Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why the Nuggets can - and will - beat the Lake Show

So I’m posting this after the Lakers took the tight Game 1 victory last night, but I promise you, the majority of this was written beforehand; and though I’m fairly nervous that the Nuggets may have blown their one shot to win in L.A. because Chauncey forgot how to hit free throws, I stand behind everything. I’m still taking Denver in six, and as a quick aside, Cleveland in five.

Well, here we are. The Western Conference Finals of our dreams, the one everybody wanted. Well, not quite everybody. I don’t think Laker fans are thrilled about possibly getting knocked off their title plans by the team they absolutely punked just 13 months ago.

Look, the Lakers are darn good. Very talented. That is an awfully deep team, too; they don’t miss a beat when Odom, Walton, Vujacic, Farmar, Brown and Powell get minutes. Andrew Bynum’s health probably makes them that much better … depends if he decides to show up on any given night. Pau Gasol is the best pretty boy center in the Association, and I mean that in a good way. And Kobe is, well, still Kobe. Let’s just hope he’s not Doin’ Work all over the Nuggets in the series. By the way, is he allowed to visit Eagle when he comes here? Just askin’.

But something doesn’t smell right about Los Angeles. Mainly, in the point guard region; the armpit of the Lakers’ body of work. Literally, every time Derek Fisher takes a shot not from the corner, (postscript; obviously, he had the dagger last night. From his favorite spot. Where else?), I start to smile. You just know it’s probably not going in. And I’m not totally sold on Jordan Farmar yet. Definitely not sold on Shannon Brown.

Take a gander at the last nine NBA champs; they were captained by Rondo, Parker, Wade (basically ran that offense), Parker again, Billups, Parker once more, and three years of Kobe-Shaq in their primes. An older-than-fossils Fisher and the unproven Farmar doesn’t even come close to matching up to ANYONE on that list.

Another thing: remember how everyone had a lovefest over Roger Mason this year, and how much of an X-factor he was as a role player? Whatever happened to him? Oh, right, he came back down to earth. Who’s to say the same’s not happening to Trevor Ariza? And speaking of X-factors, apparently Andrew Bynum is going to step out of his Greg Oden shoes and into those of Shaq circa 1996. I’m actually surprised how much the Laker backers are counting on Bynum’s presence to knock off the Nuggets.

So the Lakers’ Western Conference title hopes rest with Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum? If that’s the case, I like Denver’s chances. As much as Birdman and Anthony Carter may contribute in their own way, nobody’s mistaking them for X-factors. At the end of the day, you need you best players to be your best players, particularly in basketball. The Nuggets only win this series if they get top performances from Carmelo, Chauncey and J.R. Plus the bigs gotta show up too.

Kobe said immediately after the Utah series, maturely and correctly, that LA had to solve its focus issues. What indicates to you that they did so in the Houston series? Seven games against a team so far inferior in talent, without its two best players and without a man taller than 6-foot-9 on the floor (when you yourself have two 7-footers and a long 6-10er with Odom)? The Lakers have now played 94 games this season; uh, if you don’t have an answer for focus or chemistry problems by now, it just ain’t happening.

One other dirty little truth, that I’m sure Bill Simmons would be quick to point out: Kobe played 103 games last season ending with the Finals, and Pau Gasol played 87. Then they each played eight games in the Olympics, finding themselves in the gold medal game there against each other. Now they’ve played 94 (Kobe) and 93 (Gasol) this year. So…since November 2007, a 19-month span, Kobe has logged 205 meaningful games, and Pau 188. Oh, and Kobe passed the 1,100 game mark in the NBA recently, which has been around the time NBA players begin declining. (Allen Iverson is still about a half-season away from the millennium mark, and look what’s happened to him. Just saying.) Playing six or seven games in the next two weeks, without ever more than one off-day in between each contest, and having to play three games at altitude? You’re telling me there’s NO chance a tired and getting older Kobe averages, I don’t know, 19 points or so this series?

I’m going Denver in 6. And this isn’t wishful thinking. I’ve strongly, truly, honestly believed since early in the second round that the Nuggets were a better team. Nothing since has persuaded me differently, so I’m sticking with it.


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