Lakers – Nuggets Sideline Notes

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles LakersHere’s a look at everything you need to know about the Lakers (4-5) and their Wednesday evening opponent, the Denver Nuggets (2-4):

NUGGETS NUGGETS
- Ty Lawson leads Denver in scoring (21.7 points, T-13th in NBA), assists (7.3, T-10th), minutes (36.9), three’s made (10 total, tied with Randy Foye), free throws made (34, 81.0 percent) and steals (1.3, also tied with Foye). No other Nugget is averaging more than 10.3 points per night (Jordan Hamilton).
- Wilson Chandler has not played this season, but is listed as a game-time decision with his hamstring strain and could make his debut. He was one of Denver’s three best players not named Ty Lawson last season who’s either been hurt (Danilo Gallinari, torn ACL) or changed teams (Andre Iguodala). If he doesn’t play, Jordan Hamilton should get more SF minutes (he started the last two games and had career highs of 19 points and nine boards at Phoenix on 11/8.)
- JaVale McGee is out indefinitely with a left tibia stress fracture; Timofey Mozgov is the likely starter in his place unless coach Brian Shaw goes with J.J. Hickson.
- The Nuggets rank just 11th in the NBA in fast break points (15.5 per game), and 13th in points in the paint (42.2). That’s quite a difference from last year, when they led the NBA in FB points (19.7 per game) and also points in the paint at 57.3 a contest. New coach Brian Shaw is trying to establish them as more of a balanced team that can post up, which is going to take some time.
- Denver owns the second best home court record in the NBA since 2007-08 at 191-49 (.796), trailing only San Antonio’s 187-47 (.799). The Lakers are third at 182-52 (77.8%).
- Kenneth Faried broke out of a slow start to the early-season (in part minutes related) with 15 points and 13 boards in Monday’s win at Utah.

THE (DREADED) SECOND NIGHT OF A BACK-TO-BACK IN DENVER:
The Lakers are 16-16 (.500) all-time when playing at Denver in the second of a back-to-back, which is actually pretty surprisingly good, because all-time, teams are just 160-376 (.299) when playing in the mile-high city in the second of a back-to-back.

This is less surprising: Since the 2003-04 season, the Lakers are 1-7 (.125) when playing at Denver in the second of a back-to-back. The combined league record since 2003-04 when playing at Denver in the second of a back-to-back is 27-118 (.186)

In related news: the Nuggets were a much better team, overall, after 2003-04 (when Carmelo was drafted) than prior to that time.

YOUR 2013-14 LAL LEADING SCORER IS … JODIE MEEKS?
Perhaps nobody has improved his game more this season from last than Jodie Meeks, who scored 15 more points on Tuesday on 5-of-7 FG’s (3-of-5 3’s) with three boards and a steal in LAL’s 116-95 W over New Orleans. As such, he improved to 13.0 ppg on the season, which leads the Lakers through nine games, thanks to 52.6% FG’s and 47.6% from three.

The Kentucky product is currently seventh in the NBA in adjusted field goal percentage (where three’s weigh more heavily than two’s) at 65.8% and eighth in true shooting percentage at 69.0%.

BLAKE CONTINUES STRONG PLAY
Steve Blake came into the game vs. New Orleans averaging 15.3 points, 6.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds on 50.0% FG’s (16/32), 61.1% 3-PT FG’s (11/18) in his previous three contests, and while he took only four shots (making one, a triple) against the Pelicans, he led the Lakers with 10 assists to just two turnovers in a solid floor game. He was consistently setting up Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol inside and Meeks outside, setting the tone for good ball movement all evening (33 assists on 44 field goals for the team).

Of Blake’s 29 field goals made this season, 22 have been 3-pointers. He ranks 5th in the NBA with the 22 makes, trailing only Damian Lillard (25), Kevin Martin (24), Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (24) apiece. Below is a shot chart of his efficiency from three-point range, courtesy of NBA.com/stats.
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“FLUCTUATION” THE OPERATIVE WORD FOR LAL’s LINE UPS
Through nine games, the Lakers have utilized six different starting lineups, and nine different players have started a game. With Nash out, we saw what may be a regular rotation for a few weeks:

Starters: Blake, Meeks, Johnson, Hill and Gasol
Bench: Farmar, Henry, Young, Williams and Kaman

Williams only played about 13 minutes against New Orleans, however, as Hill and Wesley Johnson may get some of those reserve minutes at the four spot.

D’Antoni would like to establish an identity ASAP, as he said at practice on Monday: “One thing we have to do is find our identity. We don’t play slow or fast, we don’t do anything with a purpose and we’re trying to get that. We’re trying to clarify what playing hard means because sometimes I misconstrue that in the press. Being able to anticipate what’s happening, being mentally alert. They’re all trying but a lot of time they’re one step or two steps behind because we didn’t anticipate or get to a spot. We need to get there to be able to benefit from playing hard. It’s not a character issue, it’s a matter of an execution thing.”

BOMBING FROM THREE CONTINUES:
For the second time this season, the Lakers hit over 50% of their three-pointers, sinking 11 of 20 against New Orleans to improve to 40.9% on the season, good for 7th in the NBA. They’re making 10.4 per game, good for 3rd in the league (Washington and Golden State rank 1st and 2nd, respectively). The Nuggets shoot the three well also. Though they make only 7.8 (13th), they’re hitting 40.5%, just behind the Lakers for 8th.

Steve Blake leads the Lakers at 48.9%, with Jodie Meeks close behind at 47.6%, the starting backcourt getting the job done. Xavier Henry is up to 44% after sinking all three of his triples against the Pelicans.

HENRY SNAPS HIS SLUMP IN STYLE
Tuesday night was a much-needed boost for Xavier Henry, who put up 15 points on 6-of-8 field goals and 3-of-3 three-pointers plus three steals to break out of a four-game slump. In the previous four, he’d really struggled, both by the eye test and the numbers: 4.0 PPG, 6-of-26 FG’s (23%), 0-for-4 threes, 11 rebounds (season-high 8 vs. MIN). Meanwhile, his monster jam over University of Kansas teammate Jeff Withey was ridiculous, and had Staples Center rocking.

Meanwhile, Jordan Farmar broke a rough couple of games of his own, handing out eight helpers in his 20 minutes to couple nine points and seven rebounds in a solid all-around effort. He had just two assists with six turnovers in the past two games.

ADVANCED STATS FROM WIN OVER NOP (via Bloomberg):
Lakers offensive efficiency: 118.4 (would rank 1st in NBA)
BUT … 2013-14 Season: 94.6 (28th in NBA); 2012-13 Season: 105.6 (8th in NBA)
- Jordan Hill: 21 points, 6-8 inside restricted area, 1-4 outside restricted area
-Xavier Henry: 6-8, 3-4 in restricted area, 3-3 from three, 0-1 mid-range
- Gordon-Holiday-Evans: 11-37 combined, 7-16 in restricted area, 4-21 outside restricted area
- Lakers: over 50% from 3 for 2nd time this season (15-27 vs GSW on 10/30)
- Lakers: 44 defensive rebounds, Pelicans: 22 defensive rebounds
2nd team this season to have at least 20 more defensive rebounds than opposition (TOR vs MIL on 11/2)

NASH OUT FOR AT LEAST TWO WEEKS
Here’s the press release: “Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash was examined today by back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins, who diagnosed Nash as having nerve root irritation. Treatment will include an epidural block, which Nash is expected to receive tomorrow, and Nash is expected to be out of action for a minimum of two weeks. He will be re-evaluated in approximately ten days, and an update will be given at that time.”

I spent some time discussing it with Nash, and ultimately he’s super bummed out that he can’t contribute like he feels he still could if healthy. In fact, he’s never been healthy since the leg break messed up his nerve. He was emotional after the Wolves game, but has been consistently frustrated, because nobody has worked harder at trying to get right. The training staff said this isn’t actually an issue related to his age directly, but was more of a freak accident with the initial leg break.

Mike D’Antoni had this to say: “I’m concerned … He was struggling physically tonight, you could just see it on his face and that’s why I took him out. We shut him down more or less. He was struggling.”

New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers
LAKERS OFFENSE STILL NEEDING MORE ROLLING, AND GETS SOME FROM HILL VS. PELICANS:
Perhaps the most basic and essential element of Mike D’Antoni’s – and really most of the NBA’s – offense is the screen-and-roll action, designed to force the defense into making a decision that leaves the offense with an open shot. Nine games into the season, the Lakers have not run it well for the most part. Too often, the big men are setting the screen and popping out for a jump shot instead of rolling to the basket, where they could either receive a pass with a chance to finish or draw defensive attention that would produce open shots for teammates.

“(We need) more rolling, that’s what we want to do,” said D’Antoni. “Mid-range shots aren’t the best thing in the world, so if that’s all you’re trying to get, that’s not a winning formula. Almost 90 percent of the time we want you to roll hard, because we have another big that plays with (the roller) and he’d be the popper. You always have one shooter outside.”

What he’d like to see: “What we’re missing is a dynamic force going to the basket,” revealed D’Antoni. “Kobe (Bryant) would give you that, but we don’t have that force anywhere. So now we kind of play on the perimeter, and sometimes it works out a little bit, but that’s not what we need to do.”

Jordan Hill is doing it better than anybody else, part of the reason he moved into the starting line up.

INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR
There are currently 92 international players in the NBA from 39 countries and territories, the most in the game’s history (previous was 84 in 2010-11), and 27 teams feature at least one int’l player. France is the most represented country with nine players, and Canada has eight. Australia and Spain have five apiece, with Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Russia, and Turkey each boasting four. Four countries have their strongest representation ever – Australia (five), Israel (two), Italy (four), and Russia (four), and Macedonia has joined the party with one.

The team with the most, not surprisingly, is San Antonio, who has 10 from seven different countries. The Nuggets have three internationals: Danilo Gallinari (Italy); Evan Fournier (France); and Timofey Mozgov (Russia).

L.A.’s four players: Pau Gasol (Spain), Steve Nash and Robert Sacre (Canada) and Elias Harris (Germany).