Nuggets vs. Lakers: Biggest issues?
5-on-5 Roundtable: Is Denver or Los Angeles the bigger disappointment thus far?
Following high expectations for the season, both the Lakers and Nuggets have been disappointments through 2012-13's opening month. Which one has been a bigger letdown? And how far will they ultimately get? Our 5-on-5 panel breaks both teams down ahead of their Friday night matchup (10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).
1. Nuggets or Lakers: Bigger letdown this season?
Nate Drexler, Magic Basketball: Lakers. Ty Lawson and JaVale McGee struggling is one thing, but Kobe and the superteam struggling to go .500 is something else. Expectations for the Lakers are high every season, and the cast of superstars they assembled over the summer had fans in L.A. sizing up Kobe for his sixth ring. Maybe it's the history or just the market size, but the SoCal crisis dwarfs the problems in Denver.
Brett Koremenos, HoopSpeak: Neither. The Nuggets are 8-8 against a brutal opening schedule while still trying to figure how to best utilize their deep and multifaceted roster. And despite their 7-8 record, the Lakers actually have a better point differential (+3.7) than the 9-4 Atlanta Hawks (+3.1). With the injury to Steve Nash and the abrupt coaching change, it's actually quite the accomplishment that L.A. is only one game away from .500.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: Lakers. Both teams had high hopes coming into the season, but the Lakers have not even gotten off the ground, delivering an under-.500 record through 15 games, an early season coaching change, injuries and inconsistent play. Not even the underperforming Nuggets can top that.
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company: Lakers. While some knowledgeable NBA analysts predicted big things for the Nuggets, the Lakers are an iconic franchise of which greatness is always expected. Even with the inherent complications of adding two new starters, and the subsequent fallout, the Lakers are supposed to win because Kobe Rulez!
2. What is the Nuggets' biggest issue?
Adande: They're in the bottom third of the league in assist/turnover ratio, and those are two stats that matter a lot to George Karl. And they don't have anyone who fits the description of The Man. None of the top 45 scorers in the NBA are Nuggets.
Drexler: Danilo Gallinari has been strangely lethargic, McGee has too frequently played like Bad JaVale, and Lawson can't get to the rack. But when I watch the Nuggets, I see a timid defensive team. It's hard to play a run-and-gun, high-velocity offense when you struggle to make stops. And right now the Nugs rank in the bottom half of the league in defensive efficiency. Couple that with a nearly league-worst 16 turnovers a game and and you have a recipe for marginality.
Koremenos: Gallinari. The Italian forward was supposed to be on the verge of a breakout season but instead has regressed badly. His struggles stem primarily from his mysterious extended shooting slump, one that has been exacerbated by increasingly poor shot selection. If Gallinari can turn it around and at the very least match last season's production, Denver will look much more like the dark-horse contender most predicted it would be.
Soriano: Lack of outside shooting. Defenses are shrinking the floor, cutting off driving lanes and crowding the paint on every half-court possession. Until the Nuggets can prove capable of hitting from behind the arc, their up-tempo attack won't be enough to prop up their offense.
Wagner: Lack of focus. Denver has lost double-digit leads in back-to-back games against teams with inferior talent because they play sloppy basketball. Poor shot selection, turnovers and lackadaisical decision-making plague this team. Denver had the ball with the chance to win or tie at the end of both aforementioned games and failed to get a shot off on both occasions.
3. What is the Lakers' biggest issue?
Adande: Time. They haven't had enough minutes from their expected starting lineup and haven't had enough time to become familiar with Mike D'Antoni's style. Will they pull it all together in time to make a run at this season's championship? That's the major question.
Drexler: The lack of any decent bench options. Even assuming the starters eventually jell -- they have to, right? -- they still can't play 48 minutes per night. When the big dogs are on the bench, the team does absolutely nothing.
Koremenos: System and rotation. One was fixed by the firing of Mike Brown, but the other remains a problem. Antawn Jamison inexplicably still sees time at the 3 despite posting brutal efficiency numbers on both ends of the floor there. Jodie Meeks, meanwhile, curiously remains strapped to the bench when he, if given the opportunity, could emerge as a Raja Bell-type for the team. If D'Antoni can maximize the personnel better, a Pau Gasol trade likely won't be needed.
Soriano: There really isn't just one. Injuries have exposed their lack of depth while instability on the sideline has pushed back their learning curve and affected their ability to build chemistry. The result has been inconsistent play with seemingly a different issue popping up in every loss.
Wagner: Lack of cohesion. They added two major components in Dwight Howard and Nash. They attempted to install a new offense in camp with Howard a limited participant. To top it all off, they changed coaches and Nash has been hurt. Despite all that, the Lakers are top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency. They just need time.
4. How far will the Nuggets go this season?
Adande: First round of the playoffs -- unless they can avoid meeting the Grizzlies, Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Lakers, but that doesn't leave many open chairs at the playoff table. I don't like them in any of those matchups, but they're practically unavoidable.
Drexler: Second round of the playoffs. By April, they will have found their groove and will be a tough matchup for somebody in the first round. But without a superstar, they'll be in for a quick second-round exit at the hands of one of the West's elite teams.
Koremenos: First round of the playoffs. This isn't so much an indictment of Denver as it is acknowledging the top of the Western Conference is incredibly good. No matter how much the team improves, only an injury to a core member of the four main contenders -- the Grizzlies, Spurs, Clippers and Thunder -- will open up an opportunity for the Nuggets to advance to the second round.
Soriano: First round of the playoffs. When defenses clamp down and find ways to limit their ability to play fast-break basketball, I don't see them hitting enough shots to create the points in the paint they'll need to defeat top teams.
Wagner: First round of the playoffs. The last time Denver won a playoff series without home-court advantage was its 1994 first-round defeat of the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics. The Nuggets have been eliminated in 11 road series since that glorious upset. Until it changes its style of play, Denver must have home court to succeed. All these close losses early in the season are damaging its chances of finishing in the West's top four.
5. How far will the Lakers go this season?
Adande: NBA Finals. That's more a reflection of my stubbornness than the Lakers' prowess. I don't want to change my preseason pick until I absolutely have to. If, by the end of December, Nash isn't back and the Lakers aren't clicking, then it will be time to adjust to the reality of this season. The Lakers are on the clock.
Drexler: First round of the playoffs. The Lakers' biggest problems will be exploited in the postseason. They don't have consistent shooters or a bench. By April, even if the team is intact, the legs of Bryant, Gasol and Nash will require major assistance off the bench. When they look there and all they see is their current black hole, it's going to be a quick postseason for this Los Angeles team.
Koremenos: First round of the playoffs. Pretty much the same story as Denver. San Antonio is perhaps the only team L.A. might be capable of beating in a seven-game series unless an injury or Gasol trade severely alters the landscape. If neither of those happens, it will be a long offseason in Hollywood.
Soriano: Assuming good health, they're a toss-up to reach the Finals. By season's end, they'll have better chemistry and should be able to camouflage their bench weaknesses by playing them with key starters for longer stretches. Once in the playoffs, their top-end talent should allow them to thrive even in a competitive West.
Wagner: Western Conference finals. As the season drags on, I fully expect the Lakers to reach a high level of play, especially when the playoffs roll around. The only Western team I would not expect them to defeat is the Thunder, and I believe those two will meet in the conference finals with OKC again coming out on top.