Thursday NBA on TNT Preview: Denver at L.A. Lakers
by Matt Severance - 04/09/2009
I'm trying to be impartial while writing this story, but just about everything points to a Los Angeles Lakers victory and cover tonight against the Denver Nuggets, who are nine-point underdogs on BetUS.
I have three main reasons for expecting a Laker blowout:
1) Los Angeles is expected to get back Andrew Bynum tonight. The young center, considered key to the team's title hopes, has been out since Jan. 31 because of a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee. The Lakers want to get him in a bit of rhythm before the playoffs begin. And Bynum probably will start, since coach Phil Jackson doesn't want his knee to stiffen after warm-ups - that would mean Lamar Odom goes back to a sixth-man role.
"I feel like I'm ready," Bynum said to reporters. "I want to go out there and get as much game experience as I can."
Bynum is averaging 14 points and 8.2 rebounds this season but has missed 32 games, in which Los Angeles is 17-15 ATS. Don't look for him to play more than 20 minutes.
2) The revenge factor. The Lakers had beaten the Nuggets nine straight games and twice this season until a 90-79 loss on Feb. 27 in the Mile High City. Kobe Bryant was just 10-of-31 from the field as L.A. shot just 29.8 percent as a team, which was the second-worst effort in franchise history. Bryant lives for that type of motivation, and he is averaging 30.3 points against Denver this year.
3) Denver is playing the second half of a back-to-back, coming off a 10-point home win over Oklahoma City on Wednesday night. The Lakers have been off since Tuesday's easy win at Sacramento. On the second of back-to-backs the Nuggets are 9-11, although they have won the past two.
Both teams do have seeding reasons to win tonight. L.A. still is chasing Cleveland for the top overall record in the NBA, and the Lakers, who have won four straight games (2-2 ATS), would hold the tiebreaker over the Cavs if the teams finish with the same record, meaning a potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals would be in Los Angeles.
As for Denver, it is playing well, having won eight straight games (6-2 ATS) and 13 of its past 14. A win tonight would clinch the Northwest Division, although the Nugs haven't won in Los Angeles in their last four tries and just twice since 1995-96 (I don't count Clippers games - who does?).
Denver can't quite clinch No. 2 in the West with a win, but it would take a Houston miracle to catch the Nuggets at this point - due to tiebreakers, only the Rockets can beat out Denver for the second spot.
On the injury front (outside of Bynum), Denver power forward Kenyon Martin didn't play Wednesday because of a left rib strain and is questionable for tonight. Coach George Karl said Martin wants to play but didn't sound optimistic.
"My gut says let's see where it goes Saturday and Sunday before we play on Monday," Karl said to the Denver Post. "I think he would like to play in the last two games. Maybe not 35 minutes but at least get on the court and play some."
Laker forward Trevor Ariza missed Wednesday's practice because of personal reasons but is expected back tonight.