"Denver will put you to sleep. Quickly."
And not, it should be noted, in an Ambien + Tempurpedic mattress sort of way. Nope, screw around with Denver, take them lightly or fail to match their energy, and the Nuggets will provide both the concrete shoes and transportation to a nice deep spot along the East River. That was the subtext of what Kobe Bryant told the media, quoted in the header, after Monday's practice/film session in El Segundo when asked if the Lakers could afford the same lapses in concentration and effort against the Nuggets as they showed in their series with Houston.
In a word, no.
The Lakers seemed to understand they dodged a bullet against the Rockets, putting themselves in a must-win position they never should have been in. All they can do now, though, is learn and enter the series with a healthy respect for the opposition. In that regard, Kobe has it covered. He saw this series coming a long way off. "Honestly, when we played them in Denver, the second-to-last time we played them, I told 'Melo "I'll see you in the Western Conference Finals." I just felt like they had all the pieces there. They had the depth, they had the toughness, they had the camaraderie. It's no surprise to me that they're here."
Listening to the clip, Kobe's appreciation for the growth of Carmelo Anthony is obvious. "He was like a brother to me. Truly, I love him. We spent a lot of time together this summer. He and I, he's the one that I was closest with on the team. I'm really happy for him. He works really hard. I think that's one thing that I love about him, that he continues to play all the time. He's not just going to settle and accept the fact that you double teaming him or deny him the ball. If a shot goes up, he's going to crash the offensive glass. He's going to continue to work. In the summer, we saw that at both ends of the floor, and now with the Nuggets you're starting to see that too, which makes him even more dangerous."
And he's surrounded by a powerful roster, whether with Chauncey Billups at the point or guys like Nene in the front court. If the Lakers didn't learn anything against the Rockets, that'll be their loss:
The Lakers finished with a film session, so by the time we were let in the gym, there wasn't much going on. No "mood" to measure or energy to dissect. At this time of year, it can be hard to get a feel for this kind of thing anyway. Players give the time mandated to the media, but are more concerned (understandably) with getting out of Dodge. Plus, there are so many cameras and writers around that it's nearly impossible to get a quiet moment with a player in a practice setting.
The only real quantifiable way to judge a team's preparation and attitude in the playoffs comes when they take the court. I expect the Lakers will be ready, and play at a higher level than they did in the last round.
They'd better, because this Game 1 is monumentally important not simply because it's never a good idea to fall behind in a seven game series, but also because one of LA's big advantages is their domination over the Nuggets at Staples. For that to disappear quickly would be a huge boost to Denver, and since they're more talented than Houston, much more damaging than the opening game loss to the Rockets.
One final note: After practice, the last two guys in the gym were Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic. The Machine stayed a long time, shooting what seemed like an endless string of perimeter jumpers, both catching and shooting from beyond the arc, and also off the dribble. This wasn't some casual shooting session, either. Vujacic was pushing himself physically. I got tired watching him. We're not afraid to poke a little fun at the kid (and neither are his teammates), but there's no questioning his work ethic, one big reason his struggles are probably tolerated to a larger degree than, say... Brian Cook's were.
UPDATE (11:25 pm): Although apparently it seems both have some growing up to do as evidenced by this report from the LAT's Mike Bresnahan. BK
Phil Jackson, on series preparations:
PJ, on how he tries to focus the energy of his team, and why. An interesting clip, I think:
Derek Fisher, on Billups and crew: