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FIRST ROUND RECAP

As the Lakers await the winner of the Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets series, we take a look back at the team’s impressive First Round sweep of the Denver Nuggets.

What Went Right
• The Lakers set the tone for the entire series in their 128-114 Game 1 blowout and the Nuggets were never really able to recover despite showing flashes of their potential in the second half of Game 2 and in Game 4.

• The Lakers held the Nugget’s top two scorers in check when they needed it most. Although Iverson and Carmelo Anthony averaged almost 60 points during the regular season and during the first two games of the series, L.A.’s defense held them to just 31 points in Game 3 and 43 in Game 4.

• Although most of the buzz before the series dealt with Denver’s high-scoring offense, the Lakers proved that they were no slouches, shooting 48% from the floor and averaging nearly 115 points per game.

• Although the Lakers have one of the youngest benches in the league, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Ronny Turiaf and Luke Walton answered any questions about their playoff readiness in Round 1, combining for more than 30 points in the team’s critical victories in Games 2 and 3.

• The Lakers dominated the Nuggets with their passing game in each of the series’ four games, with L.A. racking up nine more assists per game than their Denver counterparts. Furthermore, the Lakers averaged only 12 turnovers per game in the series.

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Position-by-Position Breakdown

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.
Edge: Nuggets

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.
Edge: Lakers

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Season Series in Review

November 29, 2007 @STAPLES Center
Nuggets 99, Lakers 127

In their first meeting this season, the Lakers pummeled the Nuggets by 28 points, leading by 12 at the end of the first quarter and never looking back. L.A.’s guards had a field day against a helpless Denver defense with Kobe leading the way with 24 points to go along with Sasha Vujacic’s career high 22 points. While the Lakers had yet to complete their blockbuster trade for Pau Gasol, the Lakers’ big men still dominated the Nuggets frontline with Andrew Bynum tallying 12 points and 13 rebounds. Even Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson only combined for 44 points—eight below their season average—in a game where seemingly everything went wrong for Denver.

December 5, 2007 @PEPSI Center
Lakers 111, Nuggets 107

In another early season battle, the Lakers won a nail biter in the Rocky Mountains, with Kobe scoring six of the team’s final eight points in a clutch 25-point effort. Allen Iverson led the way for the Nuggets scoring a season-high 51 points, but, as been the case all season, Denver was unable to stop their opponent when it mattered most. In a possible preview of their First Round matchup, Fisher and Vladimir Radmanovic took full advantage of the Nugget’s defensive lapses en route to 41 points between them, 20 from Derek and 21 from Vladi. Once again, the Nuggets did a poor job of taking care of the ball against the Lakers, turning the ball over 17 times after giving it away 18 times in their previous meeting.

January 21, 2008 @STAPLES Center
Nuggets 99, Lakers 116

Derek Fisher (28 points) and Jordan Farmar (19 points) and the rest of the Lakers guards dominated the Nuggets for a second consecutive game, while holding Denver’s primary guards to just 28 points. Lamar Odom also had a great all-around game for the purple and gold, finishing with a near triple double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Once again turnovers plagued the Nuggets as they gave the ball away 16 times, compared to only 12 times for the Lakers. Marcus Camby provided one of the lone bright spots for Denver, scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds with Andrew Bynum out with injury.

End of Season Awards

Lakers.com reflects on the team’s tremendous ’07-’08 campaign, doling out its end of the season awards.

Most Improved: Andrew Bynum
Prior to his knee injury mid-way through the season, the Lakers phenom was well on his way to a breakout season, carving his place as one of the NBA’s best up-and-coming big men. Although his averages of 13 points and 10 rebounds for the season are more than solid, #17 improved each month prior to his injury, capped off by his outstanding month of January in which he put up over 17 points and 12 rebounds a game. With no signs of slowing down any time soon, who knows where his numbers would have ended up this season had he not missed the final 46 games.

Most Surprising: Sasha Vujacic
Even though he was heading into a contract year, few experts or fans had any reason to expect much from the Slovenian guard. Once labeled an “11:00 a.m.” player by Coach Jackson, Sasha has shredded the title this season, finally becoming the sharpshooter the Lakers thought they signed four years ago, putting up nine points a game on 44% shooting from beyond the arc. Whereas only a season ago, Vujacic was one of the last men off of the bench, it is now not uncommon to see Sasha playing critical minutes as a key part of the Lakers’ rotation.

Most Disappointing: Luke Walton
With Odom injured at the start of last season, Kobe desperately needed a teammate that could help keep the Lakers afloat in the über competitive Western Conference. Enter: Luke Walton. For most of last season, the forward was arguably the second best player to don the purple and gold, finally combining his widely discussed basketball IQ with a vastly improved offensive repertoire. However, this season has brought on one disappointment after another for Walton as injuries and a lack of confidence have derailed much of the momentum he established last season. On the year, Luke is averaging only seven points and four rebounds.

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April Schedule Breakdown

0804_wallpaper_500.jpgDespite playing one of the easier schedules in the league in March–not counting the incredibly difficult four-game road trip–the Lakers finished out the month on a down note, losing games at home to lowly Charlotte and Memphis. For L.A., a season of injuries finally appeared to catch up to them, with newcomer Pau Gasol leaving with injury mid-way through the month. Although finishing with home court advantage in at least the First Round is certainly a priority for the Lakers are they head into April, getting healthy before the playoffs is arguably even more important. Lakers.com breaks down the team’s schedule for the home stretch:

The Lakers start out the month with home games against Portland and Dallas, beginning this Wednesday, April 2. The Blazers have been a tough matchup for L.A. all year long, with the Blazers winning the last matchup at the Rose Garden 119-111 at the end of February. The Lakers toppled them three days prior to that, 96-83.

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Road Trip Preview: NO/HOU/DAL/UT

While the Lakers have already played a monstrous nine-game road trip this season, the shorter four game trip they’re about to embark on should prove just as much of a challenge for Kobe and Co. Starting Friday in New Orleans, the Lakers will take on four of the West’s best teams—the Hornets, Rockets, Mavericks and Jazz—all with at least 40 wins with less than a quarter of the season to go.

The up-start Hornets (3/14) will be fresh off a game against the team knocking on the Lakers’ door for first place in the West: the defending champion Spurs. The last time the Lakers played in the Big Easy, they decimated Chris Paul’s Hornets 109-80 in one of L.A.’s most lopsided victories of the season. As a result, its safe to say the Hornets and the New Orleans Arena crowd will be extra revved up to face the Lakers this time around.

Next up for the Lakers are the scorching hot Houston Rockets (3/16), winners of 19 straight games, even though franchise center Yao Ming left eight games ago due to a season-ending injury. When the Lakers come to town, only games against the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Bobcats will stand in the way between them and a 21-game winning streak. After Tuesday’s game, Kobe said the Lakers did not care whether or not the streak was still in tact when L.A. faces off with Houston, but there’s no doubting that the Lakers would love to be the ones to send the Rockets back down to Earth.

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Lakers Quarterly Report: 3rd Quarter

Most Improved Player: Sasha Vujacic
The entire team seemingly improved in the third quarter of the season, but no player in purple and gold stepped his game up more than Sasha Vujacic. Once mused by Coach Jackson as the best practice shooter in the league, Vujacic is no longer simply an 11:00 a.m. player; Sasha has emerged as one of the team’s most reliable options off of the bench, getting primetime minutes down the stretch of games and proving that he not only belongs in the NBA, but can thrive in it. In averaging double digits over his past 15 games and playing with a sense of confidence he’s never displayed before, Vujacic will no doubt be a huge weapon in the playoffs for the Lakers.

Most Disappointing Performance: Luke Walton
What started out as a disappointing first quarter for Walton is quickly turning into a disappointing season. Walton has battled nagging injuries throughout the year and has failed to establish himself on either end of the court. In fact, the forward has only scored in double figures one time in his past 23. Before the Lakers took on the Blazers on Feb. 26, Coach Jackson said that Walton—temporarily starting at small forward due to the injuries of Radmanovic and Andrew Bynum—would not retain his starting job once the team is healthy. Moreover, Jackson said that Luke is no longer a player that is capable of playing 30-plus minutes a night for the Lakers—a true sign of how far Walton has fallen since opening up last season on fire for L.A.

Surprise Performance: Pau Gasol and Vladimir Radmanovic
While All-Star level play was expected of Gasol upon joining the Lakers, his near perfect transition into the Lakers’ offense has been one of the most surprising developments of the season for the Lake Show. Since acquiring the talented Spanish star, the Lakers are a jaw dropping 12-2, garnering league-wide respect and in some cases, instilling downright fear into opponents.

Although his strained right calf has kept him out of the last five games, Radmanovic finally returned to the form the Lakers were hoping for when they signed him to a multi-year deal prior to last season. While everyone knows that Vlade can shoot lights out from long distance, before his injury, he finally began to show some of the lesser-known facets of his game—his ability to put the ball on the court and post-up game. His improvements also came when the Lakers needed it most this quarter, as Radmanovic was Jackson’s starter of choice next to Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol on the Lakers’ front line.

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March Schedule Breakdown

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After a brutal month of February that saw the team play nine consecutive games on the road, March should bring some slight reprieve for the Lakers.

The Lakers start the month this Sunday (3/2) when they’ll get their first look at the new-look Mavericks in a matinée match up at STAPLES Center. L.A. will be looking to exact revenge on Dallas after they beat the Lakers in Texas 112-105 in January.

Next up for the Lakers are the pesky Sacramento Kings (3/4) who have fought off injuries all season long to play near .500 basketball. After three days of rest, the Lakers will tip off against their STAPLES Center neighbors, this time on the purple and gold home floor (3/7).

Two days later, the Lakers get another shot at the Kings (3/9), this time taking the battle to Southern California. With a day of rest in between, L.A. will take on an improving Toronto Raptors team that will be looking to get back at the Lakers after Kobe and Co. toppled them in Canada on the team’s last extended road trip (3/11).

That Friday, the team begins one of its toughest four game stretches of the season, starting with the Western Conference rival New Orleans Hornets in the Big Easy (3/14). The Hornets will be looking to take it to the conference-leading Lakers after they decimated them in their last meeting in New Orleans 109-80.

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Grammys Trip In Review


With their win Wednesday night against Minnesota, the Lakers pulled down an impressive seven wins on their season-high nine-game road trip. The win also marked the most victories for a team on a continuous road trip with nine or more games since neutral sites were eliminated in 1974-75. Moreover, the Lakers were forced to adjust to the acquisition of forward-center Pau Gasol halfway through a trip with limited practice time.

Although the trip started out a bit rocky with a one-point loss to the Pistons in a game the Lakers should have won, the team rallied to win their next three games, beginning with a 121-101 blowout of the Raptors.

Clearly energized by news that 2006 All-Star Pau Gasol was on his way to L.A., the team hammered the Washington Wizards behind 30 points from Kobe. Bryant in particular seemed to play with an extra step after hearing that a bona fide star was preparing to join him.

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February Schedule Breakdown

February is all about the road for the Purple & Gold as 12 of their 15 games will be played on another team’s floor (one is against the Clippers so it’s essentially a home game, but will technically still be played on the other team’s floor and all the cutesy cheerleaders, drum lines, and super-fans looking to jump ship for a buck that comes with that).

The combined records of the Lakers opponents is a sparse 287-380 (as of games ending the night of January 30th), or 43%, with only six of those games coming against team’s with a winning record. Seven of the games are against team’s currently slated to make the playoffs.

Game-By-Game:
After playing Detroit to finish out January, the Lakers travel across international boundaries to meet up with Chris Bosh and the Toronto Raptors (2/1). This will be the first meeting between the teams this season after each defended their home court last year. The Raptors started slow, but are 7-3 in their last 10 games and sit in fifth place in the East.

After taking Saturday off, the team gets back to action early on Super Bowl Sunday with a noon eastern start against the Wizards (2/3) in DC. Gilbert Arenas has missed the majority of the season, but the Wiz have continued to chug along behind Antawn Jamison and an all-star season for ex-Laker Caron Butler. “Tough Juice” has been hobbled of late and might not play in this one.

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