After earning a solid win at home over the Denver Nuggets in Game 1, the Los Angeles Lakers appeared to be the vastly superior team on the floor.
Here are five reasons why they will sweep the Nuggets:
If the Lakers happen to get down late in a game, they've got three legitimate offensive threats who can get buckets and carry them to victory.
Who do the Nuggets have? Danilo Gallinari? He was non-existent in the second half of Game 1 after having some success pounding the ball inside early.
The Nuggets were 24th in the NBA in fourth quarter points allowed, a troubling stat for the Nuggets that can only make Kobe Bryant salivate. Without such similar leadership, the Nuggets will likely disintegrate under pressure should they get down by a decent margin in the second half.
The paint is a deadly poison for the Nuggets because it affects them both on offense and defense.
This Nuggets team has length with Timofey Mozgov, Javale McGee, Kosta Koufos, and Kenneth Faried, but none of them are offensively polished yet. As such, they will have minimal impact in this series compared to the Lakers' front-line superiority.
On defense, the Nuggets are the same ugly old woman with the same poisoned apple, as the length of the Lakers will be too much to stop. This is not to say that McGee won't get his share of blocks, but through the course of 48 minutes, the Lakers' offensive skills up front will prove to be too much.
6-Foot, 7-Foot, 8-Foot Bunch
When the Lakers commit to defense, they are close to unstoppable. As seen in Game 1, the length of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol -- exemplified by their 12 combined blocks -- will bother the Nuggets all series.
If the Laker guards can shore up their on-ball defense and stay in front of Ty Lawson and the Nuggets, the series will be a breeze.
In Game 1, the Lakers showed that their defense is for real by holding the Nuggets to 88 points. The Nuggets only scored 90 points or less 7 times in 66 games, as they led the NBA in scoring. It so happens that 3 of those 7 games were all losses to . . . the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lakers Out to Prove Something
Considering that the Lakers were embarrassed by the Mavericks in the playoffs last season, this year they are out to prove themselves. If the Lakers stumble during a game, a determined Kobe Bryant will put them in check even if he has to correct things by himself. Kobe knows his championship window will be closing in a couple years, as this could be his last real shot at a ring.
Even worse for Denver, the oft-criticized bench guys like Jordan Hill and Steve Blake are also playing with some fire. The Nuggets best bet was to outplay the Laker bench, but in Game 1 Hill and Blake combined for 19 points and 12 boards. The Nuggets will need to stop the Lakers' complementary players to have a chance because they will inevitably get torched by the Lakers' Big Three.
The Lakers won 3 of 4 meetings against the Nuggets this season solely because they controlled the Nuggets' transition game. The Nuggets certainly need to run because of the Lakers' greater length and half court defense. If they run, the Laker bigs will have trouble getting back on defense, leading to fast break hoops.
Denver led the league this year with 19.8 fast-break points per game, and in Game 1 they got that 19. Although the Nuggets will get some baskets in transition regardless of how well the Lakers control the tempo, the key for Los Angeles will be minimizing the damage, as they did in Game 1. By continuing to slow Ty Lawson, the tempo -- and the game -- will be in the Lakers' favor.
Tempo is pivotal, but also important for the Lakers will be continuing to hold the Nuggets to two-point trips instead of threes.
The Nuggets averaged 33% from three-point land this season, but in the 4 regular season games against the Lakers they averaged a brutal 21%. In Game 1 they shot 28% from behind the arc. With the Lakers keeping tempo on their side and maintaining strong perimeter defense, the Nuggets will find themselves fishing on the Colorado River after 4 games.
Caveat: The Denver Advantage
In this year's compressed season, the Denver Nuggets finished 20-13 at home. In addition, over the past three full NBA seasons, the Nuggets averaged 33 wins at home out of a possible 41 games. The reason? They run.
Coach George Karl doesn't use this offensive system by accident, as the Nuggets -- accustomed to playing at altitude -- take advantage of the thin air in the mile high city. With their above-average stamina, the Nuggets do not tire as easily as their opponents.
Track and field athletes usually train at higher altitudes because they develop greater endurance when they return to sea level. Likewise, the Nuggets push the tempo because the altitude enhances their run-and-gun style of basketball.
Although unlikely, the Nuggets one chance for a win could be at home in the thin air. Otherwise LA can break out the brooms.
By Kareem Arnold
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald