The Nuggets almost have to sweep two games in Denver in order to have a realistic chance at upsetting the Lakers, who lead 2-0, in the first round. Game 1 was a blowout, but the Nuggets appeared to make some progress in rallying to make Game 2 close in Los Angeles. Was it fool’s gold, or did the Nuggets discover something?
Here are five things to watch as the series resumes in Denver on Friday:
1. Can George Karl find enough combinations that work?
Through two games, the Nuggets have played only one five-man lineup for more than eight minutes, a trend that reflects both the depth of this team and Karl’s struggle to find some stability against this opponent. The one lineup that has cracked the eight-minute mark — the Nuggets’ starting lineup — has been a disaster so far, having been outscored by 17 points in 22 minutes. Danilo Gallinari has shot just 12-of-32 as this lineup’s would-be top-scoring option, and the Kenneth Faried/Kosta Koufos big-man combination just hasn’t offered enough dynamism to combat the Lakers’ massive size advantage. Faried is a monster athlete, but he’s giving away too much size to score in the paint, and neither guy has enough range to unclog the lane for Ty Lawson.
The easy suggestion would be more time for the Al Harrington/Andre Miller/Corey Brewer trio, since the Nuggets have actually outscored L.A. when any two of those three are on the court together — in both the regular season and the playoffs. But that likely has a bit to do with the fact that these three enter the game late in the first quarter and play into the second quarter, when the Lakers rest their stars one or two at a time. Would their success hold up as well against the A-team?
The center position is particularly tough. Karl might dream of going ultra-small with Harrington or Faried at center, and he did play the little-used Faried/Harrington/Gallinari front-line trio — it logged just 30 minutes the entire regular season — a few minutes in each of the first two games. Karl might be able to steal minutes for lineups like these when either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum is on the bench, but even then the size disadvantage might be overwhelming, with Jordan Hill working the offensive glass. JaVale McGee provided some key shot-blocking and one transition dunk in Game 2, but he has been unable to make any non-dunk shot so far. Timofey Mozgov has the strength to guard Bynum, but it’s clear Karl doesn’t trust him (and hasn’t for much of the season), and he has looked uncertain on offense. Read More…