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Lakeshow Episode 09: The View from Denver

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So Friday night it was the Lakers' turn to assume the position, grabbing their ankles while tattooed young Denver hoopsters took turns swinging the aerodynamically-optimized paddle against the gold-clad backsides of their fellows.

The Lakers scored just 8 points in the 3rd Quarter! EIGHT!!! They followed that up with just 15 points in the 4th Quarter... That's 8 + 15 = 23 points for an entire half!!!

Yikes.

The Friday Flop put the humiliation of an exhausted Phoenix Suns team by the Lakers just 24 hours previous into an entirely different light, did it not? Home court advantage and vitality-sapping back-to-backs are very real phenomena, negative forces to be reckoned with. The Lakers are subject to such negative forces just like every other team. They are not above the laws of nature, superhuman and invincible.

Losing at Denver the way that the Lakers did is embarrassing, to be sure, but it remains only one loss in a long season. Only Reggie Miller is SHOCKED that Kobe's Krew has dropped 2 of their first 9 games. It is normal, natural, and expected — and it could easily have been worse. Recall, if you will, that the Lakers were taken to overtime by Oklahoma City and Houston. A couple missed free throw attempts during those games and the Lakers would now be 5-4 in the midst of one of the softest opening schedules ever played by a professional basketball team not based in Harlem.

This season has advanced far enough that some clarity on the relative strengths of one team to the next is starting to emerge. I watch a ton of Western Conference basketball and I've whipped up a "Top 8" power ranking for y'all. Please click on through for that.

Timbo's Western Conference Power Rankings

Version 1.0 — November 14, 2009

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1. Denver Nuggets (7-3).

Key victories: At Portland; At Chicago; Home vs. LA Lakers.

All losses: At Miami; At Atlanta; At Milwaukee.

Who they're missing: Nobody.

Comments: Carmelo Anthony has emerged as a legit Top 5 NBA superstar and the Nuggets are the only team in the Western Conference hitting on all cylinders on a consistent basis. Nene is one of the conference's top Bigs, Kenyon Martin is tough, Chauncey is a terrific floor general, and Ty Lawson looks to be one of the top 3 rookies in the NBA this season, Aaron Brooks redux. Head Coach George Karl is smart, Denver's home court advantage is nasty — what else do you need???

 

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2. Los Angeles Lakers (7-2).

Key victories: At Houston; Home vs. Phoenix.

All losses: Home vs. Dallas; At Denver.

Who they're missing: Pau Gasol (starting Big).

Comments: The Lakers' bunny-soft early season schedule should have been printed in pink ink on pastel yellow paper. They've still got another dozen or so games coming against a mostly soft slate, only one of which is on the road. Then from the middle of December until the All-Star break, the schedule grows fangs and the losses will mount fast. LA needs to get Pau back and to stay healthy, because they're not deep. One unspoken thing is clear: a serious injury to the superstar of this Kobe-centric konstellation would be a kill-shot on the season. Andrew Bynum seems to be emerging as the premiere offensive Center in the league and Ron Artest has done a nice job defensively and played within the offense. Point Guard Derek Fisher is old and slow, but the Lakers have gobs of great Bigs and the #1 Wing in the Universe and will be fine if they can keep their limbs intact.

 

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3. Phoenix Suns (8-2).

Key victories: At Miami; At Boston.

All losses: At Orlando; At LA Lakers.

Who they're missing: Robin Lopez (reserve [?] Big).

Comments: Left to their own devices, leaking out and running like wild things, the Phoenix Suns are one of the most explosive and dangerous teams in the West this season. This past off-season Steve Nash apparently has signed a lifetime training and personal services deal with Beelzebub Sports Marketing — he's baaaaaa-aaaack, doing his thing at MVP caliber. Jason Richardson is the king of the universe sneaking out on breaks, Amar'e has been back in form, and if you give this team open 3s, they will bury them and you. Still, with nice guy/pussyboy Channing Frye as their nominal "Center," it's hard to see this track squad going anywhere slogging through the grind 'em out halfcourt sets of the playoffs. Then again, they'll get Robin Lopez back, so maybe that's moot. A tough opening schedule has been overcome with an astonishingly fast start, but look for the Suns to falter as the rest of the league starts to figure out their D'Antonian tricks.

 

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4. Portland Trailblazers (7-3).

Key victories: Home vs. Houston; Home vs. San Antonio.

All losses: Home vs. Denver; At Houston; Home vs. Atlanta.

Who they're missing: Nicolas Batum (Starting Wing). **ADDENDA (11/14): Travis Outlaw (backup 3/4).

Comments: The Blazers now have the longest current winning streak in the NBA, undefeated since Brandon Roy was moved to Small Forward. Nevertheless, this is a transitional lineup and the Blazers will remain a midlevel playoff team until they can get the final lineup established and clicking and demonstrate that they can beat good teams on the road. Probably the deepest team in the West, 13 guys on the roster that can play, Portland has the potential to survive back-to-backs more effectively than any of their peers. Brandon Roy has taken half a step back so far this year, but Greg Oden is emerging as the premiere defensive Center in the Western Conference and LaMarcus Aldridge has Portland fans saying, "Chris Bosh, who?" The Blazers match up with the Lakers better than any other team in the West and it would not be a surprise to see that as the WCF matchup this season if Portland figures out how to dodge the Nuggets.

 

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5. Dallas Mavericks (6-3).

Key victories: At LA Lakers; Home vs. Utah; Home vs. Toronto; Home vs. Houston.

All losses: Home vs. Washington; At New Orleans; At San Antonio.

Who they're missing: Nobody. ** ADDENDA (11/14): Josh Howard (starting Wing).

Comments: If the Lakers are Kobe-centric, the Dallas Mavericks live and die with the performance of the Large German Man. The freakishly good Dirk Nowitzki has already singlehandedly willed his team to victory against Utah and has been racking up points and rebounds at his usual superstar clip (25.8 and over 9, respectively). Jason Kidd is superannuated, but the team has been getting terrific performances out of Jason Terry and decent output from newcomer Shawn Marion. With the return of Josh Howard, the Mavs are starting to look like a decently-stacked playoff team. When they get hot they can beat anyone, but the season all depends on Dirk for them. Stop him and you stop them.

 

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6. San Antonio Spurs (4-3).

Key victories: Home vs. Toronto; Home vs. Dallas.

All losses: At Chicago; At Utah; At Portland.

Who they're missing: Tony Parker (starting PG); Tim Duncan (starting Big).

Comments: The most surprising thing about the Spurs this year is that they didn't fold like an accordian getting run over by a dumptruck when Tony Parker went down with a sprained ankle and Grandpa Bankshot missed action due to chronic oldness. The addition of Richard Jefferson has paid dividends and Manu Ginobili has demonstrated the stupidity of opposing coaches who fail to guard Manu Ginobili. Tony Parker is the catalyst for this team, that much is clear. It is also clear that there is no way that Grandpa Bankshot is going to be able to play an 82 game schedule. Think of him as a rather less mobile Shaquille O'Neal, who is also less intimidating. But he can still knock down that 12 footer off the glass. He can hit that shot with the off-hand, with his eyes closed, standing on one foot, while humming Michael Jackson songs. If H-O-R-S-E ever becomes a professional sport, look for Tim Duncan to extend his career by another 23 seasons.

 

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7. Houston Rockets (5-4).

Key victories: Home vs. Portland; At Utah.

All losses: At Portland; At LA Lakers; At Dallas; At Sacramento.

Who they're missing: Tracy McGrady (starting Wing); Yao Ming (starting Big).

Comments: The Rockets are like a dozen harmony singers, all missing their lead vocalist. They're Gladys Knight and the Pips without Gladys Knight... (Who the hell wants to pay money to watch The Pips?) A team with former Laker Trevor Ariza (19.4 pts.) and Aaron Brooks (16.7 pts.) as its main scoring threats is clearly missing pieces in a big way. Nevertheless, the Rockets have shown themselves to be a playoff-worthy team by sticking with the system, defending like their lives depend upon it, and playing ball together. The whole truly is greater than the sum of the parts with this club — in some ways they are the exact inverse of the Memphis Grizzlies. But with Yao Ming out for the year with chronic foot problems and Tracy McGrady maybe perhaps hopefully coming back from microfracture surgery (or not), it's hard to envision much more for the Rockets than a 5 game exit from the first round of the playoffs this season. However, watch out for GM Daryl Morey — he's a tricky son of a bitch and he still has time...

 

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8. Utah Jazz (4-5).

Key victories: Home vs. San Antonio.

All losses: At Denver; Home vs. Houston; At Dallas; Home vs. Sacramento; At Boston.

Who they're missing: Nobody.

Comments: The Utah Jazz are unquestionably the one team of the Top 8 most likely to implode. They are a small market franchise deep in Luxury Tax Hell and desperately needing to make one of their top offensive threats, Carlos Boozer, go someplace else for pennies on the dollar before the trade deadline. Their decision to match Portland's offer for the services of Paul Millsap is looking questionable. They have looked very beatable even at home this season (dropping a game to Sacramento, no less) and they've been manic-depressive on other nights, either playing lights-out or appearing to be in need of a visit to the Wizard of Oz for additional dollops of heart, brains, and courage. Center Mehmet Okur is a jumpshooter, which is what you don't want your starting Center to be, but Deron Williams is a legit All-Star and as long as they're still paying Carlos Boozer, they can beat anybody on any given night. Still, there is a feeling of dread among the team's fans, as if the submarine is starting to spring high-pressure leaks at the joints...

 

The Rest of the West:

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-4). Young guns need bigs. If KD gets hot, they could sneak into the playoffs...

10. Golden State Warriors (3-5). Young guns need bigs...

11. Los Angeles Clippers (3-7). No Blake, no cake. They'll need a major turnaround to get into the post-season...

12. Sacramento Kings (5-4). Congratulations due for winning record for these overachievers...

13. New Orleans Hornets (3-7). The biggest Louisiana disaster since Katrina...

14. Memphis Grizzlies (1-8). A fish rots from the head and this sure is one stinky fish...

15. Minnesota Timberwolves (1-9). More chances to draft elite PG prospects coming...

Okay, that's enough of that nonsense.

I said my piece about the Lakers-Nuggets game at the top, here's the Popcorn Machine GAME FLOW SUMMARY if you wanna take a look-see:

Observation 1: Holy shit, what a 3rd Quarter — runs of 10-0 and 17-4 for the Nuggets. Ballgame!

Observation 2: I have a theory that the moment Adam Morrison enters the game, the contest is over one way or the other and that normal life can resume. That happened to open the 4h Quarter last night. The Worst Player in the NBA scored 2 points on 1-for-5 shooting and was Minus-3 in 15 full minutes of action. Not that anybody's counting.

Observation 3: The wheels fell off the cart with the Laker starters on the floor. That's show biz.

 

Now, forward and onward for the real point of this blabberjabber festival, a carefully selected sampling of the gloating and taunting of Denver's journalists and blogalists...

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Denver Stiffs Game Day Open Thread

As long as either Bynum or Gasol is hurt, Lakers are very mortal
If they're both healthy for the playoffs (hardly a sure thing, given their histories), it's gonna be tough.

posted by "CraftyB" on Nov 13, 2009 9:28 PM PST


I want them at 100% when we beat them this year.

posted by "PosterNutbag" on Nov 13, 2009 9:29 PM PST

 

(2)

Nuggets Earn Playoff Payback in Resounding 105-79 Win against Lakers

by Benjamin Hochman, Denver Post

On three straight possessions, Denver's J.R. Smith splashed two 3s and swooshed down court for a layup, but it was Smith's next play that had coach George Karl clapping furiously like he was about to scream "Tu-lo!"

Late in Friday night's third quarter — a third quarter we'll talk about for months — Smith drew a courageous charge deep in the paint, a play that was the quintessence of the quarter.

Up just two points at halftime, the Nuggets outscored the defending champion Lakers 29-8 in the third, breezing to a 105-79 victory at the Pepsi Center.

"I think it was the best quarter I've seen our team play against a special team, maybe since I've been in Denver," said Karl. "It was intense, focused, disciplined, and the offense rewarded the defense by converting plays."

It was Leavenworth lockdown. The Lakers (7-2) looked like the Clippers, shooting 4-for-20 in the quarter, while guys such as Arron Afflalo and Kenyon Martin roughed up the Lakers physically and psychologically. * * *

It's just one game — Pau Gasol was injured and the Lakers were on the second game of a back-to-back, but the game can surely be seen as a statement: The Nuggets want to beat L.A., a lot.

"Hopefully, it sends a big message not just to the Lakers but to the whole NBA — we're a legit team," Anthony said. * * *

 

(3)

Two Ways to Interpret a Great Victory...

by Andrew Feinstein, Denver Stiffs (SBN)

After drubbing the Lakers by 26 points tonight, the Nuggets and their fans have every reason to be elated. But let's not read too much into this well played victory.

By getting their asses kicked in Denver tonight, the Lakers validated all of my complaints about the Nuggets onerous schedule featuring 22 back-to-back games. It may sound like an old gambler's cliche, but having to go on the road against a great home team for the second of a back-to-back affair is almost a guaranteed loss (unless you're the Nuggets going into Portland, of course...hey-ohhhhh!).

But just like I've been saying since the season started, even among great home teams some back-to-backs are tougher than others. But don't ask me, ask a true expert. When I had lunch with George Karl for our interview on Monday * * *, Karl made it clear that the worst back-to-back in the NBA is playing an 8:30 national TV game one night and then having to play at Denver or at Utah the following night.

In other words, the mighty Lakers fell victim to tough scheduling as much as a spirited Nuggets effort, which leaves us two ways to interpret this victory.

On the one hand, you might argue that this was a true statement game that put the entire NBA on notice that the Nuggets mean business at home. Even though most people expected the Lakers to lose (the Vegas line was Denver -2...not that I cared or anything), no one expected them to get shellacked by 26.

On the other hand, you could argue that having no Pau Gasol and having played late last night did the Lakers in before the game even started, and therefore this game means very little in the grand scheme of things. * * *

The [reality] lies somewhere in the middle. The Nuggets showed the Lakers tonight that whatever fear or intimidation factor that once existed when facing the Lakers has all but evaporated. But both teams clearly knew this wasn't a fair fight and a more interpretation-worthy duel is sure to come down the road. * * *

 

(4)

AAA: Anatomy of Absolute Annihilation

by Nick Sclafani, The Nugg Doctor (Bloguin)

(Denver-CO) If the Denver Nuggets could play like they did last night against the Lakers in their, 105-79, dolly mopping of the defending champs every night the Mile High City will be enjoying their first NBA title in about seven months. I'm even sure how to describe last night's win other than perhaps it being the best Nuggets game I've even seen in my 27 years of watching Nuggets basketball. Seriously.  * * *

Arron Afflalo - First things first, "Double A" did an absolutely marvelous job on Kobe Bryant defensively. He forced Kobe into tough shot after tough shot last night mainly because of doing his work before Kobe even got the ball. Afflalo was keeping Bryant as far from the goal as possible so when he did get the basketball he wasn't able to just make one quick move and get to the rim. This caused Kobe to take nearly impossible turnaround fade-away jump shots in the first half (some of which he made because he is Kobe), but for Bryant to have 19 points at the half in the manner he scored them is something the Nuggets could easily accept. Kudos for a job well done defensively on a nearly indefensible player individually, and to the Nuggets for collectively holding a frustrated Kobe Bryant scoreless in the second half.

Chauncey Billups - Mr. Big Shot didn't need to be as he was getting everyone involved offensively via heady passes. * * *

Carmelo Anthony - * * * I personally thought ‘Melo played some of his best defense that we've seen in his entire six-year tenure in Denver in last nights game. He had three steals, handed out a couple of assists, and pulled four boards, but what's more important than the raw numbers ‘Melo accumulated is the numbers that he didn't allow. Ron Artest finished with only eleven points in 25 minutes and backup small forwards Luke Walton and Adam Morrison combined for a paltry four points. * * *

Kenyon Martin - Kmart elevated his game against the Lakers and supplied the defensive toughness Denver so desperately needs right from the opening tip. * * *

Nene - Big Brazil might have the most unassuming performance in last night's game, but nevertheless still played great. He had a huge (pardon the pun) defensive assignment in Andrew Bynum and for the most part did an admirable job with the biggest seven-footer in the league. Let's face it, Andrew Bynum is a force of nature with what seem to be go-go-gadget arms and a nice touch offensively around the basket, but Nene played smart defense — knowing when to foul and when to concede — and countered Bynum's 19 points and 15 rebounds with 13 points, six rebounds, and four assists. * * *

Now, it's important to remember that in the NBA no loss is as bad as it seems and no win is as great as it is remembered, but with that being said I think this could be a signature win for the Nuggets and one that propels this team through the next leg of their schedule.

 

(5)

Most Impressive

posted by "Deternice" to Nuggets Talk message board

*  *  * I was impressed with our team's defense. Kobe may have been 2-10 against Afflalo and 5-7 against everyone else, but the funny thing about it is everybody that guarded him played good defense on him. He got a few good looks because of switches and JR falling asleep like 2 times, but everyone played good defense on him. However I have to give Afflalo his own credit. I've always said if someone gets it through their mind to not jump on Kobe's pumpfakes, they'll do a good job on him. Kobe just couldn't get AA to jump and that made Kobe's job a lot more difficult.

That was such a great win. I was most impressed with is Melo. He picked up 3 early fouls, but he seemed determined to not let Artest get the upperhand on him. *  *  *  The 2nd half, we saw the MVP Melo that we saw in the first 3 games and even the crowd gave Carmelo his first "MVP" chant. His defense was phenomenal. Not to overrate his impact on the game last night, but while AA defense on Kobe was great, I think Melo's defense won us that game. I swear it was like I was watching Champ Bailey out there. Carmelo was just picking off or deflecting everything, just covering so much ground, and even Mark Jackson singled out the defense Carmelo was playing. I don't care about Melo stats, if he only gets 25 ppg and can play defense like that, I'll be satisfied.

The bench was great. I know a lot of people want JR starting, but I'm with Karl and Jackson on this one. Leave JR on the bench and have him get most of his minutes with Lawson. That duo is just unbelievable. They can get to the rim at will, make the 3 point shot, bring energy, and do whatever is needed of them. We must have the most explosive 1-2 punch off the bench in the league. Words can't even describe my reaction to Lawson's dunk on Benga. I found it funny how when Lawson went back to the hole, Benga made it his duty to knock the ball as far as he can

This was a great win. You can tell the Nuggets were up for this game as even when we were losing it was just so much energy on our team. While this win was great, we all know that this was without Gasol. His presence makes the Lakers much better than they are right now. But in basketball it doesn't matter who the opponent is, you can only play who the coach put on the floor, and we did a great job against the Lakers squad.

8-2 looks so much better than 7-3, but I can deal with it. With our easy games coming up, I'll be pissed if we lose more than 1 more game this month and we shouldn't lose any.

 

(6)

Five Things Stood Out

by MHZ, RealGM Nuggets message board

This was a game that the Nuggets needed for their psyche — it mattered a lot more for Denver than it did LA. Second of a B2B, no Gasol, no excuses to lose this one if you think you can compete in the playoffs. Incredible third quarter.

Five things that stood out:

1. AA on Kobe. Kobe's going to get his, but don't give him a ton of cheap foul shots, and make him hit tough jumpers if he's scoring. That's what AA did. He didn't go for lift fakes either. Great job.

2. Melo in the third. Playing against the Lakers brings out the best in Melo, for sure. It's a shame he got a BS foul or two in the first half.

3. Lawson. God, I love that draft pick. I knew it was good when it happened, but who would have thought he'd be paying off so much this early.

4. K-Mart/Nene/Birdman. I love the intensity tonight. The Nuggets need to stand up for themselves, not in a bitch at the refs type of way, but a physical, not backing down type of way. The bigs stood up for themselves tonight.

5. AC. This is the happiest I've been with AC in two seasons. 0 minutes.

 

(7)

Whoooooosh!!!

 

The Bottom LIne:

1. A Third Quarter that will live in Denver Nuggets history!

2. How about that Afflalo guy???

3. Hey Mbenga, did you get a taste of 5'9" Ty Lawson's ass flying by your face to the rack?

4. It was a back-to-back, sure, but we needed this one...

5. Go ahead and get your Pau back. We'll still kick your asses!