Welcome to our first ever NBA Playoff Blogger Faceoff, where we pit our favorite team-related writers against each other to let them tell why the teams they represent will win their first round matchups. We gave them no set format, no style guide – we just told them to do their thing. Check it out and join in the debate in the comments section.
Next up: Lakers vs. Nuggets
WHY THE LAKERS WILL WIN
Written by Kurt of Forum Blue & Gold
Denver is playing the best basketball it has in decades and any Lakers fan who dismisses Chauncey Billups needs to go back and live through the 2004 NBA Finals again. This is not your father’s Denver Nuggets.
That said, the NBA is all about matchups, and in a lot of ways this is a better matchup for the Lakers than Houston. The first key will be Andrew Bynum, who needs to play like the game seven Bynum all series long. And he needs to stay out of foul trouble. When he is in, he has a length and size advantage that has bothered Nene in the past. More importantly, it forced Kenyon Martin onto Pau Gasol and while Martin will take out his frustrations with Mark Cuban on Gasol. Pau has a considerable size advantage and will get his points in this matchup.
Another key — the Nuggets foul a lot. The Lakers in general — and Kobe in particular — thrive against teams that send them to the line. Plus, if the Nuggets are in foul trouble they do not have a deep front line of good defenders to deal with Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom.
Dahntay Jones is not the kind of defender that slows Kobe — he relies more on athleticism than strength (ala Shane Battier). But look for the Nuggets to give Kobe his and not let the other Lakers step up.
The Lakers need to keep Melo in check and attack, and they will be just fine.
WHY THE NUGGETS WILL WIN
By Nick Sclafani of Nugg Doctor
If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.
The Lakers were the best in the West all season long. I’m actually happy that L.A. beat the Rockets, because I really didn’t want to play a quasi-healthy Houston team. Remember what the Nuggets goal is here – it’s not just to make it to the Western Conference Finals. It’s to win a championship. A trip to the Finals might have been easier against Houston, but it wouldn’t do as much for the Nuggets’ long-term as a win over L.A. would.
The time that Denver got off while the other series was going seven games was beneficial. I’m not worried about the Nuggets’ focus. Carmelo had a little bit of a tweaked groin, so it’s good that he’s gotten some time to let that heal. His groin is good now. In addition to that, here’s some more insider news. I was at the Pepsi Center this weekend – the place was buzzing this as Carmelo, J.R., Bird and K-Mart came back into a private gym on Saturday night at 5 p.m. to get an extra workout in. I actually heard them talking about strategy – “If Houston wins, we’ll do this, If L.A. wins, here’s how we’re going to deal with Pau…”
Even if he wasn’t there at that workout, I credit that sort of thing to Chauncey. He’s changed the culture of this organization at every level with his professionalism and his flat-out disregard for the Nuggets of old. And because his brand of basketball has proven to be successful in Detroit, everyone else has taken stock in it. But more than any other player, the one guy who has really benefited from Chauncey is J.R. Instead of pulling up from all over the court at any point in time, he’s exercising discretion, and getting his butt down to play defense. I’d go a step further and say that Kenyon Martin is another guy who realizes that this might be one of his last chances. He’s not going to be playing for another six or seven years. He’s got three or four good ones – this might just be his chance.
Obviously Kobe Bryant is a bad, bad man. As we saw in the Dallas series with Dirk playing out of his mind, I think we’re OK with one player scoring 35 points per game. But I worry about the Lakers’ size – Pau at 7-feet, Bynum at 7-and-change, Lamar Odom at 6-10. That’s the one thing about Denver –we’re a little bit undersized. L.A. has size at every position.
If there’s any kind of X factor out there it’s that the Nuggets don’t need one player to have a tremendous game. Being 8-2 in the post-season, there were a lot of games when Carmelo had 20, Chauncey had 20 and other guys stepped up too. This is a very well-rounded team. The rest of the team realizes that if Carmelo isn’t going to have a big game, they’ve all got to have a good game.
Ultimately, it all relates back to Chauncey. Last year, AI and ‘Melo averaged over 52 points per game. But defensive teams put the clamps on those two guys and no one else stepped up. This year we have the pieces and the team mentality to get it done, no matter who we’re playing.