(Boulder-CO) I was hoping last night's Lakers vs. Suns game would go into quadruple overtime so Kobe wouldn't have had the luxury of watching the fourth quarter from the bench. Unfortunately, L.A. blackened out the Suns easily, 105-92.
The Lakers are now 9-1 and can still boast the league's largest positive point differential of +13.9 points per game, or should I say wins? The Lakers can also rub the last eight straight wins over the Nuggets - including three wins during last year's regular season, a four-game sweep in last year's playoffs, and a, 104-97, win already this season - in Denver's eye. But... Can they say they've played these Denver Nuggets? I think not!
Sure, the Lakers are a great team. Bynum is back and is playing like a beast. Kobe Bryant could still be the best overall player in the world. Pau Gasol is averaging a double-double of 16.2 points and ten boards. Lamar Odom may not like coming off the bench, but that's not stopping the 6'10" power-point from giving Phil Jackson solid contributions nightly while Vladimir Radmanovic is quietly shooting 45% from three-point range as a starter. So.... So... So what?
Of the nine wins L.A. has stacked up this season, the Nuggets are one of only four teams (Dallas, New Orleans, and Chicago being the others) to keep the Lakers' margin of victory to just seven points. And that first loss to the Lakers was before Chauncey Billups came to town. Since Mr. Big Shot has settled into the Denver landscape, the Nuggets have held opponents to an average of 92.5 points while winning seven of their last eight and defeating the reigning NBA Champion Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs on their home floors. Furthermore, the Nuggets have drastically improved their efficiency offensively by cutting down their turnovers and not relying on the fastbreak as heavily; both of which should improve their chances against the Lakers tonight in L.A. because Kobe and Co. are not prone to turning the ball over or losing the battle of the boards.
Now here are two critical aspects of tonight's game: First, Denver has to get production out of its bench. Before Wednesday's victory over the Spurs when the Nuggets received just 14 points worth of support from its reserves. The Denver bench had been averaging 33.3 points from its subs in the three previous match-ups. Against the well balanced Lakers, who have a combined total of almost 40 points out of their bench players, this is pivotal. The second critical aspect of tonight's game will be field goal percentage. Both teams shoot comparably from the field so my conclusion is, not accounting for any other major development, that the team that shoots the higher percentage tonight will win. Now, I know that's not exactly pin-pointing the exact date of the end of humanity, but believe me when I say that it just might boil down to something that simple tonight when two of the hottest teams in the Western Conference square off.