Lakers face the Denver Nuggets for the first time without Carmelo Anthony
Still feeling the effects of a stomach upset, Lakers forward Lamar Odom said he woke up Saturday morning and considered sleeping in and skipping practice.
That sentiment didn't last long.
"I was going to stay home," Odom said after practice Saturday at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo, "but I just decided to come in because we hadn't seen this Denver team."
The Lakers have seen the Nuggets plenty of times, including the 2009 Western Conference finals and their two regular-season games this season. But when the Lakers host Denver at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Staples Center, there's very little they can draw from their 1-1 mark against Denver that featured the Lakers averaging 109.5 points per contest, Ron Artest getting burned on defense in one game and playing lockdown defense in the other. That's because the Lakers will face the Nuggets for the first time since they traded Carmelo Anthony on Feb. 21 to the New York Knicks in a multi-player trade that changed the Nuggets' identity.
Here's how the roster changed: The Nuggets received Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, the Knicks' 2014 first-round draft pick, the Warriors' 2012 second-round pick, the Warriors' 2013 second-round pick and $3 million in cash. The Knicks received Melo, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman.
Here's how the performances changed: The Nuggets (46-29) have gone 14-4 since the deal, have solidified themselves as the fifth-seeded team in the Western Conference with a 2 1/2-game lead over Portland and have allowed only 95 points a game. Meanwhile, the Knicks (37-38) have gone 9-12 and hold a three-game lead over the Indiana Pacers for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. To think, the Nuggets were 32-25 and in seventh place in the West before the trade, leading some to wonder if they could make the playoffs. To think, the Knicks were 28-26 and in seventh place in the East before the trade, leading some to believe a championship-contending team was immediately on the horizon.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson offered a pretty simple explanation.
"Sometimes when you lose a superstar, the ball moves a little bit better, and everything happens a bit more like a team wants to play, and everybody has a joy in touching and participating in the offense," he said. "I think that happened, and they got some real good talent when they got the trade. It's really lightened this team up, and they're playing the kind of ball that [Nuggets Coach George Karl] likes."
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, a close friend of Melo's, would likely offer other reasons, such as New York might need to construct more of a defensively solid foundation around Anthony in order for the Knicks to fully benefit from his scoring prowess. But Bryant wasn't present after practice to share his perspective to reporters. And the focus mostly centered on how Denver had changed.
When Odom arrived at Saturday's practice, the Lakers went over the Nuggets' personnel. Forwards Gallinari (15.2 points) and Chandler (12.8) have helped complement the presence of Kenyon Martin and Chris "Birdman" Andersen. Felton has averaged 10.8 points and 6.6 assists with the Nuggets and complemented the point-guard presence with Ty Lawson, who has averaged 16.7 points and 7.5 assists. The Nuggets have proved to be so balanced, they've been comfortable enough to take their time resting former UCLA product Arron Afflalo from a strained left hamstring and do without his 12.6 points per game, though he's expected to play Sunday against the Lakers. All of those different options led Odom to describe the Nuggets as "a really deep team."
"Their attack is a lot different because it's not predetermined," Odom said. "You know they were going to go to Melo, go to Melo and run pick-and-roll with Chauncey. This team hits you from all angles and whoever's open shoots the ball. They pass the ball well. They play at a frenetic pace. ... They're a team to be reckoned with."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony celebrates during a 120-116 victory over the New Jersey Nets at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2011. Credit: Chris Trotman / Getty Images