If you’re the Denver Nuggets, you face the daunting task of being the eighth seed and battling the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Daunting, that is, to the rest of us.
If there’s one mistake Kobe Bryant and company don’t want to make, it’s not taking this Nugget team seriously. Eighth seed or not, Denver still managed to win 50 games for the first time in 20 years and have as much talent as any team in the Western Conference.
Of course, all of those things are in the minds of the Nuggets. For the second consecutive season, they’re viewed as the underdogs by fans and media alike, but don’t kid yourself with even flirting with the thought that they don’t think they can upset the Lakers, led by a player who’s good enough to win a playoff game or two in a series on his own.
Said Nuggets guard Allen Iverson, who isn’t a stranger to playing on a team being outmatched against the Lakers:
“It’s just another team that we’ve got to get through to get where we want to be. They’re a great team - not taking anything away from them - but we’re a great team as well.”
The key, they believe, will be stopping the Lakers’ offense.
“They’ve got a big man in the low post, which most of the low post up until this year was Kobe there more often than not,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Now they don’t even play the triangle as much as they just throw the ball down to Gasol. They have a couple of nice tricks off of their post cutting and post movement. He makes great decisions, and there’s a comfort zone to kind of giving Kobe the fast game, and giving Gasol the slow game.”
On the Laker side of things, they agree that this series won’t exactly be a walk in the park on a breezy Sunday afternoon.
“They’re a team that’s got two great players that can explode at any time,” forward Lamar Odom said.
“Carmelo is 6-foot-8 and can play on the block. I think besides Kobe Bryant, he’s probably the best perimeter scorer in the NBA.”
The Lakers are indeed taking this Nugget team seriously with specific strategies in mind, such as Bryant defending Iverson and three-point specialist, Vladimir Radmanovic, matching up against Carmelo Anthony.
There’s no doubt that Bryant, who most likely will most likely win his first Most Valuable Player award, will be at his best after three seasons in a row where the best his team could do was make the playoffs. He once again has the opportunity of winning a fourth title, and isn’t about to allow anyone take it away.
“We talked about it in training camp that our goal was to win a championship,” he said. “It’s not to play for eight seeds or seventh seeds. It’s to contend for a title, and we put ourselves in a good position. Now we have to take care of the job.”
Don’t forget that on Bryant’s side, the Lakers have a big in Gasol who can hit the mid range jumper, post up, and set up his teammates if he draws the double team. Along with the versatility of Lamar Odom who managed to stay healthy enough this season to average a double-double and provide a highly appreciated relief to Bryant and Gasol.
Then there’s Jackson looking for his NBA record 10th ring who will piece it all together.
Good luck, Denver. You’re gonna need it.Note: All Quotes courtesy of Rocky Mountain News and Los Angeles Times