Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nuggets vs. Lakers: Playoff Preview Game 2

(Boulder-CO) For game two's preview, I have teamed up with Daniel of La Ball Talk to throw down a J.R. Smith-like dunk of an interview to get some hard questions answered. Daniel threw a couple of Pau Gasol-ish questions my way too, and you can read our conversation right here.

Let's get things tipped off with my questions for the man behind L.A. Ball Talk:

ND: Is Kobe Bryant the regular season's MVP? Why should he win the award over Chris Paul?

LA Ball Talk: Kobe Bryant gets my vote for the MVP. Unfortunately, my vote doesn't count, but allow me to defend my claim. Chris Paul has done a superb job in New Orleans. He has led his team to the 2nd best record in the crazy western conference. His leadership cannot be questioned, however a point guard's leadership is rarely questioned in general (unless you're running the triangle offense where the point guard isn't a primary piece of the puzzle). The first argument for Kobe is that his team finished with the #1 overall record. The 2nd argument is that his stats are great in every category finishing 2nd in scoring, and improving his rebound and assist stats by one in each category over his career averages. Here is my main point though: Kobe Bryant has solid players on his team and great role players, but the injuries to this year's team have been devastating. Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, and Jordan Farmar are the only three players that played all 82 games this season. #2 option Andrew Bynum only played 35 games, and Lamar Odom played almost an entire season with 72 games. Trevor Ariza became an important player on this team and only got to start three games before he went down with his broken foot. The other role players missed a total of 35 games (this includes, Radmanovic, Vujacic, Luke Walton, and Ronny Turiaf). Everyones argument has been that Kobe had Pau Gasol in the middle. Did everyone already forget that Pau only played 27 games in a Lakers uniform? Did anyone consider the three weeks that Kobe kept the team above .500 when Bynum went down and Kwame was the only center on the team? What about after they traded Kwame, and Pau went down, and Ronny and DJ Mbenga (who?) were the only centers on this team. The bottom line is that Kobe has had to deal with so many inconsistencies in the roster and starting line-up that to see where this team has gone is incredible. By the way, I haven't even mentioned the most famous pinky injury in the world or Fisher's torn tendon in his foot. Paul was great for the Hornets, but the fact that he had an all star on his team and a near all star in Tyson Chandler for the entire season gave him plenty more opportunities to finish above the Lakers, which they didn't do.

ND: I have my doubts about a city as rich in NBA history as L.A. being impressed by the Lakers winning the Western Conference regular season title, but honestly, is it or is tinsel town merely covering its yawn until things really get heated up?

LA Ball Talk: I think the amazing part of the Lakers achievements this season that they were able to beat the rest of the conference with so many injuries and inconsistencies. The regular season was great, but to me, I don't feel that we've accomplished anything yet. We have home court advantage and now it's up to us to prove that we truly are worth of the #1 spot. I think the city will really start going crazy once we (hopefully) see the Celtics in the Finals. I think it will be great for the NBA in general.

ND: Who has been the unsung hero of the Lakers this season?

LA Ball Talk: Unsung hero? I'm assuming this means name someone important to this team besides the MVP candidate. We have three guys that truly mean a lot to this team. The first is Derek Fisher for his veteran presence. I really think that Fisher has a lot to do with the rapid development of Jordan Farmar. I also think Fisher had a lot to do with Kobe calming down when the season started and staying silent in regards to his trade demand over the summer. The 2nd hero of this team is Lamar Odom. He is the most expensive role player in this league and we didn't realize his potential until he was able to be the third option on the team. He seems to crumble under pressure (free throws in the 4th quarter) but his rebounds and assists have been great. Also, he is probably one of the best players in the league when they have the ball and in position to drive to the basket. The third player is somewhat of a surprise. Most Lakers fans feel that Ronny Turiaf has been a key to this teams happiness as he is truly the teams motivator and cheerleader. He plays well when he's in the game, but when he's on the bench he is just as effective in cheering everyone up and pushing them to continue to work hard.

ND: How has Pau Gasol helped this team in ways that the young Andrew Bynum had yet to?

LA Ball Talk: Pau Gasol has a back to the basket game that Andrew Bynum is yet to develop. The majority of Bynum's points came from alley oops or easy set ups that led to dunks. Gasol is able to post up, take the outside shot, and is just more prepared in the offense. Gasol is definitely lazier on the defensive end than Bynum was, and his rebounding isn't even close the young big mans ability to pick up the boards, but Gasol has a better overall understanding of the game and a higher basketball IQ that gave him the opportunity to thrive in the triangle offense so quickly.

ND: How many games do you see this first round series playing out in?

LA Ball Talk: I predicted before this series started that the Lakers would win in 5. As a fan I obviously cheer for a sweep, but I'm a realistic fan. I understand that in at least one game Iverson or Carmelo will blow up and have huge games to pull out a win. Based on the last few years though, the Lakers have dominated the Nuggets. I'm actually quite stunned at the results because the Nuggets look so impressive on paper. Camby, K-Mart, Iverson, and Carmelo should be good enough for 50 wins, then add 2 win for each solid role player. I'm not sure why this team barely got to 50. The Lakers showed in Game 1 that they have an advantage in almost every position, except when Iverson moves down to the point guard position (since our PG defense sucks). Lakers should be able to carry the home crowd chants to win #2, and I expect the Lakers to win game 5 at Staples Center as well. I think that winning in Denver is very possible, even with the high altitude that so many teams have struggled playing against, but I think this Lakers team just has too many weapons for the Nuggets to win both home games. Perhaps if one of your more beautiful fans is willing to entertain Kobe Bryant late into the evening before the game, Kobe will miss the team bus and get to the arena at halftime when the Nuggets already have a 37 point lead. Just a thought, please don't try this, it might actually work!!! (If you do it, don't sue and ruin next season, please)

Now it's Daniel's turn to try and cross me over!

LA Ball Talk: Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson are both great options. With the game on the line, who has been the more clutch player?

ND: This season it's been AI. Although, Carmelo has been our silent assassin. After having a tremendous amount of success hitting game winners earlier in this career, it seems like Carmelo has defaulted to Iverson since his arrival when the game's outcome is in the balance.

LA Ball Talk: The fight for the eighth seed was intense. The Nuggets were behind by about a game with less than 10 to go, and they worked hard to get to where they are. What was the difference between the Nuggets and the Warriors that allowed you guys to prevail?

ND: In all honesty, and this is taking nothing away from Coach Don Nelson and his crew, but the Nuggets, seemingly, just needed some kind of motivation and the playoff chase being that tight gave them just enough to throw things into gear. It's a problem this underachieving bunch has battled all year long. They just don't play unless something is pinning their backs to the wall.

LA Ball Talk: Follow up to last question: Are the Nuggets better off making the playoffs or getting a crappy lottery pick?

ND: For the Nuggets, making the playoffs means more than a mid-first round pick. Denver has made the playoffs now for the last five seasons, and to have not made the postseason this year would have been a sign of regression. A bad thing if you're the owner of the fourth highest combined salary in the NBA. But, when you consider the lack of PROGRESSION up the seeding ladder, maybe it's just the lesser of two evils.

LA Ball Talk: At this point, the West has become extremely competitive. Do you, and other Nuggets fans truly feel that this team can win a title this year?

ND: Absolutely not. And if any other Nuggets fans tell you they do think this team can win a title they are cockeyed optimists.

LA Ball Talk: The Lakers swept the season series and easily dominated all three games. What are the Nuggets planning on doing to stop/slow down the Lakers?

ND: First of all, if you do your homework and I know the readers of The Nugg Doctor have, you will find that the Nuggets blew some huge leads in those games so I would say the Lakers easily dominating the Nuggets in the three games this regular season is a bit of a stretch. However, to slow down the Lakers you have to slow down Kobe Bryant. And the only way to do that is to collapse on him when he inevitably gets past his defender and rotate quickly to avoid getting burned off of Bryant's passing ability.

LA Ball Talk: How do you rank the Lakers for their accomplishments this season?

ND: Winning the conference's regular season title is a nice accomplishment, but it's nothing to hang a hat on. The Boston Celtics won 66 games this season and I guarantee they aren't content with being the regular season champs. So, if the Lakers actually accomplish something worth ranking, I'll do so at the appropriate time.

Big thanks to Daniel for initiating this interview. I was previously unaware of his great site and am glad to be adding him to the blogroll.

Go Nuggets!

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