I can't believe it either, but I said it. I even defended it to a fellow basketball fan.
After watching the first round of these playoffs—granted, the Nuggets have not yet put away the Hornets—I believe the Nuggets have a very good shot against the Lakers, and probably will take any series against Houston or Portland.
No, I don't have any stats to back it up, but here me out.
From an intangible angle, most analysts' biggest worry about the Nuggets was skepticism at their ability to focus and keep it. Two things have happened that even the scales on that point.
- The Lakers displayed a very obvious inability to dial in and focus on closing out the Jazz, allowing them to climb back into every game in the 4th quarter and steal one in Utah. Based on the talent gap, that should have been a sweep along the lines of what the Cavs did to the Pistons.
- Second, Chauncy Billups is back and playing with a chip the size of The Former Soviet Union on his shoulder. A fair share of people, including myself, wondered if Denver might lose focus and let CP3 win the series by himself, but the Nuggets, under Chauncy's veteran guidance, focused and blew the Hornets out in three out of four games so far.
Do not underestimate the impact Chauncy Billups can have when he is in this type of zone. The chip on his shoulder not only raises his level of play, but also that of his entire team. Just look at that 2004 Pistons championship team and afterwards. As Chauncy went, they went.
From perspective based on matchups, the Nuggets match up very well with the rest of the teams left in the Western Conference.
Naturally, it all starts with an underrated front line that is not afraid of anybody because of its size and strength. Nene is obviously a great defender in the low post because of his strength at seven feet tall, but Kenyon "Fugazy" Martin's versatility is a big key.
He is big enough, strong enough and smart enough to guard bigger fours. He looks small but at 6'9"+ he has decent height, but more importantly, he has the strength to push even bigger PF's out of their comfort zone. He was also quick enough to pretty much render David West irrelevant so far in the first round.
Dahntey Jones has looked like a member of the all-defense first team against CP3. He and Billups are a great defensive pairing in the backcourt because of their size.
They are a nightmare because they have shooters around Carmelo Anthony at almost all times, which allows him to exploit single coverage in the post. If they double from the guards, Chauncy and JR Smith will make it rain; double from the post—no, Anthony seems to have developed court vision overnight and he'll make you pay.
The only three that really has the quickness, strength and defensive tenacity to handle Anthony in the post is Lebron.
Don't forget that Chauncy can score from all over the floor against most PG's and will almost always get his guys good shots.
It's as full of firepower, energy and veteran savvy between Smith, Birdman, Balkman and Anthony Carter. Not to mention, Kleiza may not be shooting well, but is still a good defender with size to counter a Lamar Odom type.
Lastly, I think an area in which the Nuggets really take the cake is toughness and then, even more so, nastiness. Maybe the rockets can handle it because a lot of them played for Van Gundy and Battier and Artest are tough in their own right, but I'm not sure if the Lakers are ready for Fugazy Martin.
I mean, I hate the guy as a player, but how many guys are there left in the playoffs that will really send a message with a hard foul without a second thought. Maybe Ben Wallace and Kendrick Perkins, but the only sure shot is Martin.
The man played under Bob Huggins for three years and came from the same institution that produced Danny Fortson. He is known for borderline thuggery.
Guys like Kobe and Lebron have dealt with it before, and can even use that type of stuff as motivation. But young guys with very little playoff experience like Bynum and the entire Blazer team, and guys with soft spots like Gasol, Odom and Yao will let guys like Martin get under their skin and negatively effect the way they play.
Danny Fortson even got under Tim Duncan's skin in the playoffs, so don't think for a second the guys I listed are above it.
Look, I agree the Nuggets have their pitfalls, but the Lakers negated the Nuggets biggest weakness by displaying the same weakness.
The Nuggets also have two guys with finals experience on their roster, one with a ring, and everybody has been to the playoffs before, so you can't knock them too hard for lack of experience.
I want to put this to bed and say that the Lakers superior talent will be the differencemaker, but I actually think the Nuggets' willingness to get their hands dirty will go a long way in negating the talent gap.
The Nuggets are a shrewdly built playoff team. It's time to start taking them seriously.