It hasn't been the most pleasant 2-day break for the Lakers (7-8) after falling back to sub .500 last Tuesday thanks to their most lackluster performance of the season against Indiana.
There were plenty of reasons as to why and how the purple and gold lost that game, but it's obvious the Lakers can't establish their identity without having everybody back, especially Steve Nash.
Without the 2-time MVP at the point, the Lakers had been relying on Kobe Bryant's ability to draw lots of attention from the defense to make plays for the rest of the team. So far, Kobe is averaging 4.9 assists but also 4.1 turnovers per game.
Say what you will about that particular stat. But make no mistake, that number is indicative of how much the Lakers miss Nash running the offense.
However, Mike D'Antoni isn't harping about all of the wrongs his team is doing on offense. Instead, he wants his team to focus more on the defensive end of the floor.
That is probably the biggest understatement of the year.
But defense is a different beast compared to offense. It really takes attitude and commitment mentally on an individual level before that takes on the personality of the team.
Against the Denver Nuggets (8-8) tonight, the Lakers are seeing the team they bounced out of the 1st round last season for the first time this season. Expect the Nuggets to carry a bit of zest and, perhaps, confidence due to having taken the Lakers to 7 games in the playoffs last year. Not to mention that they now have Andre Igoudala, who they can use to defend Kobe and provide some serious perimeter scoring with the rest of the team.
Igoudala leads the Nuggets at 15.7 points and baskets made at 6.1 per game. Career-wise he is averaging 16.6 points and 6.2 made field goals versus the Lakers.
But Iggy isn't the only problem for L.A.. Ty Lawson has always been an enigma because of his speed, quickness and ability to score against whoever the Lakers put on him. Lawson is averaging 13.5 points and 7.6 assists this season.
He might be an undersized power forward at 6-foot 8 and 228 pounds, but Kenneth Faried is a relentless, energy guy who can outwork and outhustle just about anybody on the floor. This guy loves to help as a secondary defender in the paint and can be a nagging hang nail on the boards as well. Want proof? He's getting 13.3 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game so far this season.
On the flip side, the Lakers have their own guys that can give Denver problems all night long.
Kobe Bryant loves to play against them because the Nuggets were a few teams in the NBA who can throw more than one defender at him. Aaron Afflalo is gone now, but Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler are still around. Add Igoudala in the group and Kobe might just be salavating at this challenge since Wednesday.
Bryant averages 25 points at 45.7% shooting per game against Denver all-time.
Dwight Howard is next in line. He averages 17.1 points, 13.7 boards and 2.1 blocks per outing in his career versus the Nuggets. Same goes with Pau Gasol. His numbers overall reads 17.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per night.
In fact, these 2 teams are nearly parallel in stats this season. The Lakers are putting up 99.1 points (10th) while Denver is at 99.8 points (6th) per game. Defensively, L.A. is allowing 95.5 points (9th) and the Nuggets are giving 98.8 points (18th) per game to their opponents. Then, rebounding and assists look like this: 45.9 (Lakers), 46.8 (Nuggets) and 20.3 (Lakers), 21.8 (Nuggets).
Denver is also struggling with their consistency despite only introducing 1 new player in their starting lineup this year.
But the Lakers know they can't rely on dealing with a lesser Nugget team even at home. Historically, Denver plays hard against them no matter where they play.
If the Lakers respect and, more importantly, expect that tonight, they should be good to go. Then again, Laker fans never know what kind of Laker team shows up each game.
The Lakers won last season's series 3-1 and are 5-1 at Staples Center against the Nuggets, including post-season.
Matchup of the Game
Kenneth Faried vs. Pau Gasol: Tendinitis or not, Pau better bring it tonight. Going up against Faried alone is quite an undertaking even when he's healthy. He can't allow Faried to negate everything he does on the floor. If that happens, it will be difficult for the Lakers to get back to .500 tonight.
Keys to the Game
> Team Effort: Despite their 8-8 record, make no mistake, the Nuggets are going to be a tough challenge for the Lakers. If they don't meet that challenge from the get-go, Laker fans are going to be frustrated again.
> Defense: As always, Denver will attack the Lakers from outside using a variety of dribble penetrations for kickouts and layups and a number of screens to get their shooters free to do their thing. The Lakers have to stay on shooters, rotate well, get back in transition and help out Howard when he goes up for a block. But they also have to remember to make perimeter players dribble the ball into their interior defenders.
> Get the Bigs Going Early: Everything tends to go their way on both ends of the hardwood when they feed their post-players early and often. Going inside first opens up the perimeter for everyone. And if Kobe wants to minimize his turnovers, he needs to look for Dwight and Pau as soon as he brings the ball over into their halfcourt.
Tonight vs. Denver Nuggets
Tip-off at 7:30 p.m.
TV: TWC SportsNet/ESPN
Radio: 710 ESPN/1330 KWKW
Lakers: Steve Nash (leg – out for at least next week) and Steve Blake (abdomen – out for at least 2 more weeks)