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The Lakers in the Finals? Not So Fast...

   by ASA - 04/14/2009

While the Lakers are the obvious choice to represent the West in the NBA Finals, we believe that the Denver Nuggets have the best chance to unseat them. Denver currently sits at 20 to 1 to win the NBA Finals and 7 to 1 to win the West. They might be worth a strong look for a solid return on your investment. No one expected the Nuggets to be where they are today, even after their acquisition of Chauncey Billups early in the season. They came out atop of the Northwest standings, outlasting Portland and Utah in one of the best division races in the NBA this season.

They have solidified their position as the 2nd seed in the West and will play the Mavericks in the 1st round of the playoffs. Dallas is a veteran team led by Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Terry; though they may have more playoff experience than the Nuggets, Denver matches up very well with the Mavs and the regular season proved it. Denver finished 4-0 against the Mavericks this season, and they are 7-1 against Dallas dating back to 2007. With the “Big Threeâ€쳌 of Dallas all in their 30’s, the overall wear and tear of the long NBA season will be a problem for the Mavs, who don’t play great defense are aren’t a good road team.

Their 2nd round match-up is likely against either Houston or New Orleans. Denver was just 1-3 against the Rockets during the regular season and split the series with the Hornets, 2-2. Of their combined five losses against New Orleans and Houston, four came on the 2nd night of back-to-back games and one of those was a two-point loss without Carmelo Anthony. A big reason to favor the Nuggets is that veteran leadership is a must in the playoffs, and that’s where Chauncey Billups is so valuable. Billups has started 114 playoff games and has a career average of 17.3 points per game in the playoffs. He led the Pistons to two straight NBA Finals in 2004 and 2005 and was the Finals MVP in 2004. Billups has the clear advantage in leadership over Aaron Brooks of the Rockets, and has the experience edge over Chris Paul of the Hornets. Denver has won 13 of their last 15 games and they are hitting their stride at the perfect time for the playoffs. Houston is just 10-5 and New Orleans is just 8-8 down the stretch which is exactly why we’ll give the edge to Nuggets in either of these potential match-ups.

Barring any big upset by the Jazz, Blazers, or Spurs, we are expecting the Lakers to reach the conference finals to take on the Nuggets. The Nuggets were 1-3 against the Lakers this season, losing twice on the road and once at home. Their loss at home was very early in the season before the Allen Iverson-Chauncey Billups trade. Though the Lakers ran away with the best record in the West, they benefited from playing in a very weak division. The Pacific was the only division in the NBA that is sending just one team to the playoffs, and they also had two of the worst teams in the NBA, the Clippers and Kings.

Denver seems to have all the pieces of the puzzle for a contender. You must be able to play tough, half court defense in order to win a title. The Nuggets don’t pop into people’s heads when considering that aspect of the game. However, the truth is, this Denver team is very solid defensively. They rank 4th in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage behind only Boston, Orlando and Cleveland, all in the East. On the other end of the court, they put the ball in the hole. This team is 5th in the NBA in offensive field goal percentage hitting just over 47% of their shots. They have a superstar in Carmelo Anthony, the experienced veteran point guard in Chauncey Billups, and key role players in Kenyon Martin (11.7 ppg), Chris Anderson (2.4 blocks per game) and J.R. Smith (15 ppg off the bench). The Nuggets are still one of the biggest mysteries in the NBA, but their hot finish down the stretch proves that they aren’t a fluke. Come June, don’t be surprised to see Denver representing the West in the NBA finals.

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