If these Lakers have anything approaching a true, combative, ugly rivalry, it's probably with the Denver Nuggets, who they'll see tonight at Pepsi Center (7:30 pm PT, TNT). Consecutive seasons of playoff matchups plus some heated regular season games in between.
Lakers fans don't like them, and the players don't seem all too fond of the Nuggets, either.
When the teams last met back on February 28th, there was talk Denver was the greatest threat to L.A.'s dominance of the Western Conference. Certainly I pushed that line of thinking. At the time it was true, but since Nuggets have scuffled, falling back to the pack before ripping off three straight wins, including wins over Portland last week and in Oklahoma City last night. One source of their problems has been the loss of Kenyon Martin to patellar tendinitis in his left knee, robbing them of a key source of defense and toughness.
For that, Lakers fans will have little sympathy. Not with Andrew Bynum sidelined and seemingly everyone else on the roster working through hand injuries.
The other source of Denver's struggles, though, is far more serious. Coach George Karl's battle with throat cancer has proven to be more debilitating than perhaps originally thought. Any notion he might coach the team during the regular season was quickly abandoned once his treatment began, and he likely won't coach in the first round and perhaps beyond. Karl is having trouble speaking, is feeding through a stomach tube, and taking a ton of medication, in part for pain management.
This is serious, life and death stuff.
So does it change how you see the rivalry? Does it soften it at all? Does reading stories about his treatment and the meaning for his players to visit him in the hospital cut through any of the on-court animosity? Read this story. Does it make a difference?
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Definitely interested in your thoughts and comments below. If yes, why? If no, why not?
I don't claim to be a die-hard Lakers fan. Never have. So maybe my perspective is different. There are guys on their team I really like (Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Arron Afflalo, for example) others on whom I'm not so high (Martin, J.R. Smith). I don't know Karl personally, but love when the Nuggets are in town because he's great with the media. No question, though, this story humanizes the team a little more, cutting through some of the machismo they slather on like a 13-year old with his first bottle of cologne.
Doesn't mean Lakers fans suddenly become Nuggets sympathizers, but I wonder if something about the rivalry changes.