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Five things to watch in Lakers-Nuggets Game 2 matchup

The Lakers look to a take a 2-0 series lead against the Denver Nuggets following a solid performance in the playoff opener.

May 01, 2012|By Mark Medina

Here are five things to watch when the Lakers play Game 2 of their first-round series against the Denver Nuggets tonight at Staples Center:

1. How do the Lakers prevent a letdown? Everything they showed in their 103-88 Game 1 win Sunday over Denver was ideal. The Lakers focused on getting the ball inside to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. But relentless double teams prompted quick passes. Teammates nailed open jumpers, including Devin Ebanks and Steve Blake. Even though Kobe Bryant scored 31 points, he seemed content sharing the spotlight. And most importantly, led by Bynum, the Lakers placed heavy emphasis on defense, limiting the Nuggets to 36.5% shooting.

I'll break down the particulars below, but it's likely the Lakers will let down their guard tonight in Game 2. The reasons go beyond the inevitable adjustments from a playoff series. The Lakers have followed many signature wins, including ones against the Clippers, Celtics, Heat and Spurs, with clunkers. The Lakers may say the mind-set changes when the playoffs hit. But it's possible they believe Denver has no chance of beating them. Hence, the possible letdown.

2. Will Andrew Bynum maintain the same effectiveness? As much as Bryant leads the team in talent and leadership, Bynum's effort will largely dictate the Lakers' success. The Nuggets have thrown the most double teams at him. His passing will determine whether the Lakers move the ball and thrive. His defense will influence whether the Nuggets drive the lane and how they run pick-and-roll sets.

Although Bynum's defense and rebounding has come in spurts, his Game 1 performance marked a turning point in his focus. Still, it remains to be seen whether he could still be as effective in Denver's counters, including better screens and more aggressive play. Because of that, it's unrealistic to think Bynum can still replicate 10 blocks and one turnover. Still, so long as Bynum carries the same mind-set, the Lakers' size will carry them.
3. How do the Lakers contain the Nuggets' speed? It's unlikely Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo combine for  six-of-22 shooting again. It's more likely that they will attack the basket aggressively. Yet, the Lakers can still maintain their methodical pace. Knowing that the Lakers' size will obstruct shots, Denver might endlessly drive and kick it out. Because that takes time off the clock, the Lakers would indirectly control the pace.

4. Will the Lakers feature another "wild card"? It's safe to say the Nuggets weren't anticipating that  Devin Ebanks would score 12 points on five-of-six shooting. Heck, Nuggets Coach George Karl couldn't even pronounce his name correctly. Denver also probably didn't plan for Steve Blake to hit three three-pointers. He's usually tentative with his shot. So perhaps the Nuggets will pay more attention to them. Or Denver might just take its chances again, knowing Bynum, Bryant and Pau Gasol are more dangerous.

If the Nuggets give Blake, Ebanks and Matt Barnes open shots, they need to shoot them in rhythm and with confidence. If they face sharper defense, they need to simply feed the ball to the Big Three and concentrate on mastering the intangibles in the game instead.

5. How will Jordan Hill play? The Lakers and Hill have both vowed that his pending court case in Houston stemming from a third-degree felony charge won't affect his performance. What matters more are his actions. Hill's emergence in the last week is a pleasant surprise for a reserve unit that's lacked consistency.

Josh McRoberts has provided hustle plays but hasn't expanded his game beyond that. Troy Murphy's usefulness relies solely on his streaky shooting. The Lakers frankly don't have better options than Hill at this point. And for the sake of giving Bynum and Gasol a breather as well as maintaing leads, the importance that Hill doesn't allow his legal issues to negatively affect his play can't be overstated. 


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Andrew Bynum's preparation paid off in Game 1 performance

Jordan Hill will play in Game 2 vs. Denver, says Coach Mike Brown

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