Forward Devin Ebanks of the Lakers and Kenneth Faried of the Nuggets chase… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
What should the Lakers feel optimistic about against Denver?
Mike Bresnahan: None of the Nuggets' starters have ever gotten out of the first round with Denver. Kobe Bryant alone has played in 41 playoff series. Tough to pick against the Lakers for that reason alone.
Ben Bolch: They have played some of their best basketball as of late, with victories over Oklahoma City and San Antonio showing that they can beat the top teams in the Western Conference. Their energy level has been more consistent and their Big Three give them a 3-0 edge in the star department against the Denver Nuggets.
Mark Medina: The Nuggets can throw every big at Andrew Bynum. It won't matter. He's averaged 24.8 points on 66.4% shooting through four games this season against the Nuggets. And it's possible Bynum will top that in this series.
What should the Lakers feel pessimistic about against the Nuggets?
Bresnahan: The Lakers have done a great job of shedding age and salary over the past six months, but they still can't compare to the youth of the Nuggets, whose starters have an average age of 23.6. And they're fast.
Bolch: Metta World Peace's suspension for the first six games of a series that doesn't figure to go that far could lead to lulls against a high-energy team that thrives in transition. Without the threat of a defensive stopper/thug to thwart him, Danilo Gallinari could have a breakout series for the Nuggets. Matt Barnes' ankle injury also is worrisome provided it doesn't improve quickly. That could leave the Lakers woefully shorthanded at small forward and looking to Christian Eyenga, who has spent much of this season in the Development League.
Medina: The Lakers' defense. Suddenly their calling card has become their biggest weakness. There's no margin for error in correcting that against Denver, which leads the league in scoring average (104.12), assists (23.96) and fast-break points (19.8).
How do the Lakers adjust to Metta World Peace's absence?
Bresnahan: The Lakers are actually lucky they're not playing Memphis (small forward = Rudy Gay) or Oklahoma City (SF = Kevin Durant) in the first round. If they were, they'd probably lose thanks to World Peace's foolishness. They'll survive here without him because Nuggets small foward Danilo Gallinari hasn't recaptured the form he had earlier this season before being sidelined by ankle and thumb injuries.
Bolch: They will have to lean heavily on Devin Ebanks and probably play Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake together more than they would like, particularly if Matt Barnes' ankle problems linger. They will also need to find someone to provide the emotional spark that World Peace gave them before his ill-fated elbow to the head of James Harden.
Medina: The Lakers should extend this series as much as possible just so World Peace misses fewer games in the second round. Or hope Barnes' ankle heals quickly. Ebanks will likely stay in his lane and not make too many glaring mistakes. But it's unrealistic to think he can replace World Peace.
What's the matchup to watch in the Lakers-Nuggets series?
Bresnahan: Ty Lawson against Ramon Sessions. Two young point guards with good speed and little to no playoff experience. Should be a barn-burner there.
Bolch: Gallinari-Ebanks. Ebanks showed against Durant last week that he can help contain an elite scorer, and he'll need to do the same to prevent Gallinari from keeping Denver in games.
Medina: Kobe Bryant against Arron Afflalo. The UCLA product has held Bryant to 17.7 points on 27.5% shooting this season while averaging 19.1 points per game this past month. The playoffs will be a different story, though. Bryant's improved health and energy level will allow him to put on a show once again.
Prediction for the Lakers-Nuggets series:
Bresnahan: I would have picked the Lakers in five because they're rested and they've never lost a playoff series to the Nuggets in five previous tries. But then Metta went mad, so now I'll take Lakers in six.
Bolch: I'm tempted to say it will be a Lakers sweep, but this is hardly a perfect team and the Nuggets could steal one game. So I'll say Lakers in five.
Medina: The Lakers have size, while the Nuggets have speed. It'll make for a competitive six-game series, but size always wins.
How far do the Lakers go in the playoffs?
Bresnahan: They could easily lose to Oklahoma City in the second round. The Thunder will be amped up because of what World Peace did to Harden. Who knows how World Peace will even look after sitting two to three weeks because of his suspension? The Lakers' best hope is for Dallas to knock off Oklahoma City. Sure. Let me know when that happens.