The Lakers meet up with AI, Melo, and the rest of the Denver Nuggets tonight at STAPLES Center (7:30, TNT).
The Nuggets have lost their last two games (at Houston, vs. Indiana), but still sport a 9-6 record that puts them just ahead of the Lakers in the Western Conference playoff race. Denver finished as the 6th seed last season, while the Lakers were the 7th seed.
The Nuggets are all kinds of banged up, but could get oft-injured forward Kenyon Martin back tonight. Former Laker Chucky Atkins has been ruled out of the game with a severe groin strain, as have big men Nene & Steven Hunter.
The Nuggets still have Marcus Camby–last year’s Defensive Player of the Year–manning the paint. The Bynum/Camby matchup should be fun to watch when the Lakers have the ball. Bynum continues to blossom, but Camby is averaging 3.5 blocks and close to 15 rebounds a game.
After being the bright spot of the team in the early going, the Lakers reserves have struggled to find their way after the trade to acquire Trevor Ariza and Drew moving to the first unit in Kwame Brown’s absence. It raises the question of “Who Starts?”
Chris Mihm’s hasn’t made much of a case for himself with his play of late, so for now it has to be Bynum, although Drew is probably better served playing on the second unit.
Denver will also get help inside from the recently signed Jelani McCoy. This will be Jelani’s third consecutive game at STAPLES Center after starting the season with our D-League team, the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Speaking of the D-Fenders (whoa segue alert), Thursday will be Coby Karl’s first appearance with the team after being assigned to them on Wednesday.
The move will put on hold the third “father coaching versus son” in NBA history.
“This is not a sideshow,’’ Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a telephone interview. “We’re not looking to be in the position to just make this the third father-son (meeting). We’re trying to do what’s best for Coby and the Lakers.’’
As mentioned in the above article, it could put that matchup off permanently as Coby’s trip to the D-League is not expected to be a short one and his deal with the Lakers is not guaranteed. Karl received a partially guaranteed contract from the Lakers heading into training camp. All NBA contracts become fully guaranteed on January 10th.
The Lakers travel to Denver next Wednesday (when it would be likely that Coby would still be with the D-Fenders) and the Nuggets meet the Lakers for the final time this season when they return to LA on January 21st.
The last time the Nuggets played the Lakers at STAPLES, George Karl wasn’t even in the building, he had left to go be with Coby as he underwent surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes.
It was also the game in which Kobe Bryant scored his 19,000 NBA point, becoming the 15th fastest person even to reach the mark (he now has 19,686). With eight points tonight, Derek Fisher will reach the 7,000 point mark. 4,200 of those points have been scored wearing a Lakers uniform. Get more interesting facts in tonight’s game notes.