As part of the annual 2-day "Shootout" at Staples Center, the Lakers and the Denver Nuggets meet for the first time in this NBA year Saturday night after the Clippers and the Jazz start things off at 4:30. Then, the winning teams on Saturday play one another the following night on Sunday. This is also the first time the Lakers will play in their own building since defeating the Boston Celtics in that epic Game 7 to capture their 16th NBA title.
The Lakers are coming off of their first win of the pre-season against Sacramento in Las Vegas last Wednesday. Ron Artest and the Laker bench were particularly the highlights of that game with Artest putting up 18 points and the second unit working together on both ends of the floor to secure the victory. The purple and gold will need more of that against a more talented and tougher opponent from Denver.
The Nuggets are 2-1 in pre-season so far but will be without veteran forward Al Harrington, who suffered a partial tear of his plantar fascia (the major tissue that supports the arc of the foot) in his left foot against Portland.
Denver became somewhat the talk of the NBA late in the summer as the saga with their franchise player Carmelo Anthony got worst with reports of Melo demanding a trade to the Knicks before the start of their training camp. Things have simmered down a bit but is nowhere close to being resolved. Anthony may have stopped shouting publicly but his wishes are still filed as "priority" on top of new Nugget GM Masai Ujiri's to-do list. We'll see how this drama takes fold as the season (or pre-season) rolls along.
As for the Lakers, their main priority is the health of their own superstar Kobe Bryant. Kobe is slowly coming along in his rehab for his left knee and is doing everything he can to make it strong enough for opening night. Other than getting his 6th ring in June, Bryant wants to be as healthy as possible this upcoming season to tend to other challenges that await him...namely the new look Miami Heat.
Kobe may not need anymore motivation other than winning another title, but it makes getting cookie #6 that much sweeter going through the teams designed to dethrone the Lakers. He's still playing the PC card when it comes to answering questions directed to Shaquille O'Neal joining Boston and the Voltron team in South Beach, but make no mistake Kobe is also taking notes.
What to Look for Against Denver
• Ron Artest vs. Carmelo Anthony and Steve Blake vs. Chauncey Billups and Ty Lawson: Artest is dedicating this season into becoming that defensive force that got him the "Defensive Player of the Year" award back in 2004. So, we'll see how he treats Melo on that end of the court. Blake will be facing one of his former teams last season. Let's see how well he can keep Billups from launching those 3s or how often he can keep himself in-between the hoop and Lawson.
• Denver's defense on Pau Gasol: The Nuggets have the most athletic and physical frontline in all of the NBA. Without Andrew Bynum in the paint with him and without the usual Kobe roaming the perimeter, expect Gasol to be their number one target on defense. That means there will be a plethora of double-teams, extra shoving and pushing, and Kenyon Martin sending anybody that gets near the paint to the free-throw line.
• Laker perimeter shooting: With Gasol getting plenty of attention from the Nugget defense, there should be enough open looks at the basket to go around. The question is would the Lakers make them pay?
Saturday, Oct. 16th at 7:30 (PST) at Staples Center
TV: FoxSports West / NBA-TV Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN
Injury Notes: Sasha Vujacic is out indefinitely after being diagnosed with a concussion he suffered when Lamar Odom inadvertently hit Sasha on the head with his elbow during Friday's practice.
What was Sasha doing guarding Lamar or battling him on the boards?