Coach George Karl, despite another season of personnel changes, has the… (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images )
The Denver Nuggets arrived in Los Angeles facing a 3-0 deficit, an odd spot to be in before a playoff opener.
That's the discrepancy in star power between the Lakers of Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and the Nuggets of zero players likely to get into Staples Center without ID on Sunday before Game 1 of the first-round series.
Bryant, Bynum and Gasol have each won multiple NBA championships.
No Nugget has even reached the Finals.
Bryant was the league's most valuable player in 2008, and Bynum and Gasol have been All-Stars.
The only All-Stars to play at Denver's Pepsi Center this season have worn visitors' uniforms.
"The consensus is, well, they're not talented enough to beat the Lakers," Nuggets Coach George Karl said of his team Saturday. "I'm not sure that's true. In the formula of team plus talent, I think there's a combination. Who has the most right now? Everybody's betting on the Lakers.
"But our teamness is pretty good, and we can win with many different people being our leader."
Indeed, the Nuggets have six players averaging double figures in scoring, with backup point guard Andre Miller (9.7 points a game) nearly representing a seventh. Shooting guard Arron Afflalo has been Denver's closest thing to a star recently, averaging 18.7 points since March 26.
The former UCLA standout who will be the primary defender on Bryant also has a new nickname, a prerequisite for celebrity status. Miller started calling Afflalo "the rattlesnake" because of the way his body gyrates on the court.
"Hey, the rattlesnake versus the Black Mamba," Denver guard Corey Brewer said, referring to Bryant's nickname. "It's going to be a good matchup. I like the rattlesnake in this one."
So does Karl, at least in the literal comparison of the reptiles.
"Have you ever seen a black mamba?" Karl said. "It's not a very big snake. It's not a very impressive snake. The rattlesnake is more impressive. I don't think you want to get bit by either one, but I know you don't want to get bit by the black mamba."
Karl said he was considering a novel idea to avoid being gnawed on by 7-footers Bynum and Gasol: continually rotating big men Kosta Koufos, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Al Harrington and Timofey Mozgov in short bursts.
"What if our center position was like hockey?" Karl said. "Four- or five-minute stints, just run, run, run, run. Next guy, run, run, run, run. Because I know Bynum and Gasol don't want to run, run, run, run for 48 minutes."
The fast-paced Nuggets hope to scurry as much as possible against the more half-court-oriented Lakers to generate transition baskets. That was the formula that worked in Denver's 99-90 victory over the Lakers onNew Year's Day, when the Nuggets made layup after layup and scored the game's final 11 points.
"We want to try to get out and run," Denver point guard Ty Lawson said. "It's easy for us to score that way."
Karl repeatedly flashed a wry smile as he discussed the difference in composition between the top-heavy Lakers and the more balanced Nuggets.
"They have to develop more teamness in this playoffs to win a championship," Karl said of the Lakers, "and we have to show the world that some of our players have more talent than right now they are perceived [to have]. And I think that's going to happen in time."