Point Guard: Allen Iverson vs. Derek Fisher
Now in his twelfth year in the league, Iverson still remains one of the game’s most prolific scorers, finishing near the top of the league in scoring once again, averaging over 26 points per game. The Lakers’ Derek Fisher is another veteran who continues to defy time, returning for his second stint with the purple and gold and filing arguably his best offensive season yet with over 12 points a night. Both lead guards are crafty veterans with tons of playoff experience behind them, including their matchup in the 2001 NBA Finals when Iverson was still a Sixer. With Derek still nursing a foot injury and Iverson showing no signs of slowing down after playing in all 82 games this season, Denver gets the edge here.
Shooting Guard: Anthony Carter vs. Kobe Bryant
Carter usually starts at point guard for the Nuggets, but will likely take on the task of defending Bryant. Carter has proven himself an effective player for the Nuggets, putting up averages of eight points and nearly six assists. While the other four matchups against starters are much more difficult to call, Kobe holds an enormous advantage over Carter or any of the guards Denver might try to throw #24’s way. Even more worrisome for the Denver faithful, if the Lakers’ last three games to close out the season are any indicator, Carter and Co. should be equally as concerned with Bryant’s passing ability as they are with his scoring.
Center: Marcus Camby vs. Pau Gasol
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year was a beast inside once again for the Nuggets, pulling down 13 rebounds and a league-leading 3.6 blocks. Camby is not only Denver’s defensive backstop in the lane, but really their only defensive star in any area of the floor. While Gasol is certainly not noted for his defensive prowess, he has the ability to give Camby all kinds of fits with an offensive game that is as polished as any big man in the NBA. Moreover, the Nuggets will be facing Pau for the first time as a Laker so there will undoubtedly be an adjustment period on their behalf.
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony vs. Vladimir Radmanovic
If Andrew Bynum was in the lineup and Odom were moved to his more natural position of small forward, we might be talking about the matchup of the series. Instead, the Lakers will throw Radmanovic at the Nugget’s star in hopes of slowing him off of us 26 points a night and seven rebounds. While Vladimir is not known as a defensive player, he showed impressive resolve and tenacity down the stretch for the Lakers as evidenced by his reaction to Tyson Chandler’s rough play in L.A.’s victory over New Orleans last Friday. Even if Anthony gives the Nuggets the obvious edge at small forward, Radmanovic’s ability to spread the floor has the chance to be a huge X-factor in the series.
Power Forward: Kenyon Martin vs. Lamar Odom
While Martin has yet to find the success in Denver that he experienced in New Jersey, he is still an impact player for the Nuggets and is more than capable of popping off for 20 plus points on a given night. Odom has continued to blossom for the Lakers in the second half of the season and has been a dynamite performer in the playoffs for two seasons running now. While he may not have the pogo stick like explosiveness of Martin, his enviable length makes up for it. Lamar’s stock as a defender rose during the stretch run for the Lakers too, with the versatile forward holding his own against Dirk Nowitzki and other top forwards as the Lakers honed in on the Western Conference’s best record.
The Lakers’ “bench mob” was one of the surprise stories of the season for the team, with Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf, Luke Walton forming the backbone of a potent bench. On the season, Lakers reserves combined to average more than 40 points per game. While certainly less dynamic overall, Denver’s reserve corps still has plenty of ammo with both J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza averaging double figures in points. The Nuggets also have their own version—albeit a poor man’s one—of a Ronny Turiaf in Eduardo Najera. However, what the Lakers bench lacks on firepower, it more than makes up for it with outstanding teamwork and chemistry.