Your Denver Nuggets welcome the LA Lakers to Pepsi Center tonight in a game that's very meaningful for both teams.
For the Lakers, who will be playing the second game in a back-to-back, a win would put them over .500. It would also demonstrate that they're resolute in their determination to break into the playoff picture despite a dismal start to their season that led to the replacement of their head coach. Kobe Bryant guaranteed that he would lead his team into the post-season. A big win on the road against the current 5th seed would be big stepping stone in following through on that promise.
For the rested Nuggets this feels a lot like a “must-win”. They split their recent road series with two of the most dismal squads in the NBA, the Wizards and the Bobcats. They’re on a one-game win streak and can ill afford to drop a critical conference game at home. The last thing Denver needs is to see LA included on the growing list of teams nipping at their heels. They have an opportunity tonight to make the Lakers road to the playoffs at that much more difficult.
Of the two teams the Lakers are hotter right now. It’s easy to look at their record and deem them “bad”. They aren’t bad, though. Personally, I believe Kobe when her says they’ll be a playoff team. Why? Because Kobe is a fierce competitor and the type of leader who will demand his team mates match his energy. He is determined and he is done making excuses.
Kobe Bryant’s fire is precisely what the Nuggets lack. The Lakers have every excuse to throw the towel in on their 2013 campaign and admit that they are not contenders. That idea never seems to enter their minds, though. Unlike your Denver Nuggets who have won seven more games than they have, the Lakers believe that they can still win it all. This year, next year, every year.
There’s a sharp contrast in mentality between the Nuggets and the Lakers and it flows from the top of the organization all the way down to the ball boys. It’s unimaginable that anyone involved with the Lakers team at any level would confess in the media that they aren’t ready, that they need a few more pieces, that they are setting the stage for future success. If that were the case the Lakers would be blown to bits.
The Nuggets have never been “blown up” and probably never will be. They’re “tweaked” in pursuit of steady improvement. They appear to have molded into shape at least to the degree that they’re better than the Lakers, but still not good enough to conquer the West. The Lakers, however, still believe that they can get it done - that, when they make the playoffs, they can go all the way. The Lakers believe they can handle Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the Clippers. They would not back down from any of those teams.
The Nuggets know that it’s a foregone conclusion that they can’t handle those teams in a seven-game series. That’s the real difference between the Lakers at 28-29 and the Nuggets at 35-22. The team with the lesser record has the greater chance of capturing a conference title. It’s because that’s where their heads are. The Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, have a tough mental make-up and aren’t scared of the challenges that face them in a less than stellar season. The Nuggets, who have had the far better season so far, are mentally soft compared to LA. That starts at the top.