Answering a few questions after the Denver Nuggets took a 111-105 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in a pairing of two teams that could stun the NBA by springing first-round playoff upsets . . .
Who's the brightest darkhorse?
Between the Nuggets and Lakers, which is the better dark horse candidate to upset a higher seed in the playoffs?
I would say the Lakers from this standpoint -- they have more of an identity. Phil Jackson's been back there for a few years now, the core of the team has been together and they forced a seventh game in last year's playoffs. And the bottom line is you have Kobe Bryant. As good as Allen Iverson is, he's not Kobe, who could end up averaging 45 for a series.
The Lakers are not doing themselves any favor holding on to the 6 spot and a date with the Spurs. Wouldn't the No. 7 spot now held by the Nuggets (vs. Suns) be more sensible?
No. The thing to remember about a young team like the Lakers is the more you win, the more confidence you have. It's more important for you to have that success then worry about winning matchups. The Lakers are not that good enough that they can fall into a lower seed and then expect to turn it on.
But wouldn't the Lakers have more to prove against the Suns, whom they took to seven games last year?
That also works to Phoenix's advantage. The Suns might not have taken them as seriously last year as they would this time around. From the Lakers' standpoint, you want to go back into the playoffs in a groove. With Lamar Odom back and Kwame Brown playing well -- now you're talking about a team that can be dangerous.
What do they need to improve on?
This is the one of the worst defensive jobs that I've seen a Phil Jackson team display. Sometimes a team thinks it's playing hard, and doesn't realize that it can be playing harder. But when the playoffs come, you know they're going to be playing better defensively because they'll have a chance to prepare.
Denver's staggering down the stretch, with a playoff spot not completely assured. What's its biggest problem?
They turn the ball over too much. People talk about an inability to defend, but it's the turnovers. I talked to George Karl the other day about this. We talked about how hard it is to be that good defensively when teams can get easy baskets off turnovers, and they come at inopportune times. And remember, this is a team working in new guards like Steve Blake, J.R. Smith and Iverson. That's a lot of new parts added to the fray.
Who would the Nuggets prefer, the Suns or Spurs?
A tough road either way, but at least with the Suns they don't have to impose their will to play uptempo. That's how Denver wants to play. I don't know if they have the discipline defensively to slow down Phoenix.
So the Lakers could get the Spurs. That's not easy.
San Antonio's the team I would be most leery of in the Western Conference. Dallas and Phoenix haven't won a championship. This team has. That means a lot. Francisco Elson and Fabricio Oberto have played well the past month, with great intangibles, not so much in things that show in the stats.
If either dark horse candidate, the Nuggets or Lakers, is playing well, we should put the brooms away, right?
Yes. If both teams come into the postseason focused both mentally and emotionally, they're going to make it difficult. Both are capable of winning at least two games in a series.
ESPN analyst Greg Anthony can be seen on NBA Shootaround Wednesday at 7 ET, before the ESPN doubleheader of Bulls/Pistons (7:30 ET) and Kings/Nuggets (10 ET). All questions above posed by ESPN.com editor Andrew Ayres.
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LeBron James goes for two of his 31 points in the win over the Wolves. After missing Sunday's loss to Boston with knee tendinitis, James had 12 rebounds.
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Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (39 points) and Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony (31 points) battle in Denver's 111-105 win.
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