This article is being written while watching the Los Angeles Lakers pretty much having their way with the Houston Rockets in game 7 of their semifinal matchup; ahead by 19 points heading into the final period. Anything outside of a huge collapse, the Lakers will be advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the second consecutive year. Their opponent will be the Denver Nuggets, a team up until this post-season, had not previously made it out of the first round since 1994. The Nuggets then defeated the Dallas Mavericks in five games to advance to conference finals for the first time since 1985. The irony here is that the Nuggets also faced the Lakers that year and fell in five games. While the Los Angeles Lakers have been one of the prohibitive favorites to make to the finals, the Nuggets have been a team that has flown under the radar pretty much the entire season. The Denver Nuggets did finish with the second best record in the western conference along with setting a franchise record for most wins in a season, their 54-28 was still eleven games behind the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Los Angeles Lakers will probably be the heavy favorites in this series as they won three of four meetings during the season and they swept the Denver Nuggets in the first round of last year’s playoffs. As with most of the teams in the league, no one has a single answer for Kobe Bryant but I do think that the Houston Rockets exposed some chinks in the armor sort to speak. The Rockets were able to stretch the Lakers to seven games without any great individual scorers and low production in the paint as their two best players Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming were sidelined with injuries. In the three games won by the Rockets, they were able to accelerate the pace of the game and thus creating favorable matchups as the Lakers often found themselves out of position. The Denver Nuggets are a team that likes to run when given the opportunity as they have shown in their series wins against both the New Orleans and the Dallas Mavericks. Another key area is the guard play of the Nuggets as they are a better team offensively and defensively with Chauncey Billups leading the backcourt compared with Allen Iverson from a year ago. Also, the Lakers will not be playing against an undersized frontcourt, as was the case with the Rockets once Yao Ming was lost for the series. Look for Kenyon Martin, Nene, and Chris Anderson to be able to match the inside combination of Gasol, Odom and Bynum and I think Carmelo Anthony will provide a matchup problem for the Lakers as Bryant will for the Nuggets. With all of that being said, who will win this series when it’s all said and done and advance to the Finals? While I think the Denver Nuggets will probably be the best opponent the Lakers have faced so far, it pains me to say that the Los Angeles Lakers will emerge as the winner of this series as well in six or seven games and go back to the finals