The Lakers knew they would be shorthanded in the first round, after Metta World Peace was suspended for the series' first six games for his misguided elbow, but they only found out Wednesday night they will be facing one of the deepest teams in the NBA. The Nuggets will exhaust the Lakers' starters, expose their flimsy second unit, and throw three different 7-footers at center Andrew Bynum. But teams like the Nuggets, without a proven star, usually falter in the playoffs because they don't have a place to turn for instant offense at the end of games. In other words, they don't have a closer like Kobe Bryant, who is rested and primed for this series. One candidate is Danilo Gallinari, who is healthy again, and could fill the void if he rediscovers the touch he showed in the first six weeks of the season.
At the end of every game, the Lakers will have the three best players on the court: Bryant, Bynum and Pau Gasol. The Nuggets, with their up-tempo style, will test the Lakers' stamina and depth. But stars win in the playoffs, and so does defense. The Nuggets rank 29th in points allowed, partly because of their breakneck pace. But if the pace slows, as often happens in the postseason, the advantage shifts to the Lakers. For all they have lost, they still have two of the most skilled 7-footers in the world, which makes them difficult to contain in the half court.