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Game 1 Preview — The View from Denver...

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Hey, I just heard the NBA season isn't over yet...

Right on!

In fact, it seems that there's gonna be a little rumble at Staples Center in Los Angeles this evening at 6:00 pm Pacific, with the Denver Nuggets the guests of the hour in Lakerland.

I think maybe I should watch that...

Here's what the Denver media sorts have to say about the game:

(1)

Lakers' Size Figures to Give Nuggets Fits

by Jim Armstrong, Denver Post

* * *
Which team, the Rockets or Lakers, do the Nuggets better match up with?

That would be the Rockets. The Lakers?

They're not just a better team than the Nuggets. They're a much tougher matchup, given the Nuggets' size and strengths.

There's a reason Carmelo Anthony struggled to score against the Lakers. And there's a reason the Lakers, for the most part, dominated the Nuggets during the season.

The Lakers are much bigger than the Nuggets. Karl, by his own admission, doesn't have a big team. And if Chris Andersen or Nene is in foul trouble, the Nuggets shrink even more.

Anthony is 6-foot-8, maybe. Kenyon Martin is 6-9, and Nene is closer to 6-10 than his listed 6-11. They'll be competing against a frontcourt that includes two 7-footers in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and a 6-11 backup in Lamar Odom.

That makes the Western Conference finals a tall order for the Nuggets, literally and figuratively. They're playing great basketball, having own 18 of their last 27 games by double digits, but their toughest challenge of all starts Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Click on through for more stuff...

Click on the headlines to read the full stories...

(2)

Nuggets Look Lost in L.A.

by Woody Page, Denver Post

The Nuggets must control The Can and refuse to be Stapled.

What a shocking development. The Nuggets will play the Lakers, who clinched their series by throwing a shutout at the Rockets in the first five minutes Sunday.

At home, the Nuggets have won 16 in a row (including six in the playoffs) since losing to Houston on March 9, and 19-of-20 (including a 90-79 victory over the Lakers) during a 78-day span.

In the 10-year history of the Staples Center, the Nuggets haven't been so good in L.A.

They have a 2-17 record in the regular season and are 0-2 in the postseason against the Lakers at the office supply store arena.

But that's not quite all. The Nuggets also have to play in downtown Los Angeles against the Clippers - and have won only 7-of-19 regular-season games and 0-of-3 playoff games.

The Nuggets are 9-41 there overall. They have been Staples- gunned. * * *


(3)

Nuggets Refreshed, Ready but Will They Be Rusty?

by Arnie Stapleton, Denver Post

DENVER-The Denver Nuggets are rested and ready.

Will they also be rusty?

The Nuggets took care of Dallas in five games, wrapping up their second-round series Wednesday night, then taking a day off before spending three straight days working out and wondering.

They figured the Los Angeles Lakers would beat the Houston Rockets-although they didn't think it would take seven games. So, they've been preparing for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol all along with a Plan B in their back pockets just case the Rockets pulled off a shocker.

The Nuggets, who are making their first trip to the Western Conference Finals since 1985, quickly ditched their backup plans Sunday when the Lakers jumped to an early lead over the Rockets and cruised to an 89-70 victory at the Staples Center.

"Surprise. Surprise," Chauncey Billups said. "Of course, Houston had a chance. They played a great series. But like everybody else we kind of figured L.A. would win at home."

After all, the Nuggets know just how tough the Lakers are at the Staples Center, where coach George Karl hasn't won since taking over as Denver's coach midway through the 2004-05 season.

The Nuggets have gone 1-10 against L.A. the last two seasons, including a four-game sweep in the first round of last year's playoffs, when Denver became the first 50-win team in league history to get swept in the first round.

Behind Billups, however, they're supremely confident they can get past the Lakers and into their first NBA Finals since joining the league in 1976.

"Everything is different," Carmelo Anthony said. "We played the Lakers four times this regular season. But that's out the window. It starts Tuesday. We're going to go out there and compete. We're going to go out and compete and try to win the hustle game and try to be a little physical and see what happens." * * *


(4)

WCF Preview: Nuggets vs. Lakers

by Nate Timmons, Pickaxe and Roll

* * *
It is no secret that the Nuggets faced two great matchups in the first two rounds of these playoffs. Denver plays jump shooting teams very well and that is just what the Hornets and Mavericks are and the Nuggets defense helped steer them into living on the perimeter. It'll be key for the Nuggets to try to force the Lakers to be a jump shooting team as well ... no easy task when you're facing multiple seven-footers.

The Lakers will want to live in the paint and hit timely three-pointers after establishing their inside game. Make no mistake ... the Lakers will attack the Nuggets bigs all series long and staying out of foul trouble will be key for Denver's big men: Kenyon Martin, Nene, and Chris Andersen. * * *

Predictions:

The chinks in the Lakers armor [are] apparent ... they are a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Some games they look like the team that won 65 regular season games and other nights they look like they should be counting their ping-pong balls.

The Nuggets are peaking and gelling at just the right time, they are well rested, have loads of firepower on offense, and play physical defense.

After the Lakers defeated the Houston Rockets ESPN displayed the stat that Los Angeles is 13-1 all-time in Game 7's ... luckily for the Nuggets they will not need to win that final game in L.A. Nuggets in 6.


(5)

Denver Nuggets/Los Angeles Lakers - Initial Thoughts

by Jeremy, Roundball Mining Co.

So far in the 2009 NBA Playoffs the Nuggets have only had to deal with players like Tyson Chandler, Hilton Armstrong, Erick Damiper, Ryan Hollins and Brandon Bass.

Not an overly impressive group, eh?

Next up is Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

If that did not get your attention, I do not know what will. I guarantee those two have the attention of the Nuggets' scouts, coaches and players. The interior beef that the Los Angeles Lakers bring to the table is quite imposing, especially compared to the parade of overmatched stiffs the Nuggets have battled with in the paint over the first two rounds. Dirk Nowitzki proved to be too much for the Nuggets bigs to handle on their own, but on his own he falls short of the difficulty the Nuggets could, and probably will, have with Gasol and Bynum.

Watching bits and pieces of the Houston Rockets/L.A. Lakers conference semifinal series the one thing that I kept clinging to was Bynum appeared to be either rusty or disinterested. Bynum's performance in game seven today was disconcerting because he was clearly not rusty or disinterested. If he plays that way against Denver, the Nuggets will be in trouble.

You can talk about Kobe Bryant all you want, the Nuggets biggest concern should be how they can handle Bynum and Gasol. With the starters on the floor Kenyon Martin is going to have to guard one of them and he has a serious length disadvantage against both. Most likely Kenyon will be guarding Gasol and for all his defensive desire and talents he is in a big hole trying to cover Gasol. Pau can shoot his 15-18 foot set shot over Kenyon at will and when he goes into the post his jump hook will be impossible for Kenyon to stop.

Nene is relatively better equipped to cover Bynum than Kenyon is for guarding Gasol, but Bynum still has a significant length and weight advantage over Nene. On the other hand, Nene has done a decent job against Gasol in the past so will Denver choose to stick Kenyon on Bynum and double the heck out of him should he get the ball in the post thus creating one major mismatch instead of two less than desirable matchups?

When Chris Andersen comes off the bench things do not get much better. Andersen is physically a better matchup on Gasol than Kenyon, but his desire to block shots plays right into one of Gasol's greatest strengths, and that is offensive rebounding. When Andersen leaves Pau to go for a block he better get it or else Pau is converting the miss. * * *

[One] advantage for the Nuggets is Los Angeles does not have anyone who can cover J.R. Smith. Even Kobe will be hard pressed to contain Smith's ability to penetrate. Sasha Vujacic will be a pest, and it will be important for J.R. to not get baited into giving him a cheap shot, even though we all know Vujacic deserves it. Sasha will get up in J.R.'s personal space, but Smith is too quick for him and should be able to blow by him at will. Smith was one of two Nuggets to have a nice series last season and there is no reason not to expect him to do it again.

Unlike J.R., Carmelo has not done very well against the Lakers and over the next few days you will hear a lot of talk about how the Lakers do a great job of shutting Carmleo down. They certainly have had his number in the past and they completely flustered him in the playoffs last season. This season Carmelo only averaged 14.5 points per game on only 33% shooting. I just finished watching the final matchup of the season between the Nuggets and Lakers, the previously mentioned game 80 in L.A. which the Lakers won 116-102, and Carmelo played very well on offense scoring 23 points on 8-16 shooting. *  *  *


(6)

Western Conference Finals Preview

by Johnny Domenico, Nuggets' Nuggetz

This is how it should be.

As nice as it would have been to take on a depleted Rockets team, keep home-court advantage and sweep through the Western Conference Playoffs as the favorite in every round, this is the match-up the Nuggets needed in order to be taken serious as a contender.

Much has been said of Denver's easy path to Round 3 of the 2009 Playoffs, and about how they have yet to really deal with any adversity, but I think that's more due to the performance of the Nuggets rather than the shortcomings of their opponents.

New Orleans was clearly not playing great hoops in the first round, but I would certainly take them in a 7-game series with the tanking Jazz team that took on the Lakers in Round 1. Dallas didn't look up to the challenge against Denver, but had been playing their best ball of the season leading up and in to their first round victory over San Antonio. There's no question in my mind that Dallas would have been able to knock off the McGrady and Yao-less Rockets in less than the 7 games it took L.A. * * *

My biggest worry in the playoffs has been how the Nuggets will respond to their continuing success. All season long, they've been able to play the "Nobody Believes In Us" card, and matching up with the Lakers will allow that to continue for a little while longer.

Denver only managed one victory over L.A. in the regular season, but if you look at the line-ups in each of the 4 games, you'll see that one team or the other had somebody significant missing in each game. The season-opener came before the Billups trade and before Dahntay Jones had made his way into the starting lineup; the second game featured Vlad Radmonovic starting for LA and Birdman missing the game for Denver; game 3, Denver's dominating victory came with Bynum sitting out and the final regular season game was played without Kenyon Martin, who is unquestionably the Nuggets' defensive spark plug.

There's no more time for excuses now. It doesn't matter who's hurt, who's tired, who got the better match-ups and who didn't, it's all about showing it on the court. * * *

Nuggets in 6.

 

(7)

When the facts change, I change my mind (Nuggets/Lakers Series Preview mulligan)...

by DenverStiffs, DenverStiffs.com

I've taken a lot of criticism today for picking the Lakers to beat our Nuggets in seven games, and that criticism is completely justified. A lot of this blog's readers have made their points known in the comments of the series preview, although they've been remarkably polite about it. Others have emailed me with much more anger. And a few have called to blast me in person.

While the facts haven't necessarily changed since making my prediction yesterday, I've revisited the facts that I should have focused on initially and thus, I have changed my mind. * * *

First off, as loyal Denver Stiffs reader "Bee" aptly pointed out in the comments section, I'm reading too much into the Nuggets/Lakers April 9th matchup. Even though the Nuggets entered that game having won eight straight and 13 of 14 games, they weren't playing nearly as good of basketball as they're playing now. * * *

Second, as my friend (and Lakers fan) Adam pointed out to me at lunch today, in Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets have two of the three best players in this series. And as I mentioned in my initial series preview, one of those two players - Chauncey - has won a championship ring more recently than Kobe Bryant has. And while we're on the topic of Chauncey, as good as he was during the regular season, he's been even more potent in the offseason, averaging 22.1 ppg on 49.2% shooting to go along with 7.3 apg and just 1.7 turnovers per game, compared to regular season averages of 17.9 ppg on 42% shooting, 6.4 apg and 2.3 turnovers per game. * * *

Third, ESPN.com's John Hollinger does a great job in his breakdown of the Western Conference Finals explaining how the Lakers peaked early but how the Nuggets have basically played them even since the All-Star Break. And through the postseason thus far, it hasn't even been close. While the Lakers struggled mightily against a CBA-caliber Rockets team, the Nuggets would have swept a red hot Mavericks team had Dirk Nowitzki not put on one of his best ever playoff performances in Game 4 at Dallas.

Fourth, back to that whole "emphasis on past results" thing. Sports can be a lot like the stock market or roulette - i.e. just because something happened over and over again in the past (like the Nuggets losing 10 of their last 11 to the Lakers), doesn't mean it's determined to happen again in the present/future. And presently, the Nuggets are not only playing the best basketball in the NBA but they're well rested to boot. * * *

Fifth, if you look historically at who wins NBA titles, it's not just the hottest team but the deepest and toughest team with the most personality and best off-the-court camaraderie (hence why Boston marched all the way to the championship last year). The Nuggets have all five traits in their favor against the Lakers: they're hotter, deeper, tougher, have more personality and genuinely care about each other more than the Lakers do. While the Lakers are led by a gene-pool-lottery-winning prima dona, a soft power forward who gave up on his previous team so he could be traded to a contender and a coach who inherited two different conference finals caliber teams each featuring the best player in the NBA, the Nuggets and their coach are a rag tag, tattooed (well, not the coach) band of former misfits and NBA castoffs who have more to prove and less to lose than their opponent. That's a very dangerous combination.

So if you'll kindly grant me a mulligan on my misguided prediction from earlier, I'm going with the Nuggets in six. * * *

 

(8)

Matchups

posted by "NuggetsAustralia" to NuggetsTalk messageboard

It's kind of ridiculous for Laker fans to go on about how Houston was just a 'bad matchup' for them and that the only teams that bother them in the slightest are those with lightning quick poing guards like Aaron Brooks. So we can't win the series because we don't have Aaron freaking Brooks??!! The guy is a second tier PG for god's sake.

Chauncey is still quicker than Fisher and he does a whole lot of other things better than Brooks. And did the Lakers not have a great size advantage against the towering 6-8 guys from the Rockets? What exactly did they do with that?

A lot of people are saying we don't match up well with their size - I personally think K-Mart, Nene and Birdman is a lot better than most teams could throw at them, and if you're saying the Lakers have a big frontcourt advantage, you're expecting Bynum to be a serious factor in the series. So far, there hasn't been much to suggest that that will be the case. If Nene can get a quick start on him in game one, Bynum will be riding the pine before he knows it.

Obviously I'm worried about Kobe and the fact that DJ will be totally exposed. GK needs to get JR in early and ideally give Balk some minutes but we all know that's not happening.

The Lakers will probably play up to the competition (although I hope not) but I think there's every reason to think the Nuggets can give this a real shake.

 

(9)

Nuggets Must Win in 6: It's their only chance

by Gil Whiteley, Denver Daily News

If the Denver Nuggets can't pull off this series against the Los Angeles Lakers in six games, they're not going to the big dance. Going into Los Angeles for a Game 7 would be a disaster, so pay attention, and here's how they can win the biggest series in Nuggets history.

First off, you can throw out the 3-1 regular season advantage the Lakers had over the Nuggets. In the first meeting, a 104-97 loss, Allen Iverson played his last game for the Nuggets, and Dahntay Jones hadn't been discovered on the end of the Nuggets bench. He got a DNPCD (Did Not Play Coaches Decision) for the game. This team now is completely different from the AI days.

In the second game, Chris "The Birdman" Andersen had a broken wing (rib) and did not play. Kenyon Martin didn't play in the last week of the season and missed the last game against the Lakers - a 116-102 loss for the Nuggets.
The only game the Nuggets were at full strength against the Lakers during the regular season was at the end of February, when the new-look Nuggets were starting their coming out party. They beat down the Lakers and held them to a mere 79 points while posting 90.

Those are the kind of games the Nuggets need to play in order to win this series. They have to hold the Lakers under 100 - they cannot out-score the Lakers in a run-and-gun series - and they must win this best-of-seven series on the defensive end of the court. They can't allow the Lakers to take them out of what they have now learned is their true strength.

Jones has to have a big series defensively and make Kobe's life miserable. I don't care if he has to foul out every game to do it. They will be switching defenders on and off Kobe, but Jones will draw the majority of the work. This is a must-win match-up.

It's going to be up to Martin, Nene and Andersen to shut down Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Lamar Odom will be coming off the bench, but a bad lower back has hampered him. Gasol is soft - no I'm not kidding. The Celtics slapped around Gasol in last year's finals. The Nuggets must also give him a case of the meek and milds. * * *

 

(10)

Wait and See — Nuggets can do it

by Woody Paige, Denver Post

The Nuggets have waited longer than any other city or franchise in the NBA today to reach the NBA Finals. They have been waiting 59 years.

The Nuggets and Melo and his lady La La go to La-La Land.

Will the Lakers leave Melo open, and will the Lakers' fans leave La La Vazquez alone? Will the Birdman fly? Will Mr. Big Shot make the very large shots? Attention, K-Mart Choppers. J.R. Swish, the Nuggets wish. Does Nene make the Lakers pay-pay? Is Dahntay Jones Denver's new Dante Bichette? Will A.C. be direct current?

It's the Chris Andersen stuff dreams are made of.

How do the Nuggets beat the Lakers?

Start by winning tonight's game in Los Angeles, that's what. The Nuggets are rested, ready and dedicated. The Lakers are coming off a tougher, longer, more tiring series.

Game 1 can be a bank heist. The Rockets stole the opening game at the Staples Center. The Nuggets are better than the Rockets. Therefore . . .

The energized Nuggets must jump on the Lakers early and often and put the Lakers back on their heels, the team's Achilles'. The Nuggets have to take Kobe Bryant away from his game in the first quarter and take the notoriously late-arriving L.A. fans out of the game before they enter the arena.

If the Nuggets eliminate the Lakers' home-court benefit from the start, then immediately go from underdogs to Rottweilers, the series will be on. * * *

 

(11)

Nuggets Making Their Mark in Ink: When it comes to body art, the Nuggets' locker room is like the Louvre. Here are some of the most meaningful tattoos for the Nuggets.

 [NO, I AM NOT MAKING THIS SHIT UP!!!  —timbo]

by Benjamin Hochman, Denver Post

Chris "Birdman" Andersen, one would suggest, earned his wings - but, truth is, he bought them. A dude named John Slaughter, a local tattoo artist whom Andersen trusts like one of his Nuggets teammates, is responsible for the flame-colored wings under Birdman's biceps, arguably the coolest tattoos on a team coated with them.

Slaughter inks "his heart and his soul" into each tattoo, Andersen said, as if the process were a spiritual ritual. In a way, it is. Slaughter is spellbound by tribes; his shop in Denver is filled with artifacts from Alaska to Peru to Indonesia. And annually, the white man drives seven hours to the South Dakota land of the Lakota Sioux, who historically tattooed themselves for entrance into the afterlife. On the reservation, Slaughter immerses himself in their four-day Sundance ceremony of praying, dancing, meditating, fasting and body-piercing.

Slaughter understands the link of tribes and tattoos. Sure enough, his shop is called Tribe Tattoo.

"Tattoos, for thousands of years, have been associated with tribes of people," the 37-year-old Slaughter said. "And throughout the NBA, we are the most-tattooed team. It says that they're pretty self-expressive.

"It's almost like every single tattoo is a stage or a level in life that you've accomplished or gotten through - and where you're headed next."

Slaughter's favorite team is headed to the Western Conference finals, for the first time since 1985. The Nuggets got there by embodying what is tattooed on their bodies.

"I think tattoos are a little bit from a culture of warriors," said Nuggets coach George Karl, who has considered but not taken the plunge of getting tattoos that match what his adult daughter and son wear. "I'm not comparing basketball players to warriors, but there's nature of competition that's always been compared to warriors. And I like symbolism." * * *

 

(12)

Denver Post Woody Paige Calls Lakers in 7 Games...

 

(13)

Denver Hypes Hoops Hopes

by the Denver Post

Want to get on the Nuggets bandwagon?

Meet Gov. Bill Ritter at 5 p.m. today on the west steps of the state Capitol, where he will be joined by the Denver Nuggets dancers and the team's mascot, Rocky.

Ritter will proclaim May as "Nuggets May-nia" month and order that the blue team flag be hoisted above the Capitol for the duration of the playoffs.

Earlier today, the Denver Public Works Department painted an 18-inch Nuggets blue stripe on Chopper Circle from Ninth to 12th streets.

City workers also stenciled in nine team logos. The "water-based paint is not permanent and will not harm the environment," Public Works said in a news release. * * *

 

(14)

WCF Game 1: Nuggets vs. Lakers (Preview & Thread)

by Nate Timmons, Pickaxe and Roll

* * *
We are less than 7 hours away from tipoff tonight and I'll offer my usual CB7 inspired keys to victory for the Nuggets:

1. Get off to a good start. Duh! After not playing for 6 days it's not known if Denver will be rusty ... a good start will answer that question immediately. As we saw in the Lakers vs. Rockets series ... L.A. is capable of starting off on fire and starting poorly. It'll be key for Denver to quiet the crowd by making some early shots to get their confidence going. The good news for Denver ... the game starts at 6:00 p.m. in L.A. so the usual casually late "L.A. fans" may not show up until halftime! I got jokes and jokes and jokes! (mind you they are not typically funny, but I'll be here all series.)

2. Cover the Lakers one-on-one and don't allow for the open three-pointers. I'll bet there will be roughly 5,437 instances where Ariza, Fisher, or Sasha "The Machine" will launch the long-ball while being wide open. Denver will sink down on defense and allow for the open looks to occur on the arc ... we've all seen it too many times to think it'll go away now. And out of those 5,437 instances there is a 100% chance that I'll be holding a bucket filled with water and a jellyfish as I sit and watch the games from my bathtub ... if the shot goes in- I dump the bucket onto myself and await the sting ... if the shot misses - I keep watching! (a Seven Pounds reference? ... of course we're going Hollywood!)

3. Defensive rebounds must be corralled. To allow the Lakers easy put-backs and second chance points will prove deadly. Denver must control the defensive boards. This means that the Birdman might just have to resist the urge to block every single shot. When the Bird goes for the block that'll open things up behind him and Pau lives for the easy put-back layup. Anyone notice that when Pau utilizes his 4 inch vertical and dunks the ball that he acts as if he's just posterized somebody? Rather funny to me. "AArrrrggg! I reached up and dunked it! Look out!!" Haha ...

4. Move the ball on offense. This has been the Nuggets recipe for success all season long. When the Nuggets are slashing, driving, and finding the open man they are playing at their best. If the Lakers can turn Denver into a one-on-one team that'll spell trouble. The key here is Melo ... when he gets the ball on the elbow we'll find out how the Lakers are going to try to cover him and then we'll see if Melo is holding the ball and settling for jumpers or if he'll find the slasher or take the ball inside himself, where he can either finish or dish off for an easy bucket.

5. J.R. Smith. It's my belief that J.R. will not only be asked to score, but he'll be asked to cover Kobe while both guys are on the floor. Kobe wont be getting much rest, so look for J.R. to shoulder more responsibility than he ever has for this Nuggets team (pull your britches up young fella (for you Mr. 5280.)) This could very well be a coming out party for Smith's maturity as he'll have the toughest assignment tonight against a top two player in the league.

6. Play loose, but stay focused. This Denver team loves to play with the lead and loves to have fun on the court. While every possession matters, Denver should not take that point too literally because if they do - then they'll play tight on offense, which is never a good thing. Enjoy the spotlight and play your game.

7. Chauncey Billups. This is where things could get very interesting tonight. If Phil Jackson wants to throw a major wrench in Denver's plans then he'll use Kobe Bryant to cover Chauncey Billups whenever J.R. Smith is not on the floor or maybe all night. Billups has been Denver's guiding light and has taken over on offense whenever he feels a lull from his teammates. Face it ... Derek Fisher can cover Dahntay Jones. Jones will not hurt the Lakers and Kobe's rest on the defensive end is not important since he's no longer asked to shoot 500 times a game. I'm very interested to see if Phil will bypass this option or not. If Kobe covers Billups ... then J.R. Smith must be brought into the game ASAP as the Lakers will be able to neutralize a great weapon in Billups with a great defensive player in Kobe. * * *

 

The Bottom Line:

1. Lakers won 3 of 4 in the regular season over the Nuggets — but those losses are explainable. The Nuggets haven't been able to win on the road in LA worth a crap — this is true. But it just takes ONE road win...

2. Nuggets biggest problem will be defending the bigs: Gasol and Odom mostly. And keeping that Kobe fellow contained would be nice, too.  But Denver has the deeper, hotter, better team...

3. Denver had better get the job done in 6 games, or they are in the shit in Game 7. That means they need to win Game 1, 2, or 5 in LA...