Lakers – Nuggets Preview

Eight down, eight to go for the purple and gold.

While the Rockets surely gave L.A. all it wanted in a tough 7-game series that concluded with Sunday’s 19-point Game 7 win, Kobe Bryant’s team may have discovered something about itself in the process: The Lakers can play some seriously suffocating defense when properly inspired.

That’s precisely what they did in Games 5 and 7 at home, and the second half of Game 6 on the road, sparked by the presence of 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol on the interior and some highly-active perimeter defense led by Bryant.

“Our effort could be much better in Game 4 and Game 6, but still, Houston played extremely well,” said Bryant. “(But) in Game 6 at halftime we made a decision to get more aggressive – to get up in passing lanes – and we just turned it up another notch. After that game we understood that there was another level still that we could go to defensively.”

Playing that way defensively will be necessary against a Nuggets’ team that boasts a good deal of offensive firepower, led by Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and sub J.R. Smith. Though Denver lacks a classic low post scorer, it has played much better defensively than at any other point of Anthony’s career. The question is how the Rocky Mountain dwellers will fare against a Lakers team that’s far more talented than a beat up New Orleans squad (4-1 Denver) or a Dallas team with an injured Josh Howard that still battled quite well (remember the Game 3 non call?). Surely the Lakers are at another level.