It's the fourth and final regular season meeting between the Los Angeles Lakers and the consensus "Western Conference team most capable of dethroning them," the Denver Nuggets. For the last five months, Lakers-Nuggets has been treated as an inevitable Western Conference Finals rematch. Literally speaking, the sequel's blueprint has been laid out, but a closer look reveals question marks.
The Lakers have indeed won (for all intents and purposes) the Western Conference exactly as anticipated, but they're struggling to find a consistent rhythm before their title defense officially begins.
For their part, the Nuggets have kept the storyline intact by remaining in contention for the second seed, but they've also encountered struggles of late, between George Karl's cancer battle and injuries to Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin. Denver is currently riding a three-game win streak, so perhaps the ship has been righted, but either way, it's another wrinkle to a recently rich history between these teams.
For a better perspective on the Lakers' opponent, we talked with Benjamin Hochman, Nuggets beat writer for the Denver Post. Topics of discussion include:
-The latest on George Karl's cancer battle. How have the coach and team dealt with this terrible situation?
-Interim-coach Adrian Dantley's changes to the rotation. Most notably, veteran Anthony Carter is getting more minutes behind Chauncey Billups at the expense of speedster rook Ty Lawson.
-With Birdman and K-Mart hurt, guys like Johan "frequent K Bros punchline" Petro and Malik Allen have gotten more minutes. This has led to Nene more involved in the offense, along with occasional flashes of production from Petro.
-An update on Carmelo Anthony, who briefly blacked out after a collision with Kevin Durant during last night's Nuggets victory. As Hochman notes, the Thunder fans were kinda brutal on 'Melo for returning to the game. Then again, at least they paid respect to Anthony while he was down, unlike OKC announcers calling the game. Let me get this straight, fellas. Melo might have been playing "possum" over being "disgusted" over a non-call?
To quote Renton in Trainspotting, "That's your theory?"
-You gotta be one serious jackass to think Kenyon Martin would find a prank involving his car and boatloads of buttered popcorn absolutely high-larious.