NBA Playoffs Game 2: Los Angeles Lakers host Denver Nuggets

The Los Angeles Lakers get set to host the Denver Nuggets for Game 2 of their 7-game Western Conference playoff showdown tonight at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA, with tip-off set for 10:30 PM ET. With the Lakers walking away from Game 1 with a resounding victory behind Andrew Bynum’s record-tying performance on defense, Denver’s faces a crucial juncture in the series, looking to avoid a 2-game hole before the series shifts back to their home court for Games 3 and 4.

While the Nuggets have certainly pled their case to bring to light the allegedly ‘illegal’ defense that the Los Angeles Lakers employ ‘all the time’, it still doesn’t dismiss two huge problems Denver faces once again in tonight’s contest; the twin 7-footers of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, who formed the basis of a shot-blocking tandem that completely embarrassed the Nuggets in Game 1. Getting 15 blocked shots, including a record-tying 10 courtesy of Andrew Bynum (who also produced a rare triple-double in the process), the Lakers will be confident that their presence inside the paint on both offense and defense is more than enough to handle the mishmash of fill-ins that Denver has been left with on the court this year. Without the Nuggets finding a way back into their quick-paced transition basketball, which was hindered by a solid defensive effort from the Lakers, and their ability to keep the game to a battle of the half-court, Denver is going to find themselves once again playing catch-up tonight. As was a worrisome point for Nuggets fans as well, the 3-center rotation taken by head coach George Karl was all but completely ineffective, with Kosta Koufos generating no points, JaVale McGee going 0-for-6 from the floor with just 2 points, and Timofey Mozgov putting in 6 points in just 9 minutes of work. Denver can produce big offense without big guys doing the heavy lifting down low, however if they can’t get into transition via Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari or Ty Lawson, it’s once again going to be a long night for Denver at Staples Center.

LA was in control of Game 1 from start to finish, jumping out to a 13-point lead after the first quarter, and coasted the rest of the way getting 31 points from Kobe Bryant, seeing their entire starting rotation score in double figures. Having similar success again tonight may be a tougher task, as Denver should be better prepared for the obstacles faced in the paint, and should be hedging a game plan to keep the tempo of Game 2 high. With Los Angeles still lacking depth on the bench, and possibly being without Jordan Hill tonight (10 points, 10 rebounds in Game 1), Denver has to focus on wearing down the Lakers via fast paced basketball, or risk having to deal with set plays against a bigger defense that obviously has the upper hand on them across the board. One thing Denver does have is good scoring depth, with the bench contributing nearly as much as the starters in Game 1 (43 points off the bench, 45 points in the starting rotation), so continuing with a balanced offense that has fresh legs will be a focal point for the Nuggets in Game 2. Interestingly enough, even though Denver had 1/6 of their 90 shots blocked in Game 1, they produced 46 rebounds with 16 of those on the offensive glass (Lakers had 52 and 11 respectively). The Nuggets could focus on using their speed on offense to generate more second chances on loose rebounds, so long as they avoid coming face-to-face with either Bynum or Gasol, who clearly have the area around the rim on lockdown. That’s a tough area of contention for Denver however; if they choose to move the ball outside for open shots, they risk running a lower shooting percentage, which certainly did them in for Game 1 (35.6 percent from the floor, 28.6 percent from 3-point range). With a number of talented mid-range guys including Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo though (both shooting north of 50 percent from the floor in their last 10 games played all together), Denver could find their game hedged on the jump shot, as they’ll be more mobile just outside the key, which would in turn force Gasol and Bynum to step out into coverage. Spread the Lakers thin as possible, and the Nuggets will have a chance to gain an upper hand with their quickness. Keep trying to penetrate into the lanes and force closer shots, and once again the Lakers will look like defensive gods with another huge blocked-shot total.

Game 2 is a crucial point in this series for both teams, as Los Angeles has not been nearly successful on the road during the regular season, and Denver simply has to avoid going back home down 2 games with an inevitable return to the Staples Center looming. For Los Angeles, getting off to a hot-shooting start while playing their half-court style of basketball is key. Kobe Bryant and Ramon Sessions will once again look to control the tempo and work the passing game into the paint, which will keep Denver from accumulating enough points to stay in contention. Denver’s defense has truly be horrid, giving up on average 101.2 points per game during the season, and things haven’t looked any better through Game 1 of the playoffs. Allowing the Lakers to shoot at will and post up in the paint will have the Nuggets shaking their heads as they exit the building with another loss. For Denver then, finding some improvement on defense is critical for them tonight. The Nuggets have to do a better job blocking out against Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, as despite their size disadvantage, the quicker Nuggets can find a way to isolate the two Lakers big men and at least prevent them from being so effective at gathering loose rebounds as they did in Game 1. Further, unless Denver can find someone to step up as the big man (we’re looking at you Timofey Mozgov, who of course has to get the minutes), it’s going to be tricky for them to equal the Lakers in the points-in-the-paint game. It’s not necessary for them to win that battle, but being in the same ballpark would certainly help Denver to stay in contention this evening.

Betting Lines for the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets Game 2 at Betonline Sportsbook.

The Los Angeles Lakers ride their momentum from Game 1 into tonight’s game, where they’re sitting as -225 favorites to win straight up on the money line. Denver, feeling a little dejected, stands as +195 underdogs, with a big improvement needed in order for them to stand a chance at being a good underdog pick in tonight’s match-up. With the way Los Angeles has played at Staples, and the dominance that they had in Game 1 via the inside play, it would be advisable to shy away from banking on the Nuggets to get a win, at least until Denver has shown it can settle in and play their fast-paced style of basketball.

Against the spread, Los Angeles is a reasonable 5 point favorite to win, which could be a solid bet for spread pickers today. Though Denver should be prepared to have a better showing after reevaluating their game plan yesterday in practice, Los Angeles’ dominance on both offense and defense is well documented at home, and a confident Lakers team led by one of the most confident players in the league in Kobe Bryant certainly has the potential to come out with another big performance in tonight’s game. Look for the Lakers to carry the points spread tonight, for one of the better-looking bets on the betting lines at Betonline Sportsbook.

Lastly, the over/under on total points again takes into account the woeful defense of the Denver Nuggets, and the high-scoring abilities of both teams. However, with the Lakers showing their strong defensive skills on home court (which despite scoring 103 points, held Denver to 88, thus falling short of the over/under in Game 1), another good defensive effort could see the points total falling to the underside once more. Denver can’t be expected to step up too much on defense, as it’s simply not in their game plan, so the over/under will be determined on how well the Lakers play in the defensive zone once again.

In a critical Game 2 match-up tonight, Denver simply has to play a better all-around game, and must find a way to keep the tempo going and the shots dropping if they are to contend with a Lakers team that loves playing at home, has a rabid crowd behind them, and is fully accustomed to the playoff atmosphere. Expect a better fight from the Nuggets as Game 2 will be a huge turning point in the series one way or another, and expect some exciting wagering options to be had at Betonline Sportsbook, one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here at CR.

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