Point guard: Derek Fisher vs. Chauncey Billups
We all noticed how Fisher had trouble in the previous round trying to keep up with Aaron Brooks, and Phil Jackson even put Jordan Farmar in early and often, who matches up with Brooks in terms of speed. So if Fisher had trouble trying to contain Brooks, how will he perform against Billups? Now Billups might not be as quick, but other than that, Denver’s hometown hero is one of the best players of the Playoffs so far. Advantage: Nuggets.
Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Dahntay Jones
Jones will have the task to stay on Kobe and trying to prevent that he gets hot early. But Jones isn’t the reason Bryant should be worried; guys like Nene, Kenyon Martin and the Birdman are. When Kobe starts driving to the basket, he will meet these guys around the rim. But when it comes to guards, Kobe will have his way. Advantage: Lakers.
Small forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Carmelo Anthony
Charles Barkley has said numerous times on Inside the NBA this past week that Carmelo Anthony is one the best scorers in the NBA. But also during the show they showed that Melo hasn’t played all that well against the Lakers this season. I’m a big fan of Trevor Ariza, who can do a little bit of everything, and doing it at both ends of the court. He’ll keep a hand in the face of Anthony at all time, but I think that the talented Nuggets forward is on such a roll (averaging 30ppg against Dallas, shooting 51% from the field and almost 55% from 3), and won’t be the same Melo that the Lakers saw during the regular season. Advantage: Nuggets.
Power forward: Pau Gasol vs. Kenyon Martin
Gasol has a height advantage, but like Martin says about himself: he won’t back down from nobody. I think without Martin, the Nuggets would have looked like a completely different team on the defensive end. Because not only is he a guy who is good in coming over from the weak side to block shots, he is also an annoying (and “annoying” is a good thing obviously) one-on-one defender. Gasol however, has proven to be the most consistent player for the Lakers so far. Advantage: Lakers.
Center: Andrew Bynum vs. Nene
Bynum didn’t play all that much against the Rockets, but when he did get some minutes you always notice that there’s a lot this kid can do. A little baby hook, and offensive rebound there; I think he’ll be needed against the Nuggets, who have a physical player of their own in Nene. As I stated many times (well, at least two times), when Nene has a good game, the Nuggets have a good game. Advantage: Nuggets.
Except for Lamar Odom, L.A.’s bench is as thin as my hairline. I must say that Jordan Farmar has been playing with more confidence, but the inconsistency of Farmar, or Sasha Vujacic, doesn’t help this Lakers team. I like Shannon Brown, but it’s unfair to count on him in clutch situations. The Nuggets of course are famous because of the guy who fires quicker than Viggo Mortensen in “Appaloosa”: J.R. Smith, and fan favorite Chris Andersen. Anthony Carter gets his 15-20 minutes off the bench, a reliable veteran point guard which pretty much completes the eight-man rotation George Karl is using. Advantage: Nuggets.
Coaching: Phil Jackson vs. George Karl
So far, when it comes to coaching, I always give the Lakers the advantage. You can’t argue with Jackson’s legendary status, but it must be said that his team still isn’t always playing with intensity, something that I do see watching Denver or Cleveland for that matter. I also wonder how much you can blame Jackson for this. It’s the players who have to perform on the court, and to execute the game plan. George Karl acknowledges his team got far, and it’s good to hear him say that neither he nor his team think it’s over. They aren’t getting complacent just because they got the WCF. They want to go all the way, they stay hungry, and they stay motivated. It won’t be the coaches who make the difference in this series. It’s not about X’s and O’s this round. Advantage: none.
What I’d say:
Lakers in seven. Could’ve been a coin toss really. Yes, I think the Nuggets are that good. This series has nothing to do with star power. The Lakers can’t simply rely on their talent and hope they’ll get by. It’s plain and simple: the team that wants it the most, will win it.