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NBA Sunday: The Key to Nuggets’ Title Hopes
Posted By Derek Page On April 14, 2013 @ 10:52 am In NBA | No Comments
The Denver Nuggets continue to be a breakthrough team as we close in on less than a week remaining until the start of the 2013 NBA postseason. Currently third in the brutal Western Conference, the Nuggets have exceeded expectations this season with a 54-25 record. This development shouldn’t have been completely unexpected. After all, the Nuggets took the Los Angeles Lakers to the brink in the 2012 postseason – coming up short after forcing a Game Seven in LA.
“All year long the league has seen the national image of the Nuggets as, well, that they’re not a playoff team, they’re not built for the playoffs,” Karl said. “They can’t do this, they can’t do that. I just wish we would be healthy to show some people and tell them to shut up. Now I don’t know what percentage we’re down but a full tank would be better than a three quarter tank, and the matchup that we get I think we’re going to be excited about, and I’m confident that we’re going to play well in the playoffs.”
One of the biggest keys to these Nuggets clicking on all cylinders this season has been the play of point guard Ty Lawson. Despite dealing with injuries all season, Denver has featured one of the top records in the Western Conference and the engine behind the third-best offense in the NBA has been Lawson.
The Nuggets rank in the top-3 in both scoring (105.8) and assists per game (24.3) this season with the 25-year old Lawson running the show in Denver.
“He’s one of the point guards in basketball that we want and we ask him to touch the paint with the penetration of the basketball twenty to thirty times a game,” Karl said. “With his speed and his pick-and-roll offense and his ability to get in the open court, he gets that done most nights. We don’t have anybody that has that much responsibility on the team, everybody else we let [run the offense]- Andre Miller gets fifteen maybe twenty [minutes per night] – but on a consistent basis if I tell Ty to get to the paint, he can get to the paint almost on anybody in any situation. It doesn’t mean he’s going to score; he’s just going to get there, create the defensive mistake and find the open shot.”
What makes Lawson so crucial to the Nuggets offense is his blazing speed and ability to blow by even the most elite NBA perimeter defenders on any given night. Karl was hesitant to situate Lawson among the league’s elite point guards but believes the motor driving the Nuggets’ offense has made strides in that direction this season.
“I think when Ty is healthy and when he was in the stretch of games before he got hurt, I thought he was moving in that direction,” Karl said. “For us, he probably is an elite point guard because we want his speed, so we’re not going to take a slow point guard. We’re not going to take a guy that executes offense really well; we want a guy that’s going to push everybody to play fast, and we don’t want jump shots. We want attacks, we want go. If there’s no one in front of you and the basket, your job is to go and then figure it out.
“You can’t stop speed and quickness in the open court; we want to score quick,” Karl added. “We have situations where we get the ball within a scoring area in three seconds. I don’t care how good you are at transition defense, you’re not going to have five guys back in three seconds.”
Leading the team in both points (16.6) and assists per contest (6.8), Lawson’s importance to this team’s success has been clear all season long. Lawson, who had missed eight of the Nuggets’ last nine contests due to a right heel injury before coming off of the bench Friday in Dallas, continues to be humble despite his lofty play this season.
“It feels good, I missed about two weeks, so it feels good to get back on the court and try to help my team,” Lawson told HOOPSWORLD. “I’m feeling a lot better and just ready for the next game.
“I’m just working on getting better every day. Hopefully one day I’ll get to that [elite] level but right now I just have to stay hard and keep preparing for those moments.”
Denver has just three games left on the agenda to close out the year and possesses a half-game lead over both the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies for the third seed in the West seedings. Being in position to seal their own fate in terms of home court advantage, and avoiding the dreaded 4-5 matchup in the loaded West, is something the Nuggets aren’t taking for granted.
“Winning the last three games, we control our destiny,” Lawson told HOOPSWORLD of the Nuggets’ key to closing out the year. “We have Portland, Phoenix, and Milwaukee, so win those last three games, control our destiny and get the seed.”
As this team continues to get back to 100 percent heading into the postseason, Coach Karl believes the depth and character of this squad will pay dividends in terms of how far this team goes.
“Our team has a mental competitiveness to it: a spirit of competing no matter what the problem or how badly we’re playing or how good we’re playing,” Karl said. “They compete at a very high level of integrity, of doing it the right way.”
If the Nuggets can hold fast in their pursuit of the number three seed out West, the most likely first round opponent would be the Golden State Warriors. The point guard battle between Lawson and Warriors’ star point guard Stephen Curry would be a vital matchup that could decide the series.
Up Close With Mark Lyons: HOOPSWORLD talks to former Xavier and Arizona guard Mark Lyons at the 2013 Portsmouth Invitational about what he was trying to showcase and the NBA Draft process at large in this video interview below.
Healthy HEAT Ready to Roll Through Postseason
The most consistent team all year long, the Miami HEAT continue to roll towards the postseason with key players trickling back into the lineup. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James each started for the HEAT this past Friday against the Boston Celtics, marking the first time that had occurred since late March.
”Felt good to get back in the lineup with the other ‘Big Two,”’ James told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. ”It’s great. We’re just trying to get some more continuity, get our legs up under us. It was good in a sense of guys are back, getting healthy.”
Even with key players in and out of the starting lineup, Miami has lost just two games since Feb. 2 – amassing a 34-2 record over that span. An essential piece to Miami’s dominant 2012-13 regular season has been the gradually improving play of Wade. After a slow start to the year, Wade has averaged more than 20 points per contest over the last three months and shot over 51 percent from the field.
Wade was especially potent during the HEAT’s 27-game winning streak, averaging 22.8 points per playing in 25 contests during that stretch. In his first action since March 29, Wade scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished out six assists while snatching two steals in 34 minutes of Miami’s 109-101 victory over Boston. After missing eight of Miami’s last 10 contests, Wade says his ailing right knee feels better heading down the home stretch.
“I’m just excited to play basketball,” Wade told Winderman. “It’s time that I get back on the court. My knee is getting better. Talking to the doctors, it can’t get any worse. … I kind of want to get back out there to get a rhythm a little bit and just play.”
The plan for the HEAT is for each of the team’s big three to suit up this afternoon against the Chicago Bulls and then to rest Miami’s key players for the final two games with the one-seed locked up. Miami is 11 games up on its next closest competition for the top record in the East and are locked into a first round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks.
With Derrick Rose’s return still uncertain in Chicago and a seemingly lack of a true threat in the Eastern Conference, Miami appears primed to roll to a third-straight NBA Finals this June.
Two teams flying under the radar and that shouldn’t be counted out in challenging the HEAT have been both the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers. While the postseason is a different animal, both teams have won the season series against Miami with Indiana going 2-1 and NY spanking the HEAT three out of four times this season.
The East doesn’t feature the brutal 2013 postseason matchups across the board that the West does but Miami’s road to yet another Eastern Conference Title won’t be a walk in the park.
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