The Lakers had to go through seven games before beating the Denver Nuggets… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
With the roster changes pretty much finalized, it's safe to envision how the Lakers will fare in the 2012-13 season. Sure, the Lakers will have to thin their 14-man roster during training camp, and no one can be sure how any potential deals might change the NBA landscape. But in the spirit of seeing how things have evolved for the Lakers since the 2012 NBA playoffs, this is fifth part of a series breaking down potentially troublesome opponents.
Team: Denver Nuggets
Lakers' record vs. Nuggets last season: 3-1 in regular season
How the Nuggets fared last season: Finished as a sixth seed in the Western Conference with a 38-28 record. Denver then lost to the Lakers in a seven-game first-round series.
Why the Lakers are a threat to the Nuggets: The Lakers eliminated the Nuggets in last year's playoffs for one reason: They have a much more talented roster. Of course, the Lakers should've handled Denver in five games. But after Andrew Bynum proclaimed closeout games to be easy, he mysteriously disappeared in Games 5 and 6. So too did Pau Gasol. But this year, the Lakers have even more talent to handle.
Steve Nash will score and pass with greater consistency than Ramon Sessions. Dwight Howard won't alllow JaVale McGee to dominate inside as much as Bynum did. Nor would he allow Ty Lawson to drive the lane untouched. The Lakers presumably will have Metta World Peace for a full series instead of only one game because of his suspension for delivering a vicious elbow to James Harden. And if Nuggets Coach George Karl considered it a challenge to stop wild cards in Jordan Hill and Steve Blake, Denver's task just became tougher. The Nuggets will also account for Antawn Jamison's prolific scoring and Jodie Meeks' strong outside shooting.
Why the Nuggets are a threat to the Lakers: Barring a rash of injuries or laziness, the Lakers won't lose to the Nuggets in the playoffs. But Denver could still make the Lakers have a challenging first-round series. The Lakers have a superior size advantage over Denver, but the Nuggets have a scrappy front line that would make the Lakers work for their points. McGee's development turned a corner in last year's series against the Lakers, and he's reportedly working out with Hakeem Olajuwon 2-1/2 hours a day this off-season to improve on his post moves. Gasol remains superior to Faried with post moves, but Faried can make up for it as he did last year by playing physical and converting on hustle plays.
Let's not forget the Nuggets' main acquisition this off-season too. It may have been easy to forget since the four-team, 12-player deal centered on Howard going to the Lakers and Bynum going to the 76ers. But in that trade, Denver acquired London Olympic gold medalist Andre Iguodala, while shipping Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington to Orlando. Although Afflalo generally made Kobe Bryant work for his points, Iguodala brings heftier size, length and quickness in making things relatively more difficult for Bryant to go off on a scoring spree. Meanwhile, Iguodala's superior passing will help Denver space the floor and ensure crisp ball movement, a variable the Nuggets must consistently show if they're going to get by what will likely be a disciplined Lakers' defense.
Verdict: As mentioned before, there's no dispute the Lakers would win a playoff series against Denver. It also won't be as close as last year. Howard won't have the same effort inconsistency as Bynum displayed. Even if the Lakers have momentary lapses of focus, their superior talent will make it a non-issue. Still, the Nuggets will maximize what it has. If nothing else, it will force the Lakers to take the beginning of the playoffs pretty seriously.
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