The Western Conference Finals get underway tonight in L.A. in what should be a epic battle between two evenly-matched teams. Here is a look at the intriguing matchups and storylines in this series.
Lakers need to play with intensity and focus
There isn’t much room for error against the Nuggets. The Lakers have yet play with consistency in the playoffs, and need to get more from Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, and Sasha Vujacic.
Bynum looked great in Game 7 against the Rockets, but hasn’t been very involved overall.
Carmelo ready to take the next step
Melo had never gotten out of the first round of the playoffs until this year. Now, he is one step away from going to the finals.
Although he didn’t post good numbers against the Lakers in the regular season, he has upped his game in the playoffs and should have a huge series. He is too strong for Trevor Ariza, too big for Kobe Bryant, too quick for Luke Walton and Lamar Odom. Ariza figures to draw the primary matchup with Melo.
The three Laker point guards
Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown have played well at times in the postseason. Derek Fisher has not.
Phil Jackson will almost certainly stick with Fisher in the starting lineup, but Farmar and Brown could see big minutes against Chauncey Billups. Both have better size and quickness than old man Fish.
Pau Gasol needs to man-up
Gasol has rebounded from a dismal performance in the last year’s finals and put together a strong postseason campaign. But he faces a athletic, long, and physical Nugget frontline.
Kenyon Martin will try to get into his head. Gasol needs to keep his composure and stay aggressive offensively.
Bench play will be key to series
Both teams are fairly deep, but Denver’s bench has played much better in the the playoffs. J.R Smith has amazing ability and tends to play well when motivated. Kobe Bryant is his motivation.
Chris Andersen and Anthony Carter play well no matter how many minutes they get. The Lakers will struggle to match Birdman’s energy and activity off the bench.
Linas Kleiza is banged up but could see some minutes against the Lakers.
Lamar Odom leads the Laker bench. Denver will have trouble containing him if he is aggressive and healthy. I expect him to have a strong series in an effort to enhance his market value this offseason.
Dahntay Jones and J.R. Smith will draw the assignment of checking Kobe. Jones got under Kobe’s skin in a regular season meeting between the two, but he isn’t strong enough to guard Kobe in the post.
Smith’s size and athleticism allows him to make life for Kobe somewhat difficult, but he doesn’t always try on defense.
Basically, nobody can stop Kobe.
Denver wins if
The Nuggs need to maintain composure and get strong play from the frontline, specifically Melo and Nene. Chauncey Billups should have a big series, and the bench needs to play well.
L.A. wins if
Gasol and Bynum dominate. Kobe will get his, Trevor Ariza is much-improved, and Lamar Odom should be active. If the Lakers play hard and smart, expect a series victory
I don’t normally make predictions because who the hell cares what I think, but I’m going to pick a winner here.
I like the Lakers in six games. Although Denver is fast-becoming the trendy pick, the Nuggets have played two horrible (and dumb) teams in the postseason, while L.A. managed to win in Utah and defeat a tough Rocket team.
Get ready for Kobe vs. LeBron.