Game: Lakers (15-17) vs. Denver Nuggets (19-16)
Time: 6:30 p.m.
TV: Time Warner Cable SportsNet/Time Warner Cable Deportes
The Lakers are encountering a week that coach Mike D’Antoni believes, for better or worse, reveal the team’s identity.
So D’Antoni’s going beyond coach-speak when he outlined the importance of the Lakers’ game tonight against the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center.
“We have to have a win,” D’Antoni said. “However we get it, we have to tough it out.”
The same applies to when the Lakers meet other Western Conference playoff teams this week, including Houston (Tuesday), San Antonio (Wednesday) and Okahoma City (Friday).
That could prove to be a tough task considering the Lakers lost Friday against the Clippers, a team that proved too overwhelming with their youth and athleticism. The Nuggets presented similar problems Dec. 26 when they hosted the Lakers in Denver.
“I’m just happy we’re not in Denver with that altitude,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “It’ll make running with them a little bit easier.”
As they rank last in transition defense, the Lakers face a team that ranks eighth in total offense (101.69 points per game), fifth in field-goal percentage (46.6 percent) and fifth in assists (23.09). The last time these teams met, the Nuggets crushed the Lakers in points (128) and offensive rebounds (19-13). Denver also posted 25 second-chacne points.
“Our biggest thing is transition so we need to run back,” D’Antoni said. “Second chance points, we have to be more aggressive attacking the boards. If we cure those two things, we’re okay.”
Part of those areas could hinge on the Lakers’ frontline.
Dwight Howard will play despite nursing a right shoulder strain.
“He’s fine,” D’Antoni said. “He’s good. That’s Superman in there.”
He wasn’t Superman in Denver.
Howard posted only 12 points and an ejection for performing a flagrant foul type 2 against Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried. He carved up the Lakers with 21 points and 15 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Pau Gasol is a game removed from a two-game performance that prompted him to express frustrations about his reduced post role in D’Antoni’s offense.
“Pau Gasol is a hell of a basketball player,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “I know he’s very frustrated right now and I hope he’s still frustrated until after the season.”
But D’Antoni expressed optimism Gasol will bounce back.
“We’ll get him involved as much as we can,” D’Antoni said. “he’s a very talented player. He will be okay. I trust him totally. The guy’s too smart and too taleneted to go through long stretches [of bad games]. Everybody goes through them.”
The Lakers are going through them now. Hence, why D’Antoni sees tonight’s game as a huge opportunity to change fortune.