The Nuggets are coming off of a difficult loss to a physical Milwaukee Bucks team, and look to rebound against the World Champion Lakers. Home-court advantage will be a welcome change for this team, which have played their last six games on the road.
The Lakers head to Denver fresh off a convincing victory over the upstart Phoenix Suns, and riding the momentum of a six-game winning streak.
These two teams have a history of chippy and physical play against each other, and will look to pick up where they left off in the playoffs and even in their preseason matchup, where an abundance of technical and flagrant fouls occurred: Don’t be surprised to see some skirmishes or even possibly a melee.
Nuggets – Kenyon Martin has a bruised left fibula, but he has been playing through the pain very effectively. I don’t see that being an issue for him tonight.
Lakers – Pau Gasol has been out with a hamstring injury and is a scratch again from tonight’s lineup.
Mismatch in favor of the Nuggets – Chauncey Billups vs. Derrick Fisher
This is a very intriguing matchup between two veteran point guards. Chauncey has been struggling in his last couple of games, but I see the size differential being a huge advantage for Billups, who should be able to get his shot off at will.
Fisher is one of those veterans who never had overly impressive athleticism, and certainly doesn’t at this point in his career, yet has always understood how to get the job done. The problem is, he is going against an equally savvy veteran in Billups. Chauncey won’t have the types of mental lapses that generally allow Fisher to excel.
Expect Billups to break out of his mini-slump tonight and have a good game. I see him going for at least 20 tonight.
Mismatch in favor of the Lakers – Kobe Bryant vs. Aaron Afflalo
Obviously, Kobe Bryant can overwhelm almost anyone in the league, so it stands to reason that I would acknowledge the mismatch in this pairing.
Afflalo is a good defender on this level and he has been one of the only Nuggets recently who hustles on both sides of the ball. That said, he will have a near impossible time containing Bryant so I look for Kobe to have a strong outing. He should be good for 30 tonight, and even if the Nuggets can contain his scoring output, Bryant is good enough to find his open teammates.
George Karl has proven in the past that he will put almost anyone on Bryant if he feels they provide the best matchup. Don’t be surprised to see ‘Melo and even Kenyon Martin on Bryant at times tonight.
Key Matchup – Carmelo Anthony vs. Ron Artest
This is the matchup I am looking forward to most tonight.
Anthony has really been the only Nugget who has provided any consistency on the offensive side of the ball. He continues to torch his opponents nearly at will. The only matchup that his given him any trouble at all this year is against the big, physical defender (Luol Deng is a good example).
I expect Artest to put a body on ‘Melo all night, and the Lakers will try to frustrate him with excessive double-teams.
The jury is still out on the Artest acquisition. He has been struggling lately to find the basket and I don’t see that changing tonight against ‘Melo, but at the very least he should be able to provide a physical presence on the defensive end that Ariza wasn’t capable of.
Keys to the Game for Nuggets –
- Billups must be the floor general and control the pace of the game
- Defend the pick-and-roll
- Kobe will get his points, but don’t allow a second scorer to come up big
Keys to the Game for the Lakers –
- Slow down Denver’s second unit
- Kobe needs to get his teammates involved. Can’t win this alone
- Bynum needs to have big game and exploit Nuggets lack of frontcourt depth
Prediction – Nuggets win 105-102
When the Lakers and the Nuggets get together, I am always glued to my television. I think this is one of the best matchups in the NBA right now, and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if this is a preview of a second-consecutive Western Conference Finals matchup.
You will definitely see a lot of jawing, hard fouls, and physical play. If the refs can refrain from the quick whistle, this has all the makings of a 12-round heavyweight bout.
I see the Nuggets edging out a Lakers team that will likely have heavy legs on the second night of a back-to-back. Without Gasol in the lineup to provide some depth, the Nuggets should have the advantage with their second unit, and should be able to use their athleticism and the altitude to their advantage.