The matchup that was a good bet according to the seedings became quite another thing in reality, with uncertainty surrounding Denver in its first playoff run with this group and Los Angeles going out of its way to create doubt by phoning it in for long stretches or even entire games. No. 1 versus No. 2 ... and still it's hard to believe they're actually here.
Really going for surreal, the teams have switched roles. The Lakers are the head cases, loaded with possibility if they ever manage to get themselves under control. The Nuggets are the imposing team of the West, having taken apart the Hornets in the opening round and handled a challenge from the Mavericks in the semifinals with execution and an uncommon calm in close games. The Lakers, wobbling like playoff newbies. The Nuggets, collected. Follow the series via the usual sports outlets if you insist, but the best coverage will be in
The Lakers won three of four meetings during the regular season. Of course, the Lakers also took four of four from the Rockets during the regular season, and look what that meant in the playoffs. Two interesting statistics from Denver-L.A. of the previous months, though:
• The Lakers and their focus: This is the Factor by any letter. The great intangible that followed them into the second round after the inconsistent showing against Utah now trails them into the third round as one of the storylines of the entire playoffs, with no real answer for why the team that stepped into the postseason as the title favorite has been so asleep at the wheel.
The Game 7 performance against the Rockets was an encouraging sign for a city that was able to finally exhale, but the 40-point victory of Game 5 was also an encouraging sign and that didn't last. The Lakers, unable to assert themselves, were pushed to the brink by the Houston smurfs. The same lack of focus against the Nuggets means defeat. The Lakers with constant energy means a spot in the Finals.
• The Nuggets must handle five days off as a lengthy break rather than a momentum-breaking layoff. Tuesday night at Staples Center will be interesting: the challenge of being on the road rolled into the test case of Denver as rested or rusted.