Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers square off once again with those crazy Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of the 1st round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Game 1 was a complete and utter domination, with the Lakers having zero difficulty keeping Denver at arm's length the entire contest. Andrew Bynum's massive arm's length, to be exact. Bynum was certainly the story in Game 1. He brought forth an historic performance, one that got his name etched in the record books for both league and illustrious franchise. He was supported by a quietly excellent Kobe Bryant performance, about what you'd expect from Pau Gasol and Ramon Sessions, and enough surprisingly good (Ebanks, Blake, Hill) to more than make up for the surprisingly bad (Matt Barnes).
Denver was also politely subservient to the Lakers' desires for an easy contest. Ty Lawson was horribly ineffective both as a scorer and as a playmaker, Aron Afflalo was unable to keep up the hot shooting that he's been bringing to the table recently, and nobody in a Nuggets uniform had the kind of breakout performance that you imagine should be coming from somewhere on a team that rolls 7-8 deep in the quality starter department.
Game 1 ended up being an incredibly easy affair for the Los Angeles Lakers, and that should worry all of you fine folks sporting those purple and gold jerseys. The Lakers never, ever make things easy on themselves, and for that reason alone, you can pretty much bank on the fact that game 1 was too good to be true.
Can Andrew Bynum continue to strike fear in the hearts of every single Nuggets player who dares to enter into his lair? Can Kobe Bryant continue to punish the Nuggets for either single or double team coverage whenever he touches the ball? Can the reserves provide the same spark as Game 1, going toe to toe with a Nuggets bench that should be making up ground constantly against the Lakers over-matched reserves? Can Devin Ebanks continue to hit his open shots consistently? Can Jordan Hill ignore the gigantic elephant in the room of his life, with charges of horrific, felonious actions hanging over his head?
I hate to seem overly pessimistic, but it seems likely to me that a majority of those questions will come back with negative replies. Andrew Bynum hasn't played like a defensive juggernaut two games in a row since last season. The reserves as a whole haven't played like a unit that deserves fear and attention in two years. I have to, HAVE TO, continue to rationalize the belief that Devin Ebanks isn't ready to perform like he did in Game 1 on a regular basis in order to keep my head from exploding because he hasn't gotten playing time all year long. Jordan Hil has played exactly two meaningful contests for the Lakers this year (and has been awesome in both of them, but still). The chances just don't seem high for all of these circumstances to repeat themselves.
You can also expect Denver to play better. You can expect Afflalo to make shots, expect Lawson to take better advantage of a pick and roll defense that has been suspect all season. You can expect Al Harrington to kill the Lakers as he so often does, and for Andre Miller to make you laugh even as he's torching your favorite team, because its impossible not to like the ways he finds to be successful in a professional game of basketball.
None of this means you should expect a Laker defeat. There is still way too much size and way too much quality in the Laker starting lineup to believe that Denver actually might have the upper hand. But, if the Lakers come out with less energy, less focus, they will turn quickly from a dominant team to an eminently beatable one. It's a transformation we are all too familiar with, one that we've seen under all circumstances over the past few seasons. I've watched this current incarnation of the Lakers enough to know better than to put faith in a display of such utter dominance, because it is so often followed by a display of utter laziness.
After all, it's not that the Lakers' performance in Game 1 was too good to be true. It was just too good for the Lakers to be willing to make it true again.