, what should you watch for in this Western Conference meeting?

Denver topped the Lakers 97-88 on Sunday, Oct. 6 behind 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists from Ty Lawson. Jordan Hamilton added 15 of his own, while JaVale McGee scored 12 and J.J. Hickson had 10.

For the Lakers, Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks and Nick Young combined to shoot 11-of-39 from the field. Xavier Henry scored a team-best 15 points, but that was just about the only thing that L.A. had to feel good about on offense.

Here's what to look for when the two teams meet again.


Changes Down Low

January 6, 2013;  Los Angeles, CA, USA;   Denver Nuggets center JaVale McGee (34) and Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (16) look for a rebound in the second half of the game at the Staples Center. Nuggets won 112-105. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kam
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets have made significant changes down low by parting ways with Kosta Koufos and bringing in both Darrell Arthur and J.J. Hickson. The Los Angeles Lakers lost three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard and will replace him with Elias Harris, Chris Kaman and Ryan Kelly.

Expect to see two very different interiors in 2013-14.

The Nuggets have a new head coach in Brian Shaw who is a product of the triangle offense that maximizes the abilities of skilled big men. JaVale McGee has been working on his post game, but the true player to watch will be Hickson.

Albeit quietly, Hickson ranked seventh in the NBA in both rebounds per game and double-doubles during the 2012-13 regular season.

Hickson is only 6'9" and 242 pounds, but he played center for the Portland Trail Blazers and was one of the better players in the NBA at the position. Due to his athleticism, he has the versatility to play small forward, power forward or center, but should be expected to play predominantly down low.

Hickson told Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post that he'll battle Kenneth Faried for the starting power forward spot, but we'll get a look at just how coach Shaw wants to use Hickson when the Nuggets meet the Lakers.

For L.A., Howard's departure opens the door for Pau Gasol to move over to center—a position that many believe he should've been starting at in years past. This will allow Gasol to work out of the post, which he rarely did in 2012-13 under head coach Mike D'Antoni.

The true question for the Lakers is what will they do to compensate for Howard's absence on defense?

Chris Kaman is a quality two-way player and Jordan Hill's effort was infectious in 2013-14, but neither are elite rim protectors. Gasol can crash the boards and block a few shots, but he too is more of a reliable player than an elite one.

If Mike D'Antoni's offense ever needed to shine, it'd be now.


All About the Tempo

During the 2012-13 NBA regular season, Denver ranked second and Los Angeles in fourth in pace, per John Hollinger of ESPN. The Nuggets now have a new head coach after shifting from George Karl to Shaw, and the Lakers have realized that they're too old to push the pace—or so I hope.

For that reason, all eyes should be on how fast both teams play.

When the two sides met on Sunday, Oct. 6, both teams experimented with uptempo and half-court offensive sets. That resulted in a combined 178 attempted field goals and neither team shooting better than 42.4 percent from the floor.

Expect Los Angeles to slow it down and Denver to find greater balance on Tuesday.

Ty Lawson still runs point for the Nuggets and Nate Robinson is one of his backups, so it'd be foolish to expect the Nuggets to entirely abandon their uptempo ways. With that being said, Shaw is a master of the half-court offense and should have no trouble helping the team transition to a slower pace.

This game will display just how ready Denver is to be balanced—something they weren't in 2012-13.

The Lakers were rather irresponsible with the basketball during the preseason home opener, shooting 32.3 percent from the field. The team fell in love with Nick Young serving as the primary scorer, likely a result of the absence of Kobe Bryant.

If L.A. doesn't figure out how to play at the proper pace, look for those struggles to continue and Denver to win this one by a comfortable margin.