Nuggets-Lakers Preview: Linas Kleiza the Player To Watch

Sean StancillSenior Writer IApril 18, 2008


In the first round of the 2007-2008 NBA Playoffs the Denver Nuggets must face the Western Conference Champions, the L.A. Lakers. Yes Kobe Bryant is the unquestioned leader, and Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol did their part, but the Lakers did not just come this far because of the starting 5; it was help from their bench.

Its obvious that the Los Angeles Lakers have one of the dangerous and the deepest benches in all of professional basketball. With fresh young faces, and talented wingmen like Jordan Farmar and Luke Walton, and spirit filled big men like Ronny Turiaf and DJ Mbenga highlighting the 2nd unit, the Denver Nuggets must have some sort of secret weapon to combat their opponent.

And then it popped into my head who: Linas Kleiza. 

Yes the 6'8 Lithuanian. There are several reasons why Linas has to and will do some serious damage to Los Angeles.

Here is what Kleiza has to prove

National Respect 

1. Linas has a lot to prove to the national audience that will be viewing this series, as they will see the player that coach George Karl and Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke were so hesitant to pull the trigger February 21, 2008. Either L.K. will make them seem like genius and wise decision makers, or he will make them seem like fools for passing on the possibility of Ron Artest.

2. Can he really play on the big stage, in the postseason?

In his three years as a pro, Kleiza has averaged 2 PPG, 1.6 PPG, and 1.8 PPG in the playoffs, to go along with only shooting 16.7% and 14.3 % from downtown. Granted the last two years, Denver was forced to face the toughest team in the league in terms of defense with the San Antonio Spurs, but in his rookie campaign, Denver was pitted against the Clippers and Linas was non-existent.

Representing his Country

3. The Lithuanian will also be putting on a mirror for his country Lithuania, who has not seen a great basketball player since Arvydas Sabonis wore a striped uniform and threw behind the back passes. Nobody give me grief about Zydrunas Ilgauskas either, Z is a decent-semi good center that comes to play on occasion, and picks up early fouls. Kleiza can become a poster child of success for his country and the Lithuanian National Basketball team.

With these factors being taken in mind, look for Linas Kleiza to make a huge impact on the Denver Nuggets-Los Angeles Lakers series.

Game One is Sunday at 12PM Pacific Standard Time.