Things have been looking ever so slightly brighter around these parts in recent weeks. The Los Angeles Lakers have won 11 of their past 15 contests, Dwight Howard has looked healthier and more committed than he has all season, and the Lakers are beginning to form an identity as a small ball + Dwight unit. That identity certainly looks nothing like the juggernaut we might have been expecting at the season's start, but it also looks a whole hell of a lot better than the disaster to which we were treated for the months prior. This is all good news, the type of news we have been starved for this season. Which brings us to tonight's contest.
Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers will play the Denver Nuggets in Denver and, well, I'm not quite sure how to say this, but ... they're probably going to lose. Denver is a very decent team, currently 5th in the extremely competitive Western Conference. They are seven games ahead of our Lakers, 13 games over .500 with a 35-22 record. The Lakers come to Denver on the second night of a back to back, a situation which Denver has feasted on for years. And most importantly of all, Denver is pretty tough to beat at home. Pretty tough, as in damn near impossible. Denver is 22-3 in the Pepsi Center. Only San Antonio has fewer home losses than Denver. Miami joins the Nuggets with three home losses. And that's the list. That's the level of competition the Lakers will face tonight.
Ironically, there is both hope and despair to be found in further analysis of Denver's home domination. Teams that have failed to win in Denver include most of the league's best: Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the other team in LA have all come up dry in the thin air of the Mile High City. From the league's elite, only Miami has come into Denver and left with the spoils. It's where the other two losses came from that you mind find interesting. Did the Nuggets lose to one of the other very decent Western Conference playoff teams? One of the other big boys from the East? Nope. Denver's other two home losses come courtesy of two teams buried in the lottery, the Washington Wizards and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota was a much different team on the 1st of January, with Kevin Love leading the way, but the contest against the Wizards? It's pretty much impossible to explain that one away.
So, yes, it is possible for the Lakers to beat the Nuggets in Denver. If Washington can do it, anybody can. For that matter, Denver comes into tonight's game on a downward trend, losers of four of the last six games, including a season sweep at the hands of those same Wizards. That could mean Denver is prime for the taking, or it could mean that they are desperate to get back on track after losing their way on the road.
If I were a betting man, I'd probably have my money on the latter. The Los Angeles Lakers have done some good solid work climbing out of the hell they forced upon themselves. They are building momentum like a child might build a ball out of rubber bands, one at a time. Tonight, they may not get the result they want, but even if they don't, it won't be cause for alarm. Tonight, the Lakers enter the gym with a mulligan in hand.
How awesome would it be if they still have it when they're done?