The Los Angeles Lakers are set to take on the Denver Nuggets for their second game of the first round series of the Western Conference playoffs.
Last time these two met (Sunday), the Lakers completely dominated Denver, wire-to-wire, exploiting match-up advantages and letting Andrew Bynum exploit whoever the hell he wanted to exploit. The win was one of the best we’ve seen from L.A. this season, and we expect them to keep it up, because it just looked so damn easy.
Of course, we don’t know if they’ll keep it up. All season, the Lakers have followed up good wins with really, really ugly losses to terrible teams. Their confidence seems to get in the way of their performance against teams any squad would sleep on.
But this is the postseason now, and a 103-88 win over Denver means absolutely nothing in terms of momentum. If anything, the Denver Nuggets will come out playing harder, rotating faster, and driving in the paint more often.
Nuggets’ head coach George Karl is a hell of a lead man, and we expect nothing from him except solid adjustments. This means attempting to space out the floor by playing small ball — in order to draw out Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol from the paint and let their quick wings and guards penetrate a little easier — while playing much more physical defense against L.A. Last game, the Nuggets couldn’t keep up with the ball rotation nor the inside game of Gasol and Bynum (although they didn’t exactly play inside the paint all that often).
What that means is that the Lakers need just as much tenacity from their bigs (every Laker fan can tell you just how difficult that is, with Andrew Bynum playing the pivot) as they had on Sunday.
The Lakers’ best chance of winning is to play smart and keep the ball moving (even though Kobe took a ton of shots again, quite a few were open spot-up jumpers off of off-ball screens) while banging inside to collapse Denver’s defense.
If you could sum up what the Lakers have to do to go back to Denver up 2-0 in the series in one sentence, it’s this: Don’t change a damn thing. Against this Nuggets’ team, which seems to lack offensive savvy when they can’t slash to the basket comfortably or head up on fastbreaks, playing the way we did on Sunday will beat them by double digits nine times out of ten. When Andrew Bynum plays with conviction on defense while being incredibly efficient on offense, it raises the level of play from Pau Gasol — making it easier for him to play help defense in case of a bailout pass, or to grab rebounds, when Bynum goes up for a block — and the perimeter players, which won’t be too prone to collapse and leave open shooters when they get beat off the dribble.
If we’re lucky, the Lakers go against the grain — by Laker standards, I mean — and play consistently and as they should for more than a Sunday afternoon. It would be nice to not have to suffer a heart attack during the first series of these playoffs.