Lakers starting to become wary of the Denver Nuggets
It doesn't take rocket science to figure out why Lakers forward Lamar Odom would change his view on the Denver Nuggets.
The Lakers had little trouble with the Nuggets, sweeping them in the first round of the 2008 NBA playoffs. Though Denver gave them a challenge early in last season's Western Conference finals, the Lakers coasted toward the latter part of the six-game series. The Nuggets' two victories against the Lakers this season changed that complexion, however. And with the Lakers (44-15) holding only a four-and-a-half-game lead for first in the Western Conference over Denver (39-19), Odom acknowledged Sunday's matinee matchup is a "huge game for us."
"Both teams probably have the same mental state as far as looking forward to really beating them because they beat us," he said after practice Saturday. "That’s how it was before when we played those guys. I think they were looking forward to playing us and beating us because we took care of them. We sort of saw it as one more game. But they changed that by beating our butts pretty good."
Odom's contention is pretty much on point. In the Nuggets' 105-79 victory on Nov. 13, Denver took advantage of a Lakers team that was coming off a back-to-back. Denver changed a two-point halftime lead into a 87-64 advantage after going on a 29-8 run to end the third quarter. It was the lowest number of points the Nuggets allowed in a quarter all season, and it led to the Lakers' worst half of the organization's history. In a 126-113 victory earlier this month, the Nuggets had no problem despite playing without Carmelo Anthony (sprained left ankle). But guard Chauncey Billups picked up the slack with a career-high 39 points, including four consecutive three pointers.
But even with Billups' presence and the return of Anthony, who is third in the league in scoring at 29 points per game, Jackson said he's more concerned with Denver's bench. That unit features Chris "Birdman" Anderson and Ty Lawson, who are ranked the team's third and fourth most effective players. Then there's reserve guard J.R. Smith, who scored 16 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter in the last meeting against the Lakers and recently had a few choice words about Kobe Bryant on his Twitter account. The Lakers, meanwhile, are without reserves Sasha Vujacic (right shoulder) and Luke Walton (pinched nerve in lower back), and Jackson said he wasn't completely sure when they'd return.
Add in the fact that Denver is 12-3 against marquee teams, such as the Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic, and Jackson suddenly doesn't want to worry if his team will get up for this game. But he still remains uncertain whether Denver would make the Western Conference finals ("Who knows. Dallas is playing well. Utah is playing great").
Jackson is sure of one thing, though. He has a solution for sports fans conflicted on whether they should tune into the Team USA-Canada gold-medal hockey game or the Lakers-Nuggets matchup.
Said Jackson: "There’s so many timeouts in an NBA basketball game that you can go watch that hockey game many, many minutes. Just check out between timeouts."
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Point guard Chauncey Billups and the Denver Nuggets are trying to close the gap on forward Lamar Odom and the Lakers in the race for best record in the Western Conference. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.