DENVER — As the final minutes ticked down in Denver's series-clinching win Wednesday over Dallas, Nuggets fans chanted "Beat L.A."
But Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony wonders how many people really believe his team can beat L.A.
"I don't think anybody thinks we can beat the Lakers," Anthony said Sunday night after it was learned the Nuggets will face them in the Western Conference finals beginning Tuesday at Staples Center. "A couple people probably think. We believe. As long as we believe, good things will happen for us."
Guards Chauncey Billups and Anthony Carter said last week they hoped the Nuggets would face Houston instead of the Lakers because it would give them home-court advantage. But their hopes were dashed when the Lakers beat the Rockets, 89-70, in Sunday's Game 7.
"Surprise, surprise," Billups said. "Of course, Houston had a chance. They played a great series. But, like everybody else, we kind of figured L.A. would win at home."
At least the Nuggets do have one advantage on their side. Or maybe not.
The Nuggets -- after dispatching the Mavericks in a West semifinal -- held light practices Friday, Saturday and Sunday while the Lakers and the Rockets slugged it out.
"I think Houston did us a favor by winning that Game 6 and extending the series," Anthony said. "We got a chance to rest and get our people healthy."
Then again, Billups and Coach George Karl have said the Nuggets would rather continue to play because they've been so hot. Now the Nuggets, 8-2 in the postseason, must hope they haven't cooled down too much during their long break.
"All you can do is what we've been doing, just trying to go hard in [practice] and simulate situations," Billups said. "There's really nothing like a game, to be honest."
It's hard for the Nuggets to simulate the Lakers' front line in practice. In four regular-season meetings -- of which the Lakers won three -- the Nuggets were outrebounded by an average of 50.0 to 43.3 per game.
"They're a great offensive rebounding team," said Denver forward Kenyon Martin. "Not only the big guys, but all five guys have to get in there and stick their nose in there and do some dirty work."
Karl calls battling the Lakers' size one of his keys to the series. Karl also cited shot selection, creating transition points and defending Kobe Bryant.
The Nuggets haven't done a good job in many areas the last two seasons against the Lakers. During that span, the Lakers have won 10 of 11 meetings, including a 4-0 sweep in the first round of last season's playoffs.
But Anthony says everything is different from last season, the major change being the Nov. 3 acquisition of Billups that spurred the Nuggets to a season in which they went 54-28 and won the Northwest Division. With Billups, Denver went 1-2 this season against the Lakers, falling twice at Staples Center but winning, 90-79, Feb. 27 at home.
Karl never has won with the Nuggets on the road against the Lakers. The team's only such win since Karl's arrival was in April 2007 when assistant Adrian Dantley took over while Karl was away for son Coby's thyroid cancer surgery.
"Because they're a hell of a team," Karl said of the road woes against the Lakers before adding he believes his team is now better equipped to win because it is stronger defensively.
Karl doesn't believe there are any chinks in the Lakers' armor despite their having to go a surprising seven games against Houston.
"We said before the game started that if the Lakers would win, whatever funk they're in, they're going to be out of it," Karl said. "We're not going to have a team that's kind of disoriented. . . . It's going to be a big challenge."