Los Angeles Lakers: Andre Miller

Lakers vs. Nuggets: What to watch

November, 30, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
If the Lakers have been the most underwhelming team relative to expectations so far this season, the Denver Nuggets may run a close second. After pushing L.A. to the limits in a tough, seven-game first round series during the 2012 playoffs, the ingredients appeared in place to build on that momentum. Andre Iguodala was brought into the fold. JaVale McGee and Andre Miller were retained. And with (Coloradan fingers crossed) improved team-wide health, roster continuity would allow George Karl to guide his deep team to the next level. Instead, the Nuggets stumbled out of the gate, and have spent November hovering around the .500 mark. Like the Lakers, the search for fluidity and consistency remains a frustrating exercise in trial and error for the Nuggets.

For more knowledge about tonight's guests, I sent five questions to Joel Rush, who covers the Nuggets for the True Hoop network's Roundball Mining Company. Below are his responses, and here is a link to my thoughts on five Lakers questions from Joel.

Andy Kamenetzky: The Nuggets haven't gotten off to the start that many (certainly myself) expected. Why have they struggled and what, if anything, has improved?

Joel Rush: Nuggets fans have also been surprised and disappointed by the sluggish start, and there's been a lot of head-scratching as to why. In reality, it was a combination of factors. It has taken Iguodala longer than many expected to mesh with his new team. Danilo Gallinari started off the season in a horrible slump stemming in part from a bad ankle. Wilson Chandler has effectively sat out the season due to his hip injury. After signing a four-year, $48 million extension, Ty Lawson came out of the gate stumbling with subpar effort and a lack of the aggression that's so critical in driving Denver's offense. JaVale McGee's potential was showcased in Games 3 and 5 of last season's L.A.-Denver playoff series, so Lakers Nation will understand why Nuggets fans were cautiously optimistic he was poised to make positive strides. But that hasn't yet happened.

The Nuggets have struggled in finding consistent, lasting solutions. Steps back repeatedly follow steps forward. Until they can find some answers that stick, the Nuggets may at times have winning stretches, but they'll have their share of setbacks as well.

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How they match up: Denver Nuggets

August, 19, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
This series examines how the presumably now-elite Lakers stack up against their fellow brethren, and the Nuggets would largely be considered one tier lower. Thus, their inclusion here could feel strange. It shouldn't. As last season's first round, seven-game series demonstrated, Denver features a roster stuffed with rising talent tailor-made for a quick pace that tests the Lakers. And in Andre Iguodala, they've acquired an All-Star and Olympian who's both a great fit and addresses the team's biggest weakness (defense). The Nuggets would never be favored in a series against the Lakers, but still could provide one of the trickiest rounds possible.

David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
Iggy should help Denver on both sides of the ball.

For some local knowledge on the Nuggets, we spoke with Jeremy Wagner from the True Hoop network's Roundball Mining Company.

Andy Kamenetzky: What was the general reaction in the Roundball Mining community when word hit the street about Dwight Howard joining the Lakers?

Jeremy Wagner: The real story revolving around the Howard trade for Denver was obviously the acquisition of Iguodala. There was a angry subdivision of fans who were very upset that the Nuggets took part in ushering Howard to the Lakers. After the loss in the playoffs to LA and the addition of Steve Nash, most fans viewed the Lakers superior to Denver anyway. The addition of Howard only increased the gulf. Any hope of catching them this season is gone.

AK: Well, even if they can't catch the Lakers, how capable is Denver of pushing them with Iggy on board?

JW: The addition of Igoudala is a tremendous one for Denver. Arron Afflalo's defense had really fallen off from where it was a couple of seasons ago and Igoudala will certainly help in that area. Plus, Igoudala is a much better passer, fits better into Denver's drive-and-kick offense, and should flourish in the open floor. I believe a healthy Nuggets team will be the third best team in the West, barely ahead of the Clippers.

Is there any concern that with such a small window, based on the ages of Kobe and Nash, this team cannot afford taking a year to jell?

Brian Kamenetzky: No question. There are definitely moving parts to integrate. In theory, Howard doesn't demand a massive adjustment -- it's not like the Lakers aren't accustomed to a high end center -- but in a lot of ways he's a very different player than Andrew Bynum. More mobile, more effective in the pick-and-roll. Plus, he's been "the guy" since entering the league. With the Lakers, he will, at least to some degree, have to give a little. And Nash is a huge change, a point guard capable of putting a game on a string, the type of player Kobe Bryant has never teamed with. Defensively, I think they'll be okay, since Howard makes things easier for everyone else. But this is at best a two-year experiment thanks to age and finances, and if it doesn't yield at least one title, people will be upset.

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Lakers at Nuggets, Game 6: What to Watch

May, 10, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky

That the Lakers failed to close out Denver on Tuesday wasn't horrible in and of itself, but the reason for failure certainly was. It's one thing to get outplayed, especially by a quality team desperate to stay alive. Getting outworked, however, is another story. The Lakers' inability to match the Nuggets' energy, intensity and desire was inexcusable, and as Brian noted, costly on a practical level. Still, what's done is done, and now is the time to make lemonade from lemons. The Lakers get two more cracks to wrap this up, but success on the first try equals that much less energy expended before battling the Thunder. The task won't be easy, especially in Denver. But it's doable, assuming the Lakers are willing to focus, execute and work enough.

For more thoughts on Game 6 (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. PT), I had an IM exchange with Kalen Deremo from the True Hoop network's Roundball Mining Company. Below is the transcript.

Kirby Lee/US Presswire
Please, Javale! Don't hurt 'em!

Andy Kamenetzky: Heading into Game 5, you weren't sure how this inconsistent Nuggets team would react to an elimination scenario. What did you make of the way they played?

Kalen Deremo: Shocked. Well, maybe not shocked, but thoroughly (and pleasantly!) surprised. For years, this team has exited the playoffs in embarrassing fashion. Tuesday, they played with heart, soul and passion. For once it looked like they actually cared about showing pride in the playoffs. What was your reaction?

AK: In the meantime, Denver continues to improve as the series progresses, certainly more than the Lakers.

KD: That performance was probably the Nuggets' best in the playoffs since 2009, when they reached the Western Conference finals. I think no matter what team they were playing, the Nuggets were gonna give it their all. What I want to know is what happened to Pau Gasol? Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant have showed up for the most part, but Pau just seems invisible.

AK: In fairness to Pau, he's been asked to facilitate more than score, and his passing has been very effective. Nuggets coach George Karl has even cited Gasol as a weapon hurting them in this respect. However, his rebounding numbers are down a bit from the regular season, problematic in a series where Denver's control of the glass makes or breaks L.A. His defense around the rim has also been erratic. And like Bynum, he was pretty MIA for most of Game 5.

In the meantime, JaVale McGee! Have you ever seen a player improve more over a series?

Kalen: McGee, man, I don't even know what to say. Seeing a 7-footer operate like a champ in the post, seeing his pure physical attributes dominate his counterpart, is a sight to behold. The Nuggets haven't had that type of center since Dikembe Mutombo, although Marcus Camby was nice defensively. Wow, I'm just getting way ahead of myself. Yeah, McGee was just unreal. It's so nice to see his maturation with the Nuggets. The guy has so much talent and potential. Seeing him discover it during a time like this is beautiful for Nuggets fans.

Do you think he could even end up outplaying Bynum two games in a row?

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Lakers Late Night Replay, Game 5 vs. Denver (plus postgame video)

May, 8, 2012
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
The Nuggets played Game 5 like their season depended on it (can't imagine why) and the Lakers played like they wanted one more view of the Rocky Mountains before next season.

As a result, there will be a Game 6 Thursday night in Denver. Lakers lose, 102-99 Tuesday at Staples Center.

On tonight's edition of Lakers Late Night, we get into a very disappointing loss, starting with ...
  • A befuddling lack of intensity early in the game.
  • Poor perimeter shooting, allowing Denver to collapse consistently on L.A.'s bigs in the paint and help take them out of the game. Which, in turn, seemed to take Andrew Bynum out of the game defensively.
  • A huge fourth quarter for Kobe Bryant, who found himself short on support.
  • The practical implications of losing Tuesday's game. Fair to say the Lakers did themselves no favors.
Watch live streaming video from espnlosangeles at livestream.com

Click below for postgame video from Bryant, Mike Brown, Bynum, Gasol, Jordan Hill, and more:

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Mike Brown discusses the Sessions-Blake backcourt, Ebanks and choices

May, 8, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Throughout April and the playoffs, Mike Brown has periodically employed a backcourt of Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake, with the latter at the two and almost inevitably overwhelmed by his defensive assignment. The most recent example came in the first half of Game 4, where Andre Miller continually bullied Blake while matched against him. It's not Blake's fault he struggles in these situations. He's simply giving up a lot of size. All the while, Devin Ebanks, who proved himself capable at the spot while filling in for Kobe Bryant, sits on the bench watching. Land O' Lakers regulars are well aware of my recurrent frustration at Brown's unwillingness to use the bigger/longer Ebanks in these scenarios whenever possible.

Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Coaches often operate through trust, and these two have Mike Brown's.

In the grand scheme of things, this is hardly the worst move Brown could make as a coach, but it's one I've nonetheless found curious. Thus, after Monday's practice in El Segundo, Brian and I got Brown's perspective on the matter. Below is a transcript of the conversation:

Land O' Lakers: What's the thinking behind keeping Sessions and Blake together, because it seems like, more defensively, it causes some problems? Andre Miller, for example, has been pushing Steve around, although he pushes a lot of people around.

Mike Brown: Yeah, he has. Steve has actually fought him fairly well. He's fought better than Sesh, to a certain degree. But we do that because [it's] more ball handling, more ball skilled guys out on the floor. If you look at last year's NBA champions, the Dallas Mavericks, they played with even two smaller guards in J.J. Barea and Jason Terry. So to have two ball-skilled guys out there, especially with the second unit at times, is good for us.

Part of it, too, is because we know Denver is doubling often and when they double right now, Steve is shooting a little bit better than Matt (Barnes) and/or Ebanks. So that is another reason we do it, because we don't feel like we drop dramatically on the defensive end when we have Steve on the floor instead of Ebanks or Matt.

LO'L: Even in those situations where someone like Miller has that size advantage?

MB: Well, he hasn't done a good enough job to -- knock on wood -- hurt us down the stretch for it to be effective. He hit a couple of buckets [Sunday night] that I thought were extremely tough. Like the one he drove and kind of threw up the play.

LO'L: Sure. Down the stretch, it was much different than during the first half.

MB: Correct. But the first half, stuff's gonna happen over the course of the game. We watched [film] today with the team, if we would have doubled [Miller] the correct way or at least helped out on him the correct way in the first half like we did in second half, then he wouldn't have had the first half that he had. Our first half defense, and in particular our first quarter defense, was not good. That was one of the things I talked with our guys about. Guys didn't do what they were supposed to do defensively in guarding the pick-and-roll, the post-up and pin-downs. We kind of made up our own coverages at times and we paid the price. That's why it was 28-26 in the first quarter, but if you watch the game, every quarter we got better and better, because we got tighter with our coverages and we did it without fouling.

(Editor's note: Later, Brown actually led Brian and I onto the court, and walked us through situations where doubles didn't arrive. He also noted how doubling off a non-scoring big like Kenneth Faried was an option often available, and how generally uncomplicated the approach was.)

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Lakers Late Night Replay - Game 3 vs. Denver

May, 4, 2012
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
Put away the brooms, Lakers fans! Visions of a sweep are officially dead.

The Nuggets got out to an early lead Friday night in Denver, and parlayed that hot start into a 99-84 win. As has been the case in all three games, Denver crushed on the offensive glass, and rebounding was probably the single biggest reason the hosts controlled the game from nearly start to finish. That, and defense. The Nuggets played some, while the Lakers only periodically bothered, especially in the first quarter, and especially when it came to protecting the rim. Thus, Ty Lawson did his thing, and JaVale McGee suddenly became a factor.

On tonight's show, we detail the ginormous hole the Lakers put themselves in thanks to a lackluster start, as well as...
  • A tale of two halves for Andrew Bynum. Scoreless in the first, dominant in the third, worn out by the end.
  • Tough sledding for Kobe Bryant, who continues to struggle offensively at the Pepsi Center. Was his 7-of-23 a blip in the series, or the start of a trend?
  • Limited help from the supporting cast. There were no "wild cards," as George Karl put it before Game 1.
  • Questions about the limited burn for Devin Ebanks. Would it have hurt to have him on the floor more than 16 minutes?

That, plus some funky, funky timpani!

Watch live streaming video from espnlosangeles at livestream.com

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 104, Nuggets 100

May, 1, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
The Lakers remain undefeated in the Mike Brown postseason era, despite the Nuggets' pesky refusal to wave the white flag. The showing in Game 2 on Tuesday wasn't nearly as dominant as in Game 1, and I imagine Brown will point out more mistakes in Wednesday's film session. But the bottom line is the Lakers are up 2-0, and you can't ask for anything better. Here are four takeaways from the game.

1) When Kobe gets rolling, it's just ridiculous.
Heading into this series, Kobe Bryant hadn't shot the ball well against Denver this season. Thus, after his slow first half in Game 1, 14 fourth-quarter points and a steadily increasing efficiency felt like a nice omen of his having figured out Denver's scheme against him. Then again, Tuesday night didn't necessarily present a big mystery to unravel. George Karl opted largely to guard Kobe in single coverage with either Arron Afflalo or Corey Brewer, the first among the better wing defenders in the NBA, and the second certainly credible. And in both cases, they were rendered pretty helpless. Bryant's first basket was a rather emphatic dunk off a cross-court baseline feed from Matt Barnes, quite the announcement of his intentions to own this game. From there, the reins were never relinquished en route to 38 points on 15-for-29 shooting.

Shots were drained from inside, outside and all points in between. Whether attacking the rim, working in isolation, spinning baseline, fading away, jab-stepping, head-faking, pulling up or using his super status to get away with the mother of all push-offs, Bryant emptied his proverbial bag. And as we've learned over the years, it holds an awful lot of tricks. The second half probably featured a little too much one-on-one for the good of the overall offense. But at the same time, his night was pretty efficient and often spellbinding.

The timeliness of his makes also was key. With just more than four minutes in the game and Denver starting to gain momentum, Kobe found himself faced up against Afflalo yet again. This was a possession on which the Lakers really needed a basket, a moment their leader always knows. A few jab steps later, a 3-ball dropped, and the Lakers were back up by eight. He also drained a pair of free throws with 9.4 seconds on the clock, keeping the lead at five and essentially ending Denver's quest to push overtime.

Although really, Bryant's best plays of the night might have come on the defensive end. In the second half, after Steve Blake missed a 3-pointer, Denver was off to the races yet again, with Al Harrington on the receiving end of a home run pass from Andre Miller. Kobe, 33 years old and hopped up on German medicine, chased down Big Al from behind and blocked what should have been a flush. Then, with 2:21 left to play, Kenneth Faried couldn't hang on to a home run pass from Ty Lawson, and a scrum ensued for the loose ball. Kobe came up with the rock, sped down court, absorbed contact from one defender, and wrapped a pass around Danilo Gallinari to Andrew Bynum for a dunk and a six-point lead.

In a game in which Denver continued to claw for survival, Kobe made sure to cut off the oxygen supply whenever possible.

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Before the playoff brackets were set in stone, I hoped very hard the Lakers would open against the Dallas Mavericks rather than the Denver Nuggets. The defending champs haven't consistently looked the part all season, as evidenced by four losses to the Lakers in as many games. L.A. matches up well against Dallas. And most importantly, the Lakers tend to play well against teams they dislike, and there's no love lost for the squad that unceremoniously ended the three-peat quest. In the meantime, the Nuggets thrive in transition and pick-and-roll, two approaches that causes fits for the Lakers. They lack a true "star," but boast enviable depth. Ty Lawson and Andre Miller are point guards capable of creating havoc in very different ways. Arron Afflalo has a track record of quality D against Kobe Bryant. And Denver's small ball prowess could force some uncomfortable mismatches.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Keeping Lawson out of the lane will be a big priority.

I still expect the Lakers to win. But I'm also expecting a very challenging series, especially with Metta World Peace suspended and Matt Barnes potentially limited by a sprained ankle.

For more perspective on the Nuggets, we called upon Jeremy Wagner of the True Hoop Network's Roundball Mining Company. Below are his responses to five questions.

Land O' Lakers: What are Denver's biggest strengths against the Lakers and what are their weaknesses?

Jeremy Wagner: Denver’s biggest strength is the ability to score in the paint, whether on the break, or in the half court via penetration by Lawson, Miller, Afflalo and Danilo Gallinari. With the Lakers’ ability to clog the paint on defense, that strength is somewhat mitigated, so Denver must take advantage of their speed to get easy baskets in transition.

The Nuggets’ biggest weakness is a dependence on small lineups. Denver has the size to match up with the Lakers front line, but will George Karl reduce the minutes of players like Kenneth Faried and Al Harrington for Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee? I think he should, but I doubt he agrees.

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Rapid Reaction: Looking to the first round vs. Denver

April, 26, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Not so suck the wind out of Christian Eyenga's Lakers debut, but the Bold Play of Thursday's Game came before it started, when Kobe Bryant decided to sit it out, passing on a chance to beat out Kevin Durant for this year's scoring title.

Nor is a lot of analysis from Thursday's 113-96 loss required. With Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Metta World Peace, and Matt Barnes in street clothes, the Lakers aren't very good. Not exactly a shock.

Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images
Arron Afflalo's ability to contain Kobe Bryant will be a major factor in the first round.

So instead of breaking down a meaningless loss in a meaningless game, let's look ahead to L.A.'s first round opponent, the Denver Nuggets.

George Karl's crew comes into Sunday's Game 1 (12:30 pm PT, ABC) as one of the West's hottest teams, going 11-4 over their last 15, including four straight victories to end the season. At 18-15, they sport the NBA's fifth best road record, and at +2.9 have a better average point differential than the Lakers. In short, they're a sturdy first round matchup for a shorthanded Lakers squad, one with no stars but scads of B-level talent.

Denver started 14-5 before injuries took them off the rails, and while not completely healthy -- forward Wilson Chandler is done for the year, as is guard Rudy Fernandez -- they should not be taken lightly.

Here's a primer on the Lakers' opening round matchup ...

SEASON SERIES - Lakers 3-1.

1. Lakers 92, Denver 89 (Dec. 31, Staples Center): In Bynum's first game of the season, the Lakers squeak out a win. Drew pops off for 30, while Bryant and Gasol each score 17.
2. Denver 99, Lakers 90 (Jan. 1, Pepsi Center): Kobe goes 6-of-28 from the floor, while six Nuggets score in double figures as Denver takes their half of the home-and-home.
3. Lakers 93, Denver 89 (Feb. 3, Pepsi Center): Bryant was only 7-for-23, but spread around nine assists. Bynum hit 10 of his 13 FGA's, as the Lakers held on to the ball (11 turnovers) and won the glass battle, 47-40.
4. Lakers 103, Denver 97 (April 13, Staples Center): Bynum went for 30/8 with three blocks as the Lakers raced to an early 11-point lead, beating Denver without Bryant in the lineup.

SEASON STATS (through Wednesday's games)-

Offensive Efficiency - Lakers 103.4 (10th), Nuggets 106.1 (3rd)
Defensive Efficiency- Lakers 101.4 (12th), Nuggets 103.4 (20th)
Pace (possessions per game) - Lakers 92.9 (20th), Nuggets 96.6 (2nd)
Rebound Rate (percentage of shots a team rebounds) - Lakers 53.1 (2nd), Nuggets 51.5 (4th)
Turnover Percentage (turnovers per 100 plays) - Lakers 14.2 (19th), Nuggets 14.1 (18th)


1. Transition offense. Via Synergy, in transition possessions Denver is the NBA's third best team measured by points per play, at 1.205. Moreover, they push relentlessly. No team in the league has had more transition opportunities than the Nuggets, by a healthy margin of over 100 possessions. While Denver isn't a strong defensive squad, they do force turnovers (7th in defensive TOV%) and are solid on their own glass (9th in DRB%, only .08 percent behind L.A.), two keys in fueling an effective running game. The Lakers, meanwhile, grade out as the 25th ranked team defensively in transition, at 1.171 points per play.

You can see where this could be problematic.

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Lakers at Nuggets: What to watch, with Roundball Mining Company

February, 3, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky

The "Grammy Road Trip" is always a test for the Lakers, and with the team struggling outside of Staples, this year is no exception. Whether for the purpose of molding themselves into a more legitimate force heading into the playoffs or simply forging a record good enough to qualify, this six-game roadie carries stakes. An opener against the Nuggets, possibly the best team on the docket, will set the tone.

For insight into Denver's squad, we called upon Jeremy Wagner of the True Hoop Network's Roundball Mining Company. Below are his responses to four questions about the Nuggets, and here is a link to the Laker-centric tidbits I provided him.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Gallo and the gang have high hopes for the season.

1) Land O' Lakers: People have been in wait-and-see mode after the strong play upon Carmelo Anthony's exit. 20+ games into this season, how good do you think this team truly is?

Jeremy Wagner: I believe it is important to make a differentiation between last season’s team and this season’s team. Last season’s team played with an aggression and purpose fueled by the fresh wound of the Carmelo Anthony trade. Nearly every player had a reason to prove himself. This team does not possess that chip on their shoulder.

What this team does have is a year of growth and playoff experience for young studs like Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson as well as some assurances in the form of long term contracts. The players on this roster know they are the foundation of the franchise and that is a different form of motivation.

The 2011-12 Denver Nuggets are a very good team. Good enough to beat anyone. The bajillion dollar question is, are they good enough to beat anyone in a best of seven series?

The good news for Nuggets fans is the team is not built just for this season. They will improve internally and could have some cap space to play with next season depending on what happens with Wilson Chandler when he returns from China.

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Lakers at Blazers: What to Watch, with Portland Roundball Society

January, 5, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
The Lakers are still seeking their first road victory, and tonight's venue -- Portland, Oregon -- hasn't been an easy place for the Lakers over the last decade. Still, there's been recent headway, with road series split over the last two seasons, despite playing without Kobe Bryant and (save nine minutes and 33 seconds of pre-injury run) Andrew Bynum in 2010. Perhaps the Lakers can carry that momentum and ruin the Blazers' unblemished home record during this young season.

For some perspective on the Blazers, I tracked down Andrew Tonry of Portland Roundball Society (True Hoop Network). Below are some thoughts from the Blazer blogger, along with a few of my own. And for those interested, here are my responses to his questions about the Lakers.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The Blazers are now "LaMarcus Aldridge's team," whether ready or not.

Land O' Lakers: With Brandon Roy retired, the Blazers are truly now built LaMarcus Aldridge. His progress last season was pretty marked. Does he appear to be moving along the same path? Do you see him as a suitable centerpiece for a contending team?

Andrew Tonry: Right now LaMarcus Aldridge can be The Man on a team counted on to make the first round of the playoffs. He has yet to become, or even flash hints, that he'll be the best player on a team capable of winning the NBA Championship. As far as his progress is concerned, it's too early to say. Aldridge, because of a heart procedure during of training camp, is still rounding into game shape. Also, he's learning to work with a new point guard in Raymond Felton. Aldridge has said that his relationship with former Blazers guard Andre Miller was profound, and that Miller taught him as much as anyone.

(AK's note: True Hoop's Kevin Arnovitz recently wrote a nice piece about Aldridge-Miller relationship, for those interested.)

LO'L: How has Jamal Crawford fit in with the Blazers? Between him and Aldridge, who do the Blazers tend to go through for scoring down the stretch, acknowledging the sample size is small.

At the end of games both are getting shots. That part of Portland's offense hasn't quite solidified yet, for a number of reasons. First, there haven't been a lot of close games. Second, Crawford's shot has been rather cold. Still, it's just too early to say.

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Lakers at Nuggets: What to watch

January, 1, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
The Lakers ended 2011 on a winning note. The chance to kick off 2012 in that same positive fashion (against the same team, no, less) is immediately staring them in the face. On Saturday afternoon, the Lakers played host to the Nuggets. Tonight, Denver returns the favor. Here are four items to be mindful of once the ball is jumped:

1. Back-to-back, high-altitude style

Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images
Rocky's lungs may even be burning this early in the season.

A trip to Denver's thin air can trip up a team collectively in game shape and sporting fresh legs, and there's no denying conditioning remains an issue for the Lakers. In particular, for the bigs. Andrew Bynum made no bones about being exhausted after his debut on Saturday, and he'll be playing his first back-to-back of the season. Pau Gasol looked dead-legged defensively on several second-half possessions against the Nuggets, especially when closing out on Al Harrington at the 3-point line. The Lakers will have about 24 hours to acclimate themselves to the lack of local oxygen against a squad that lives to run guests out of its building. There won't be much time to make the physical and mental adjustments.

Having said this, I do wonder if this particular advantage will be quite as strong for the Nuggets as in years past. After all, they were saddled with the same compressed training camp as everyone else, are on a back-to-back, and have played only one home game so far. It actually wouldn't shock me if several Nuggets also appeared to be sucking wind.

But that's George Karl's problem, not the Lakers', and it doesn't alleviate entirely whatever problems they still may experience.

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Lakers vs. Nuggets: What to watch with Roundball Mining Company

December, 31, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
The transformation of the Denver Nuggets started last season when Carmelo Anthony was shipped off to New York for a massive haul of players. This year, the roster continues to evolve, but the Nuggets are still considered a playoff caliber team, and some like ESPN.com's John Hollinger, consider them one of the Western Conference's best teams.

With consecutive wins under their belt, the Lakers now face a tough pair of back-to-back, home-and-home games against the Nuggets. They'll welcome back Andrew Bynum, giving the coaching staff and fans alike the first chance to see the Lakers with all the component parts in uniform.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Ty Lawson is one of the many B+ players making the Nuggets a real threat out West.

So what awaits the Lakers this weekend? To find out, we hit up Charlie Yao and Kalen Deremo of TrueHoop's Roundball Mining Company with some questions.

1. The Nuggets are a team without a true go-to star. It worked for them last season following the Carmelo Anthony trade. What are the prospects for 2011-12?

DEREMO: In the NBA, much like in any professional sports league, there seems to be a blueprint regarding the essential tools required to win a championship. While in the NFL you may need a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback or in the MLB a potent starting rotation, you can still manage to win without one of these elements. However, the modern-day consensus among basketball aficionados is that in the NBA, the recipe for a championship consists of on ingredient and one ingredient only: a superstar.

Though the Denver Nuggets sorely lack in this particular department, it hasn't dissuaded the Mile High City's fan base from open optimism about the upcoming season because let's face it, the Nuggets are not the Lakers; failing to win a championship each year is essentially protocol, not an anomaly. Nevertheless, there is a decent-sized faction seemingly unwilling to ignore what history tells us about past NBA champions and are terrified of yet another first-round playoff exit.

Here's the thing: The 2011-12 Denver Nuggets might have the one ingredient necessary to defy the notion a superstar is required to win a championship, and that's a copious amount of depth. As of right now the Nuggets can trot out two separate starting lineups that could probably contend with half of the teams in the league. For example, a starting five of Andre Miller, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov would likely be just as effective as one with Ty Lawson, Rudy Fernandez, Danilo Gallinari, Nene and Chris Andersen.

Plus, this doesn't include Wilson Chandler whom the Nuggets will likely get back in late February or early March.

If Denver can fully capitalize on its youth, depth, and the altitude in Denver, there's no doubt that by the end of the season George Karl's run-and-gun squad could be looking at a top four seed out West. Moreover, considering how good Denver has been at home over the last handful of years, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Nuggets run teams out of the building on the way to a first-round playoff victory and possibly a trip to the Western Conference Finals if everything fell in Denver's favor.

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"The L.A. in my Game," with Baron Davis, Part II

November, 9, 2011
By The Kamenetzky Brothers
As part of a continuing series, NBA players share how growing up in L.A. shaped their games.

We bring you the second part of our interview with Baron Davis, the NBA player we feel most epitomizes "L.A." Between his upbringing with roots in South Central and Santa Monica, plus an eye fixed on Hollywood and the next generation of ballers, Los Angeles remains a huge part of Davis' identity. In part I, he talked about learning the game as a child, the influence of his family and neighborhood and how he arrived at the prestigious Crossroads School. In part II, the L.A. journey continues.

Land O' Lakers: During your senior year, Crossroads won the state title by absolutely destroying Sacramento Encina 93-57. How did such a lopsided win happen?

BD: In high school, we were good. [And] they were a real challenging team. So when we run out for the warm-ups, they were looking at us, like, laughing! Like we were a joke. I think they were a tougher team. I don't know what neighborhood they were from, but they d--- sure acted like it. They were just shaking their heads, like, "C'mon, dude! This is Crossroads? Which one is Baron Davis? Are you serious?"

Kris Connor/Getty Images
Before working on movies together, Cash Warren and Baron Davis led Crossroads to a state title.

I was like, "Dude, we're about to beat the s--- out of you. You have no idea what's about to happen." (laughs)

That was the best game we played as a team and that was probably the best all-around game I ever played at the school. I think I was the second- or third-leading scorer of the game. The guys that were seniors, myself, Cash Warren, LeQuan Tolbert, it was our last time knowing we'll ever play with each other. So it was like, once again, somebody is underestimating us, let's go smack them in the mouth one more time.

And we had lost in the semifinals [the year before]. We were so hungry it was crazy. That's why we beat them by [46]. We were throwing the ball off the backboard by the end of the game. We were so afraid to lose. There was 10 seconds left in the game, we were still pressing and laying the ball up. It was crazy.

Land O' Lakers: You guys had already beaten Christ the King and some other great schools across the country.

BD: We beat Christ the King. We beat Simon Gratz. We beat Inglewood. We lost, I think, to Mount Zion, we lost to Dominguez at Dominguez, Crenshaw at Crenshaw. When we lost to Dominguez, they were No. 1 in the country. When we lost to Mount Zion, they were No. 1 in the country. And going to Crenshaw thinking you were gonna get a victory, you have a whole other thing coming.

We were up 20 going into the fourth at Crenshaw. Then all these [Crips] came in the gym and I just felt real uncomfortable. (laughs) The thing about Crenshaw, they never stopped playing. They were like Golden State -- no lead was too big for them to overcome. And we were playing in their house. And once the Crips walked in, it was like a whole different thing with me. It was like … OK … uh … where are my homeboys at? I was a little distracted at the time.

If you put that in the article, the dudes who were standing on that wall, they know what I'm talking about. They'll read that and laugh, I guarantee.

Land O' Lakers: Is that why the Crips were there? Or were they just there to watch the game?

BD: I don't know. I just know they came in right in the fourth quarter and that was very uncomfortable. We were up 20 before they walked into that gym … My antennas went up. They had to go up, you know what I mean?

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Lakers 84, Blazers 80 -- At the buzzer

March, 20, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky

Harry How/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant busted out of a mini-slump in the last four minutes of Sunday's game, pushing the Lakers to a big win and busting out some playoff-caliber emotion in the process.

For the second time since the All-Star break, the Lakers and Blazers engaged in a tight, tense game. And for the second time, the Lakers came out ahead. Without the suspended Andrew Bynum in the lineup, the Lakers were off-kilter for much of the night, but still managed to rally late for a key win Sunday night at Staples.

Tonight's game again indicated why a potential first round series between Portland and the Lakers would be a lot of fun to watch, and could have Lakers fans biting their nails a little. Ironically, by beating the Blazers, L.A. made it more likely they'll actually see them when the postseason kicks off next month.

Here's how it broke down...


1. Defense. Take away the first half problems securing the glass, and the Lakers did a nice job against the Blazers. Portland was limited to 38.6 percent shooting on the night, in three of the four quarters failed to score more than 20 points, and only notched only 32 in the second half. Once Nicolas Batum, who went off for 19 points on eight-for-10 shooting in the first half, cooled off, Portland didn't have any viable options. LaMarcus Aldridge, playing as well as any big in the league over the last few months, had 18 points on 17 shots, as the Lakers limited him to only three trips to the line. Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, and Rudy Fernandez were a combined nine-for-36.

More importantly, the fourth quarter comeback, just as it was in their OT victory in Portland last month, was fueled on the defensive side of the ball- Kobe pokes the ball away from Miller with just over two minutes remaining, earning him a dunk at the other end, followed immediately by a steal from Derek Fisher, who finished with a layup (because most of the dunk footage with Fish is grainy at this point). Four points in a minute, helping raise a flagging offense.

Lamar Odom followed with a steal off Gerald Wallace, after Portland grabbed a rare second half ORB, helping eliminate a chance for the Blazers to score. Without Bynum out of the lineup, the Lakers stood up and delivered a strong game defensively.

2. Kobe Bryant (Last Five Minutes Version). Like most writers, in an effort to deliver analysis as fast as possible, I'll write during the game. For most of this one, Kobe's performance landed him square in the lower half of this postgame wrap. After hitting three of his first four shots, Bryant went cold, missing nine of his next 11.

It looked like the general inefficiency of their stars- Pau Gasol finished was only 6-of-15 from the floor- would be L.A.'s undoing Sunday night. But over the last 4:19, Bryant straight up exploded. It started with a nice drive-and-finish off the right wing, and went from there. On the next trip, he drew the double off the high screen, then rifled a great pass to Gasol on the block for a layup, followed by the aforementioned steal-to-dunk off Miller. He added two more buckets, including a tough baseline fadeaway over Roy with 32 seconds remaining, putting L.A. up by five.

Moreover, Bryant wore his emotions on his sleeve, screaming and punching the air with each successful play. (Including a couple moments the folks responsible for cutting together video replays may want to avoid... NSFW. I suspect he REALLY wanted to clinch the Pacific Division tonight.) The last few games haven't been overly kind to Bryant, who hadn't shot better than 38 percent in any of his previous four games. In four minutes Sunday, he seemed to exorcise a lot of demons.

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Kobe Bryant
24.6 5.0 1.4 35.4
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.3
AssistsK. Bryant 5.0
StealsK. Bryant 1.4
BlocksE. Davis 1.2