by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
Metta World Peace continues to amaze us through his Twitter feed. During the opening day of the NBA Playoffs yesterday, some of his gems included shirtless and fully flexed bathroom photos of himself, a YouTube video of James Harden collapsing during the Western Conference Finals last year after a phantom elbow from Tyson Chandler and a ticket giveaway for a midnight movie that he planned to attend (“I’ll email you location”).
With MWP out until he serves six more games to complete his suspension for going Dusty Rhodes bionic elbow on Harden, the No. 3 seeded Lakers [41-25] will rely on Devin Ebanks to start at the small forward spot in their first round matchup against the No. 6 seed Denver Nuggets [38-28]. Kobe Bryant will be well rested after sitting out 7 games during the month of April to allow his injured shin to heal. Denver finished 11-4 during their final 15 games, and is the highest scoring team in the NBA at 104 points per game. With a very thin bench, the Lakers will depend heavily on Bryant and bigs Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to get through round one.
Point Guard: Ty Lawson vs. Ramon Sessions
Lawson has had a sensational season, leading the Nuggets in scoring with 16.4 ppg on .488 shooting from the field. He has shot a remarkable .583 from 3-point range in his past seven games and is expected to push the tempo every chance he gets as the Nuggets have indicated they want to run the Lakers up and down the court. Sessions will be playing in his first ever playoff game. He has played well for LA since joining the team at the trade deadline and is certain to log heavy minutes against Lawson and backup Andre Miller.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Arron Afflalo
Bryant—who was edged out by Kevin Durant for the scoring title this year (28.0-27.9)—is said to be healthy and ready to go. He presents a very tough challenge for Afflalo, whom coach George Karl refers to as the Nuggets best player during the final month of the regular season. Afflalo was hot during the month of April, averaging 18.7 ppg while shooting 52 percent from the field. Karl said he expects Danilo Gallinari and Corey Brewer to spend some time defending Bryant as well. Bryant has struggled in the Lakers two road games against the Nuggets, finishing 13-for-51 from the floor in his games at Pepsi Center.
Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari vs. Devin Ebanks
After missing 10 games due to a fractured thumb, Gallinari returned to the lineup three weeks ago. He struggled against the Lakers this season when guarded by World Peace, who played him very physical. Seeing Ebanks on the floor is a much better look for Gallinari. The Lakers will soon know if Ebanks can handle the hot lights. Expect Matt Barnes to fill in as well.
Power Forward: Kenneth Faried vs. Pau Gasol
Faried had a remarkable month of April, posting six double-doubles and averages of 11.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per, good enough to earn rookie of the month honors for the Western Conference. The Manimal has been a wonderful addition to the Nuggets this year but will be giving up several inches in length to a much more offensively skilled player in Gasol. It will be interesting to see how this matchup will play out throughout the series.
Center: Andrew Bynum vs. Kosta Koufos
Bynum has been dominant against Denver this season, racking up 24.8 pts, 11.8 rebs and 2.3 blocks in four games. Karl will likely use a rotation of Koufos, Timofey Mozgov, Chris Anderson and Javale McGee to try to slow Bynum down.
Bench: No contest here. LA will be relying on Steve Blake, Troy Murphy, Jordan Hill, Josh McRoberts and Matt Barnes to shoulder the load. Denver is much more deep and has access to impact players off the bench, like the veteran Miller at PG and instant offense from Al Harrington at forward.
Prediction: I expect the Nuggets pace and depth to give the Lakers some trouble, leading to several explosive games from the highest scoring team in the League but in the end the experience and play of Bryant, Bynum and Gasol will carry the Lakers to the next round.
Lakers win 4-3