Lakers - Nuggets Preview: Wrong team, wrong time

DENVER - NOVEMBER 11: Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets puts up a shot between Steve Blake #5 and Matt Barnes #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Pepsi Center on November 11 2010 in Denver Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 118-112. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this Photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

There's no easy way to say this, SSR faithful, so I'm just going to come right out with it.  The tea leaves are telling me bad things about tonight's game.  The Los Angeles Lakers appear to be in the midst of another one of their patented trouble spots.  While the Lakers' play has been erratic all season long, their results have fit a nice little pattern: win a bunch in a row, look terrible for a 2-4 game stretch.  I don't need to tell you which part of the pattern they are stuck in right now.

With the Lakers in this pseudo-vulnerable condition, there are literally 28 NBA teams I'd rather them face than tonight's opponent, the Denver Nuggets.  Denver is not the best team in the league, not even close, but they are the most explosive, both in temperament and capability.  They have a strong dislike for the Lakers, because in the one season that Denver did not find their self-destruct button by themselves, the Lakers helped them find it.  And no team in the league takes more pride in feeding on the emaciated carcass that is the Lakers in the regular season, and pretending it's the filet mignon that is the Lakers in the playoffs.  The Nuggets recent history shows further indication that we may not enjoy the evening's events.  They've won four of five, with the loss coming against the invincible San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio, and three of the Nugget victories have been annihilations of the 28+ point variety.  Their offensive potency is as good as any team's in the NBA, and they take joy in piling on when they're feeling it and the opponent is having an off night.

To make matters worse, the game is in Denver, where each breath leaves lungs slightly unsatisfied, and the Lakers are going through a stretch of schedule that resembles a porn star's, or perhaps Pol Pot's (kudos and cuhkies to the first person who gets that reference).  L.A. isn't on the dreaded "second night of a back to back", but they may as well be, and it's not like the Lakers need much motivation to decrease work rate anyways.

And then there's the skeleton in every Laker fan's closet; Denver actually matches up with the Lakers pretty well.  Nene is both big enough and athletic enough to stand up to our talented front line, and Kenyon Martin is a strong defender as well if he is allowed to play the mugging style of defense that he learned in a childhood of ... well, mugging people.  Melo is the type of offensive talent that Ron Artest struggles with the most, strong enough to deal with Ron's bullying, and refined enough to punish him if Artest gives him space.  Aron Afflalo defends Kobe as well as anybody, and punishes him for playing free safety defense.  And while Chauncey Billups is one of the few guys in this league that Derek Fisher can keep up with, that didn't stop him from singlehandedly beating the Lakers last season in Staples Center.  The honest and disconcerting truth is that if the Nuggets weren't so consistently self-destructive, they'd scare the shit out of me.

I haven't even discussed J.R. Smith.  If the Nuggets go on to win tonight's contest handily, as I half expect, it will be because of J.R. Smith.  He is a manifestation of the entire team in one tattooed package.  Some nights, he is the most explosive 6th man in the league, easily capable of putting up 15 points in a quarter, or 30 points off the bench.  Others, his explosion does nothing but rip a hole in his team's chances of pulling out a victory.  He is the guy who makes spectacular shots in garbage time, the guy who preens after draining another 3 point shot with his team up 20.  He is also a guy more capable of shooting his team out of a game than any non-starter in this league.  I wish I could tell you that will happen tonight, but my forecast says downtown showers with a 50% chance of preen.

You may notice this preview is mainly about Denver.  Each one of our previews is different.  Sometimes we focus heavily on matchups, but often we focus mainly on the Lakers.  This is due, in part, to the fact that the blog is devoted to the Lakers, but it is mostly due to the fact that, on most nights, what the Lakers do and how they play will play a far greater part in determining the result than their opponent.  If the Lakers play well and play hard, they will win, no matter the opponent, so we focus on whether the Lakers will play that way because it is the dictating factor of the game.  With Denver, that isn't so.  The Nuggets will dictate who wins or loses this game.  L.A. can play well and still lose.  They can play badly and still win.  It all depends on which version of the Nuggets shows up tonight.  That is why they are the focus.

It is also why I believe both we and the team we love are in for a long night.  Because, of all the advantages and disadvantages that will affect tonight's game, the single biggest factor is working heavily in Denver's favor; a complete lack of pressure.  It's a regular season game, ergo it doesn't mean anything, and this plays right into the home team's hands in myriad ways.  Pressure busts pipes and forges diamonds, and I'm sure I don't need to explain to you which team is which in this analogy, but a lack of pressure means those pipes will probably work just fine, and the Lakers are likely to remain nothing but sand.

Lakers

Nuggets

RECORD

31-13 (3)

24-17 (13)

NET POINTS PER GAME

+7.0 (4)

3.1 (7)

PACE

92.2 (16)

96.1 (3)

OFFENSIVE RATING

112.1 (1)

111.7 (3)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

.128 (3)

.132 (11)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.232 (14)

0.305 (2)

Free-Throw %

78.5 (8)

78.7 (6)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.228 (12)

0.257 (7)

3PT% (Off.)

36.8 (11)

38.6 (4)

Effective FG% (Off.)

51.0 (10)

51.6 (6)

True Shooting% (Off.)

55.3 (12)

57.1 (2)

Off Rebounding Rate

29.6 (5)

23.7 (26)

DEFENSIVE RATING

104.5 (9)

108.5 (19)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

.128 (24)

.125 (29)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.187 (2)

0.230(14)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.246 (22)

0.248 (24)

3PT% (Def.)

34.0 (5)

34.8 (9)

Effective FG% (Def.)

47.9 (5)

50.2 (17)

True Shooting% (Def.)

51.4 (3)

54.2 (14)

Def Rebounding Rate

72.8 (22)

74.2 (16)

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.

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