Sixth Man (cont.)
Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers, Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET. An NBA scout breaks down this matchup of two teams that will try to push the pace.
"The Lakers have an awful bench, and they haven't had Steve Nash or Steve Blake," the scout said. "Their dilemma has come from using Kobe Bryant as their facilitator, which means he's been trying to do too much. Now it's as if he's taking every shot, and if he's not shooting then he's involved with the ball. The ball looks like it's in his hands 90.9 percent of the time. If Mike D'Antoni had been his coach for his whole career, then Kobe would have every scoring record in the NBA. It wouldn't be close.
"If Kobe keeps having the ball in his hands every possession, then somewhere along the way he's going to get hurt. Right now, he's having to do everything. He's putting that team on his back to try to win games and it's incredible. But when the ball is in your hands a lot and you're always involved in the action, that's when injuries occur. Kobe needs Nash back so he can move back into that slot where he isn't having to do all of the work.
"Once they get everybody on the floor and playing in D'Antoni's offense, I think it will work out well for them -- but not as well as they'd like it to.
"I'm telling you, Nash at 38 is going to struggle to stay healthy for the rest of his career. Let's say they had to play without him in the playoffs. I don't think they'd be able to get by Memphis without Nash. Even if Nash is healthy, I don't think the Lakers will be able to beat Oklahoma City. I don't know if I would put the Lakers ahead of San Antonio either. It's going to come down to those four teams, and you know that getting to the Western finals isn't going to be good enough for the Lakers.
"Dwight Howard looks healthy to me -- he has no issues I can see, he's diving on the floor. But one thing he lacks is that he doesn't have that fire that Shaquille O'Neal had. Howard can put up 20 and 10 every night, but I don't know that he has that edge that Shaq had.
"Then there's Pau Gasol. If you listen to Mike, the offense is going to work for Gasol. People are speculating that it's not going to work, but if you're asking me, I have to tell you I really don't know. It may work playing them [Gasol and Howard] together -- 20 or 30 games from now you'll know the answer. Right now, it isn't working, though you have to be aware that Nash hasn't been on the floor with Gasol yet either. They've been playing this high-low with Howard rolling to the rim and Gasol on the outside, but in a tough playoff situation I'm not sure they can count on Gasol to hit that outside shot consistently. His strength is around the rim.
"I look at a game like this and I can see Denver's trying to outrun the Lakers. The Nuggets can run with anybody. It will be a high-scoring game, but I think L.A. has too much firepower for them. Danilo Gallinari is a good player, but I don't think he's ever going to reach an All-Star level. Andre Iguodala is their best player, and that's a good system for him with Denver because he can run up and down the floor and play to his strengths. But I look at him as a borderline All-Star who has never reached his potential.
"This is another one of those games that will say something about the Lakers. They should have no problem winning at home against this team. If the Lakers aren't able to win a game like this, then you'll know the Lakers have got problems.''
In honor of Billups' recovery from Achilles surgery, consider the array of talent that has yet to appear on the floor this season, as well as the salary each player is receiving this season:
C Andrew Bynum, 76ers (knees) -- $16.8 million
F Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks (knee) -- $20.9 million
F Amar'e Stoudemire, Knicks (knee) -- $19.9 million
G Eric Gordon, Hornets (knee) -- $13.6 million
G Derrick Rose, Bulls (knee) -- $16.4 million
F Danny Granger, Pacers (knee) -- $13.0 million
F Channing Frye, Suns (enlarged heart) -- $6.0 million
F Grant Hill, Clippers (knee) -- $1.9 million
G John Wall, Wizards (knee) -- $5.9 million
G Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves (knee) -- $3.5 million
TOTAL PAYROLL: $117.9 million