Rarely does a regular-season game feel so chock full of ginormous implications, much less implications potentially bigger for the 44-15 defending champions than the 39-19 challengers. But that's about the size of things as Sunday's game against the Denver Nuggets looms just ahead.
The Lakers have dropped a pair of contests to last season's Western Conference finals foe by 26 and 13 points and it stands to reason they don't want to provide this hungry, dangerous squad additional reasons to like its 'chip odds. Whether you think this game matters more to Denver or L.A., that the question can be legitimately debated illustrates why it behooves the Lakers to eliminate their admitted complacency and match the Nuggets' predictable intensity.
Or heck, just match the intensity of the K Brothers, who went the extra mile and provided the Land O' Lakers faithful not one but two poddys analyzing this showdown. So much knowledge and insight dropped, the average listener, regardless of age, size or conditioning, would be able to take the court and shut down Carmelo Anthony without the assistance of a second defender.
Seriously, it's that illuminating.
First is a chalk talk with our man Dave Miller, former NBA and college assistant coach. Denver has an explosive offense, capable of making hay from everywhere on the court. Miller explains the best ways to tame the beast.
-(4:00): In Miller's mind, Chauncey Billups' nine 3-pointers against the Lakers on Feb. 5 was a mix of good O and bad D, prompting thoughts on how to avoid the latter. Also, with a guy as talented as Billups, are you better off when he's a playmaker or a scorer?
-(6:39): A discussion of 'Melo's ever expanding game. He has become more efficient and selfless, which makes him an even bigger nightmare. Anthony is, however, still bothered by physical D and his decision making remains a work in progress, Miller says. He also offers a candid opinion on the Ron Artest-Anthony matchup.
-(16:00): The Nuggets still go off the grid at times when it comes to playing system ball, but there's now much more method than madness. Miller talks about Denver's new-found discipline, which starts with Billups.
-(20:49): With all the attention focused on Melo, Billups and the still-maturing J.R. Smith, Denver's bigs often get lost in the shuffle. Kenyon Martin, Nene and Chris Anderson, however, are a big piece of the Nuggets' puzzle. Johan Petro? Not so much.
-(24:20): Failure to run a system often leads to bad shots and opposing teams capitalizing in transition. Miller explains below:
"All of the shots that come out of the triangle once you have that normal overload and form the strong side triangle or what I call 'the backside triangle," Tex Winter put that together and Phil Jackson uses it because it balances the floor. When individuals take a shot that's not 'their shot'... when somebody catches the ball and does something out of the norm, that's when your floor isn't balanced. And teams like the Denver Nuggets, that's like throwing chum into the ocean trying to get sharks. They see those bad shots and they see those those long rebounds, and now they're running and they're pushing it.
Chauncey Billups has been a calming effect and is trying to run some offense, but I don't care what team you play for and I don't care what coach have, the best offense is transition. The best offense is to play defense, contest the shot, get it off the boards and then push it down their throats... People listening need to realize that shot selection and floor balance equate to defending other people's transition."
Xs and O's now broken down, we get a mental perspective on the Nuggets from Denver Post beat writer and Regal Beagle enthusiast Benjamin Hochman.
-(4:49): After a brief discussion of "Furley vs. Roper," Hochman discusses the Nuggets' collective confidence. It's not cockiness, he stresses, nor a lack of respect for the Lakers. Just legit, healthy confidence, mixed with chips on shoulders after getting bounced by the Lakers in two straight postseasons.
-(7:18): We discuss the potential impact of George Karl's cancer recurrence. Will it serve as a rallying force or potentially unravel the Nuggets? It's a very emotional situation to push into the back of their minds.
-(12:08): After long bouts of resistance, Karl has finally come around on the notion of playing defense on a regular basis. Hochman praises under-the-radar offseason acquisition Arron Afflalo and "quarterback" K-Mart.
-(14:03): Does the game matter more to the Lakers or the Nuggets?
-(15:10): Our shout out to "Lana Shields," a concluding segment likely too painful for Rip Torn.
Hochman, on whether the Nuggets will be able to handle the emotions simultaneously accompanying playoff battles and Karl's battle with cancer:
"It's hard to gauge mental toughness. They don't rank it on ESPN.com or what have you. I would say, because of Nene's (battle with cancer), they definitely have experience. And some of the guys who have been around, Kenyon Martin or what have you, were there when Coach Karl was dealing with (prostate) cancer (in 2005). They've been there and they've dealt with these emotions.
It's just fascinating. On one hand, there's an avalanche of emotions and on the other hand, they've got a job to do, and their job is a tough one. Trying to get home court advantage in the Western Conference, or at minimum, stave off the Jazz or the Mavericks and nab that two-seed. They've got to focus as much as possible on the task at hand and there's going to be times where there's going to be an emotion or two, and they have to set that aside and be mentally tough in order to win a big game and score in a key possession.
I have faith in these guys, but like I said, it's tough to gauge."