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Breaking down the Lakers' potential first-round playoff matchups

April 11, 2012|By Mark Medina
  • Denver's Andre Miller tries to drive against the Lakers' Kobe Bryant in a February game. The Lakers could face the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.
Denver's Andre Miller tries to drive against the Lakers' Kobe… (Jack Dempsey / Associated…)

Pay little attention to the current standings.

The Lakers are in third place in the Western Conference with only eight games left. But the Lakers (36-22) hold only a 1 1/2-game lead over the Clippers (34-23), and the Memphis Grizzlies (33-23), Houston Rockets (32-25), Dallas Mavericks (32-26) and Denver Nuggets (31-26) aren't far behind.

Regardless of how the standing shuffling turns out, it's safe to presume the Lakers will probably play one of those five teams in the first round. Here's how it might play out.

Denver Nuggets

Head-to-head matchup: 2-1

Verdict: Former UCLA product Arron Afflalo makes Kobe Bryant work for his shots. The point guard tandem of Ty Lawson and Andrew Miller can help offset one of the Lakers' sudden strengths. And the Nuggets' offense is tops in the league (103.54 points per game). But it remains to be seen how Denver's chemistry will work with so many players having missed games this season, including Danil Gallinari, Wilson Chanlder and Rudy Fernandez.

Series outcome: Lakers in five.

Houston Rockets

Head-to-head matchup: 1-2

Verdict: Even without Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin, the Rockets managed success against the Lakers through sheer will. Chandler Parsons helped make Bryant uncomfortable with his shots. Frontliners Marcus Camby and Sam Dalembert rattled Andrew Bynum enough to draw two ejections. And the Rockets appeared ready to hustle for every loose ball while the Lakers just watched. Just like what happened in 2009 Western Conference semifinals, Houston will force the Lakers to play a complete game. Some games they'll match. Some they won't. But Houston's strategy isn't sustainable for a seven-game series.

Series outcome: Lakers in six.

Dallas Mavericks

Head-to-head matchup: 3-0

Verdict: One Lakers player insisted to me he's most worried about Dallas. That's because the MavericksĀ  swept the Lakers in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals after the Lakers won the season series 201. I doubt, however, that such a scenario would play out again. The Lakers have played more motivated against Dallas this season, and that surely won't change in the postseason. The team is also fundamentally different without J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler. Aside from Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks aren't that efficient on offense (20th overall).

Series outcome: Lakers in five.

Memphis Grizzlies

Head-to-head matchup: 2-1

Verdict: One Lakers assistant coach is most worried about Memphis for very good reason. The Grizzlies lead the league in forced turnovers, which exposes the Lakers' weakness on transition defense. Tony Allen can force Bryant into at least a bad game or two. And the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol can at least mitigate the inside presence of Pau Gasol and Bynum. The Lakers better had hope they don't face Memphis in the first round because it will exhaust all of their energy.

Series outcome: Lakers in seven


Head-to-head matchup: 2-1

Verdict: This matchup needs to happen. It would be competitive. It would be chippy. And more importanty, it would captivate L.A. Should this series take place, the Lakers would have the clear advantage. DeAndre Jordan can't guard Bynum. An array of double teams (and certainly Randy Foye) cannot slow Bryant. And the Clippers obsession with highlight reels will keep it exciting, but will distract them from their actual focus.

Series outcome: Lakers in six


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