Hello all, I know this is late, however it is with good reason, my niece was born and I was welcoming her into the world. 9 pounds and 21 inches later, Amelia was born. Uncle Zee loves you! And now back to the hoops:
The Lakers face a Denver team who has had plenty of rest after a couple of cakewalks through a depleted New Orleans and a soft Dallas team. Carmelo Anthony has experienced a rebirth after the Olympics games and along with Chauncey Billups have given this Nuggets team leadership, focus and the belief that they can win it all. This Lakers team is coming out of a lengthy 7 game series with a scrappy Houston Rockets team who lost their center in the second game of the series, and provided the cocky Los Angeles team with a wake up call.
Both teams on paper are very evenly matched, with Denver using their defense to ignite fast breaks and wreak havoc on their opponents. Denver bolsters their solid starting five with a bevvy of options off the bench that compliment their already dangerous offense and defense in the form of swingman J.R. Smith and Chris "Birdman" Andersen. Throughout the playoffs, these two have been invaluable in picking up the slack for the Nuggets when thing have gotten stagnant. Look for George Karl to try and exploit the Lakers glaring weakness at the point guard spot and to try and use forwards Nene and Kenyon Martin to bully Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum in the paint, and to torch the poor soul who has to guard Carmelo Anthony.
On the other side of the floor: The Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers team who now look very pedestrian when compared to the team who beat a Utah team soundly 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers team who distributed the ball, who rebounded well and then ran into a Houston team who could've cared less about all of that. The Lakers will spend lots of time watching film trying to exploit match ups and really seeing what minor things they could exploit to eek out wins against this versatile Nuggets team. Kobe Bryant will be called upon once again to leave his mark on this series on offense and also possibly his defense on PG Chauncey Billups. His negating of Billups could well be the determining factor in this series since Carmelo will get his offense no matter what.
As I mentioned in my Nuggets-Mavericks preview, the one thing that is still a question mark with this Nuggets team is their mental stability. Can JR Smith, K-Mart and company manage their emotions throughout the course of the series? Will they come unglued once Kobe begins to foul out Denver guards one by one? Will the Laker big men learn from the previous series and toughen up? Is Carmelo as good as advertised? And finally is this Nuggets team this good, or the beneficiaries of good playoff match ups?
The answers remain to be seen, but I'm going to go with experience on this one. The Lakers have been tested this year and last year, and while the Nuggets have been on a tear, they quite possibly may be in over their heads once the intensity ramps up in the later stages of the series.
Prediction: Lakers in 6