Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Here we go again
The Denver Nuggets find themselves in a familiar position, down three games to one and facing elimination. This time it’s the Los Angeles Lakers who are trying to close them out, something the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz were unable to do. Outside of game one, the Nuggets have been right there in every contest, but in games two and four they were unable to keep the Lakers off the offensive glass and it ultimately spelled doom for the blue and gold. they’ll have to clean it up tonight to stay alive.
Frank Vogel inserted Dwight Howard into the starting lineup in game four which proved to be the big difference maker on the glass. The Nuggets, and Nikola Jokic in particular, were unable to counteract Howard’s physicality inside which ultimately led to their undoing. No doubt Vogel will employ the same strategy again, it’ll be up to Michael Malone to figure out how he’s going to counter it while also figuring out how to contain Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
Who: Denver Nuggets (1-3) vs Los Angeles Lakers (3-1)
When: 7:00 PM MDT
Where: The Bubble. Orlando, FL.
How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. TNT, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Sneak into the bubble with an Adam Silver mask. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.
Rival Blog: Silver Screen and Roll
Player availability: Will Barton – out (knee), Vlatko Cancar – out (foot), Alex Caruso – probable (wrist), Danny Green – probable (finger), LeBron James – probable (groin), Dion Waiters – questionable (groin), Anthony Davis – questionable (ankle)
Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard is a once great player that is now regulated to a goon, and it works for him. He excels at goonery. Jokic is clearly the more skilled player, probably more skilled than Dwight ever was in his career, but he’s been thrown off his game by Howard. That was never more present than in game four. It’s not really in Jokic’s nature to get nasty, but that’s what he needs to do tonight. Howard is the Lakers metaphorical punch in the mouth and Nikola needs to punch back. Fight harder for position on the boards, force the action in the post on offense and try to get Dwight in foul trouble. That’s the recipe for overcoming one of the most annoying (and I mean that as a compliment) players on the floor.
Key thing to watch for: early energy
The Lakers know full well what the Nuggets did in the past two series when they were down 3-1 and it’s no doubt bullet point one in Vogel’s strategy for the game tonight. I expect the Lakers to look to jump on the Nuggets early and try to build a lead. Denver can’t let that happen. They need to be the aggressors out of the gate and they can’t let up if they get ahead. That means on top of bringing the energy on offense, they ‘ll need to bring it on defense. No more 40 point opening quarters, no more getting dominated on the defensive glass, no more giving LeBron a dozen transition baskets. The Nuggets need to put the pedal to the floor from the jump and keep it there.
Opening thought: call a clean game
Tony Brothers, Rodney Mott, Steve Foster, Zach Zarba, I can pull a number of NBA referee names off the top of my head which isn’t true of any other sport. Why? Because they’re terrible at their jobs, so terrible that you learn their names because so much attention is brought to how terrible they are. Their absolute buffoonery met peak levels in the fourth quarter of game four when it was clear they needed to make sure the Lakers felt like they got a good whistle. This of course comes after L.A. wrote a letter to the league office complaining that LeBron wasn’t getting enough free throws. To paraphrase Mike Gundy, the organization who wrote that letter is garbage, the league office who took it under consideration is garbage and the officials who made sure to give the Lakers a ridiculous whistle in the most crucial moment of a pivotal game are garbage. I get it, LeBron feels entitled to getting preferential treatment, and he’ll whine after everything he perceives to be a non call. Hell, he whines even when he gets the call. Enough is enough, stop turning a great product into garbage because you’re incapable of calling a game evenly.