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Lakers vs. Nuggets: Five things to watch

April 13, 2012|By Mark Medina
  • Lakers center Andrew Bynum, left, and forward Pau Gasol will probably have larger roles tonight against Denver as Kobe Bryant misses his fourth consecutive game with a sore left shin
Lakers center Andrew Bynum, left, and forward Pau Gasol will probably have… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Some things to watch when the Lakers (37-22) host the Denver Nuggets (32-26) Friday at Staples Center.

1. Can the Lakers establish consistency? After their 98-84 victory Wednesday over the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers may be confident they can absorb Kobe Bryant's absence for the fourth consecutive game, buoyed by improvement on defense, Andrew Bynum's effort, Metta World Peace's scoring and Steve Blake's sudden effectiveness off the bench. But the Lakers have followed signature wins with more inconsistency plenty of times this season.

A nail-biting victory Jan. 14 win over Dallas was followed with losses to the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers. A one-point win Feb. 9 against Boston preceded a double-digit loss to the New York Knicks. The Lakers followed another win against Dallas with a double-digit loss to Oklahoma City. The Lakers' 93-83 victory March 4 over the Miami Heat followed with double-digit road losses to the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards. As impressive as they looked against San Antonio, the significance of  the win will quickly evaporate if the Lakers don't build off it.

2. How will the Lakers look on defense? After allowing opponents to crack the 100-point mark in seven of their last 10 games, the Lakers against San Antonio held the NBA's third-most proficient offensive team to 84 points on 40.7% shooting. The Lakers will have to bring the same defensive intensity against Denver, which leads the league in scoring (103.7) and ranks third in shooting percentage (47.1%).

Coach Mike Brown says the best approach involves striking a balance between playing at a fast tempo, but remaining deliberate with shot selection and ball movement. Improved effort in half-court sets ensures sharper defense because the Lakers don't have the speed to get back in transition.



3. How will Andrew Bynum play? His recent performances remind me of a Seinfeld episode where Jerry always evened out. "Yesterday I lost a job, and then I got another one, and then I missed a TV show, and later on they re-ran it," Seinfeld said. "And then today I missed a train, went outside and caught a bus." In Bynum's case, he had been productive on offense, but lacked enough effort on defense and rebounding. Against San Antonio, Bynum shot seven-of-20 from the field, but became the fifth player in Laker history to grab 30 rebounds.

Bynum averaged 23 points on 69.7% shooting and 13 rebounds through three games against Denver this season. The Nuggets will feature JaVale McGee against Bynum instead of the traded-away Nene. Bynum has shot 24 of 64 during Bryant's absence because of increased double teams. As much as the Lakers have benefitted from his increased post presence, it's a better scenario if Bynum concentrates more on defense and rebounding. The Lakers have plenty of options on offense, and Bynum's defense plays a large part in how organized their are.

4. Ramon Sessions vs. Ty Lawson. Ever since his arrival with the Lakers, Sessions (15.1 points and 7.9 assists a game) has bolstered the offensive fluidity and tempo. He's given them another trusty scoring option. And Sessions' pick-and-roll execution give opponents something to worry about beyond limiting the bigs and Bryant.

Defense remains another issue, where the fast tempo has prompted the Lakers to abandon principles and Sessions' on-ball defense isn't a significant upgrade over Derek Fisher. Against the Spurs, however, Sessions showed tremendous growth in limiting Tony Parker to a two-of-12 shooting night. Lawson has been inconsistent in maintaining his aggressiveness and Nuggets Coach George Karl has told the Denver Post that Lawson can become passive in half-court sets.

5. Can the Lakers handle Denver's depth? The Pacers are on pace to squeak into the playoffs despite numerous injuries, the latest being Al Harrington (knee tendinitis). They're still in the playoff race because of their depth, having fielded 21 different starting lineups. They boast five players who average double digits in scoring (Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Harrington, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried). And they have four players who average in the 8-9-points-per-game range (Andre Miller, Corey Brewer, McGee and Kosta Koufos).

Meanwhile, the Lakers are a top-heavy team with a productive starting five but the league's worst bench. Matt Barnes and Steve Blake have shown promising signs in the last two games in their shooting and efficiency. But that's way too small of a sample size to know if that's a trend.


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