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Lakers Are Contenders and Nuggets Still Have Doubters

I hate the Lakers. I always have and always will. So you might be thinking I was pissed watching them fight back against Denver yesterday. To be honest though I was more than happy to watch them complete a successful comeback against a Nuggets team filled with guys who talk tough, but usually disappear when the chips are down.

The Lakers were able to overcome a truly horrific shooting performance by Kobe Bryant (3-17 from the field) due to contributions from Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest. It also helped that Kobe adjusted his game and summoned his inner Steve Nash and dish out 12 assists, the sign of a truly great player. Los Angeles showed why they are a championship-caliber team by overcoming a poor first half performance against a quality opponent and finding a way to win.

The Nuggets on the other hand demonstrated why many continue to view their title hopes skeptically. I know they are 6-1 so far this season against the Cavaliers, Lakers, Magic and Celtics, but the Nuggets seem to be a team designed to only play running basketball and struggle to get baskets when it slows down to a halfcourt game, which often happens in the playoffs. Yesterday was a prime example as the Nuggets failed to adjust after the Lakers slowed the game down in the second half and cut down on their turnovers.

Denver struggled to score in the second half and the primary culprit on the team was none other than Carmelo Anthony. Melo scored 21 points, though he shot 7-19 from the field and also committed 8 turnovers while only collecting one assist. For Carmelo to become a great player he must learn to change his game when things aren't working by getting teammates more involved. Kobe did and he didn't and that was a huge difference in yesterday's game.

While Anthony had a bad game it was nothing compared to Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen's performances. Both guys disappeared and let the Lakers frontcourt dominate the second half of the game. K-Mart for all of his tough guy antics, has always found a way to disappear when the big occasion arises. Just ask Nets fans about his performance in the 2003 NBA Finals. Andersen's game consists of grabbing offensive rebounds, blocking shots from the weak side and getting burned when he's forced to man up against competent big men in the post. Unfortunately for him this renders him relatively useless when facing the Lakers' potent trio of skilled big men in Gasol, Odom and Bynum.

Then we have J.R. Smith who to his credit played excellent defense on the Black Mamba, but then negated by deciding to chuck up shots that seemed to get further and further away from the hoop as the game went on. He has all the talent in the world, but seems content to turn into the next Vince Carter by jacking up inordinate amounts of three point shots rather than using his athleticism to constantly get to the rim.

Then we have Chauncey Billups. Sure Billups is a really good point guard, but why was he ever given the nickname Mr. Big Shot? Just think about it for a second. What was the last big shot that Billups hit? Yeah I came up with nothing either.

The Nuggets have been touted as a threat to the Lakers' supremacy in the West, but if I were Los Angeles I'd be more worried with the Mavericks who have looked deadly since their trade for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. Yesterday the Lakers exhibited their championship qualities while Denver showed why they still have doubters.