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Nuggets-Lakers: Western Finals Revolve Around Rust vs. Rest

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IMay 19, 2009

After weeks of the national media jumping onto the Nuggets bandwaggon, a mass abandon ship was sounded Monday, one day before Denver takes on LA in the Staples Center.

Almost in unison today media analysts from all across the country picked the West's defending champion Lakers to beat the Nuggets, a team that has finally arrived as a title contender in the NBA. Even with all their success, it turns out much is the same as the major market in LA is once again favored over the "small-market" Denver Nuggets.

On Jim Rome is Burning today, two analysts picked LA, saying that Denver has no answer for Kobe and the series depends on if Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum show up.

The two were right, this series will hinge on the front lines of both team, the problem with their analysis is that they forgot to mention anything about the Nuggets.

In reality though, Gasol and Bynum will have a tough time doing much against the Nuggets' Kenyon Martin and Nene.

Nene and K-Mart are two physically demanding, frustrating, and wearing defenders making the go rough on the Lakers' big men throughout. Add in Chris "Birdman" Andersen and the Nuggets will have many apt players to go against LA's frontcourt.

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Nene and Martin are both capable scorers as well, averaging 12.5 and 9.9 points per game respectively in the 2009 playoffs. Denver's bigs beat you up on one side of the court, and then beat you down the floor, draining energy from any team's frontcourt, especially at home in Denver.

Nene loves playing in the post and should be too quick and strong for Bynum to handle. He is also one of the best big men in the game at running the floor, and should get some easy transition buckets when the Nuggets are running.

Martin will make Gasol chase him around the court as he sets solid screens and flashes to the hoop for explosive dunks. K-Mart's real prowess is on defense though, and he must confuse and frustrate Gasol, while staying out of foul trouble, for Denver to win this series.

JRIB wasn't the only place the media was hyping up LA though, as three of four writers on Around the Horn picked the Lakers to win the series as well. Jay Marriotti was the only one to take Denver, as JA Adonde, Tim Calishaw, and even Denver Post writer Woody Paige all took LA to be victorious.

Seriously Woody? After representing Denver all season, you jump off now? This time though, the Nuggets will take a page out of Woody's book and find a way to be creative in winning.

Likewise, Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe gave LA a 60-40 chance of winning the series.

What happened? What changed the national media's thinking this quickly?

One reason could be that this is new territory for the Nuggets, at least recently. 1985 was the last time Denver made it this far. The result? A 4-1 loss to, guess who, the Lakers.

Writers are not yet convinced this Denver team can truly compete for a title, though that thinking goes against what the Nuggets have proven in the playoffs to this point.

Denver dominated New Orleans, and destroyed Dallas, winning both series 4-1. The Nuggets out-ran the young team, and out-executed the older one, playing in a physical manner not yet seen until the post season.

The Nuggets have played so well in the first two rounds, with a point differential of 16 points per game, that playing Denver has been more like a demolition derby than determined basketball.

Denver (8-2) has been the most dominant team in the West, second overall to the Cavaliers who are 8-0.

The Lakers, in contrast, have had a relatively easier go so far, but have still played inconsistent of late. Being the top seed, LA drew the Jazz when they were playing their worst basketball of the season and were without center Mehmet Okur.

After beating Utah 4-1 in commanding fashion, LA drew a good Houston team, but not a great one as Yao went down in Game Three. The Rockets though showed they had heart and fought hard as they took the Lakers to seven games.

Throughout the long series, Houston even revealed some of LA's weaknesses, some Denver will need to exploit.

First, the Rockets blasted into LA, taking Game One, something Denver needs to do as well. The Nuggets must win a game in la-la-land if they want to advance to the finals, and which better than Game One.

Second, Phil Jackson eluded to the Lakers' biggest weakness being defending the point guard position. Chauncey Billups will eat Derek Fisher alive and will likely win a game, if not two for Denver in the series.

Rust vs. rest comes into play in this series as well, and may ultimately determine the outcome.

Denver is coming off of six days off, and how that time off has affected them is crucial in this series. If they were lazy, and partied after the semis, they could come out rusty and flat. If they practiced much and hard, as they likely did, the Nuggets should have a distinct advantage, at least in Game One.

LA just finished off their long seven-game series Sunday, and with only one day rest, must play again Tuesday night. The Lakers should be tired, and somewhat beaten up at this point in the playoffs.

Lamar Odom landed hard on his back during the series, and even Kobe Bryant was limping at the end of Game Seven. Denver must take advantage of their rest early, and hope their rust does not slow them down.

Overall, LA is the toughest team Denver has had to face so far in this year's playoffs, a team that will serve as a real test to whether or not this could be the Nuggets' year.

Both teams have height, depth, good coaching, a superstar surrounded by stars, and great home-court advantages.

Mark my words, this will be a great series, one people will be talking about for a long time. Kobe will have a huge game or two. Billups will as well. 'Melo will hit a game-winner, and foul-calls will win a game for LA.

In the end, this series will be extremely close, but Denver will win in six games, 4-2.

Game One is tonight, 9:00 PM ET on TNT.