After a less-than-spectacular slate of games last Thursday, TNT rebounds in a big way with a quality double-header on the calendar this week. The network is blessed with an exceptionally entertaining match-up for their “late game” window in a game that features one team that sports the league’s 2nd-fastest pace against an opponent that features the best point guard on Planet Earth.
Let’s take a look at what to expect from this match-up.
Los Angeles Offense vs. Denver Defense
Chris Paul engineers one of the league’s best offenses (7th in efficiency) to the tune of 106.5 points per 100 possessions. It’s an absolute joy to watch Paul run the show for LA, he’s the best pure point guard in the league today, and everything starts and ends with him.
Denver’s defense enters the game surrendering 102.7 points per 100 possessions (13th in the NBA), and while that number ticks down a bit at home, they are certainly a team that relies more on their offensive explosion than their ability to lock down on defense. The Nuggets are highly beatable on the interior, as both Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee have significant defensive limitations (overall effectiveness for Faried, mental acumen for McGee) that Blake Griffin and company could take advantage of.
Jamal Crawford is always a key factor to the LA offense, as the 6th Man of the Year candidate is shooting under 44% from the field on the season, but features legitimate 40-point upside if he has it going on any given night. The other wing options (Matt Barnes, Caron Butler, Grant Hill, etc.) rely heavily on others to create for them, but Crawford can get his own offense at will. Los Angeles can score in a variety of ways offensively, and I’d give them the slight edge on this side of the court.
Denver Offense vs. Los Angeles Defense
This side of the court features the 6th-rated offense in the league against the 6th-rated defense in the league. Seems fair and balanced, right? Denver features a unique mix of above-average players that score very effectively. The Nuggets have six players averaging 11+ points per game on the season, and while they don’t feature a “go-to guy”, they’re still fully capable of causing woes for any opposing defense.
Ty Lawson’s penetration will be key to the success of the Denver defense, but the biggest key for the Nuggets will be whether they can convert open jump shots. Look for Danilo Gallinari to have a big game against the smaller wing defenders from Los Angeles, and if Vinny Del Negro elects to play Lamar Odom on him, good luck.
One significant battle will surround LA’s interior defense against the diverse front-court options from Denver. LA is susceptible to certain opponents, but because Denver doesn’t have a featured post player, that may limit their efficiency a bit. JaVale McGee, Kosta Koufos, and Kenneth Faried will be aggressive on the offensive glass, and look for them to get some garbage buckets in that fashion.
Match-up to Watch - Chris Paul vs. Ty Lawson
We’ve discussed Paul extensively (see above), but Lawson presents a unique challenge for him on both ends. One of CP3′s strengths is his ability to get absolutely anywhere on the court at any time, and Lawson is capable of throwing a wrench into that with pure quickness on the defensive end. Lawson isn’t a guy that will ever be spectacular on the defensive end, but at worst, he’ll stay in front of Paul and make him a jump shooter while limiting penetration a bit.
The flip side of the match-up is that Lawson’s speed causes issues for everyone, and Paul is no different. No one can really stay in front of Lawson when he’s going full-steam, and Paul’s defensive positives (strength, IQ) won’t play in a big way against Lawson. The winner of this match-up controls the tempo, and thus, controls the match-up as a whole.
With Denver’s dominance in the Pepsi Center this season (26-3 at home), they have to be considered the favorite to hold serve in this game. They are simply a different (read: better) team at home, and with their tempo coupled with the altitude, they run rough shot over visiting squads. Throw in the fact that LA is on the second of a back-to-back and that Denver had Wednesday night off, and you have to magnify that home-court advantage.
Los Angeles is fully capable of slowing the game down, taking control of the pace, and thus, grabbing the upper-hand, but in the end, I think Denver’s tempo will be too much for a road-weary Clippers team. At any rate, this will be one of the more entertaining games (style-wise) that you can imagine in the Association this season.