Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant smiles as he hands the ball back to a referee in Minneapolis

NBA Playoff Preview: L.A. Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets

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SEASON RECORDS


Lakers: 41-25 (3 seed)
Nuggets: 38-28 (6 seed)

SEASON SERIES


The Lakers took three of the four regular season meetings from the Nuggets, with the only loss coming on New Year’s Day in Denver. All the games were close, however, with L.A.’s margin of victory never being greater than six points.

KEY INJURIES

Lakers: There are no players who will be unavailable due to injury to start this series for the Lakers. The Artest now known as Metta World Peace is serving a seven-game suspension for the elbow he landed on the head of James Harden, so we won’t be seeing him face the Nuggets unless there is a Game 7.

Nuggets: None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Lakers: offense 103.3 (10th); defense 101.7 (13th)
Nuggets: offense 106.6 (3rd); defense 103.4 (19th)

THREE KEY LAKERS:

Kobe Bryant: Bryant has played this season, for the most part, at an extremely high level. The shin injury he suffered at the beginning of April that forced him to miss seven games may have been a blessing in disguise, as the famously competitive Bryant wouldn’t likely have chosen to get any rest before the playoffs otherwise. As anyone who has watched this Lakers team closely can attest, the preferred and more successful strategy is for Bryant to pace himself offensively, while making sure his teammates get plenty of touches in the game’s early going — instead of making sure to take as many shots as humanly possible, no matter the defense.

Andrew Bynum: It’s been an interesting season for Anrew Bynum, to say the very least. What the Lakers hope to see in the postseason is the dominant, big man that Bynum showed he can be at multiple times this year, instead of the petulant man-child who engages in nonsense on the court that’s detrimental to the team’s efforts. The pressure of the postseason and the veterans on this team should be enough to keep him in check, but should he become disinterested or show a lack of maturity by needlessly picking up technical or flagrant fouls, it could severely impact his team’s chances.

Ramon Sessions: This will be Sessions’ first trip to the postseason in his career, and his performance, especially against this Denver team, will be critical to the Lakers’ success. Sessions will need to stay in front of Ty Lawson defensively, and will need to control the tempo on the offensive end, while resisting the urge to match the speed of Denver’s game.

THREE KEY NUGGETS

Aaron Afflalo: The Nuggets’ two-guard has really stepped his game up late in the season, and he’s going to be trouble for the Lakers. He regularly plays 40 minutes per game, and his scoring average and field goal percentage numbers were way up over his yearly averages in the last month of the season. He’s efficient and able to score in a variety of ways, so the Lakers will try to force him into taking low-percentage, highly-contested shots. Good luck with that.

Ty Lawson: Tempo is going to be the key to this series, and Lawson’s speed will be extremely tough to contain. He makes everything possible offensively for Denver, and offense is where games in this series will be won for the Nuggets.

Kenneth Faried: The rookie nicknamed “Manimal” is as athletic and energetic as they come, but he manages to play under control at the same time. The Lakers will need to be aware of him on both ends of the floor, and make a conscious effort to put a body on him to prevent those hustle plays that give his team extra possessions.

OUTLOOK

The Lakers have the best frontcourt in the game with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and one of its best players in Kobe Bryant. From a talent standpoint, Denver is overmatched. But the Nuggets have been playing excellent team basketball to end the season, finishing the season winning six of seven, and eight of their last 10 games.

Tempo will be the key to this series. If Denver is able to get out in transition and make these high-possession games, the team will have a chance to get some wins in this series. Overall, though, expect the Lakers to play a smart, focused brand of basketball that utilizes their strengths in the first round of these playoffs.

Denver should mostly keep things close, and may get a couple of wins as the Lakers try to find their postseason selves. L.A.’s size down low, along with the presence of a healthy Kobe Bryant, will ultimately be too much.

PREDICTION

Lakers win 4-2.

NBA local television ratings up, led by spike in Warriors viewship

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 30: Klay Thompson #11, Draymond Green #23, Harrison Barnes #40, Shaun Livingston #34 and Stephen Curry #30 high five one another in the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 30, 2016 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Everyone wants to watch Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

Local television ratings for Warriors games on Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area have spiked 120 percent since last season, according to data compiled by the Sports Business Journal. An estimated 209,000 people tune in to CSN Bay Area for the games (plus the numbers of subscribers streaming Warriors’ games through CSNBayArea.com also has spiked this season).

It’s all part of an overall upward trend in ratings for the league, although about half the league’s markets have seen ratings fall.

Overall, as the NBA enters its All-Star break this weekend, the league’s local telecasts are up 6 percent year over year, according to Nielsen. Eleven teams have seen gains in their local ratings this season, while 15 have dropped. Denver Nuggets games on Altitude are flat with last year….

Golden State’s average rating is high enough to rank third in the NBA, an impressive achievement for a big-market team. Three of the top four teams as measured by ratings play in small markets: Cleveland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Additionally, with a league-best 209,000 households on average watching Warriors games locally this season, Golden State is far outpacing the New York Knicks for their games on MSG (160,000 households) and the Cleveland Cavaliers for their games on FS Ohio (141,000).

Interestingly, ratings for the Lakers are down 16 percent year-over-year, despite this being Kobe Bryant‘s final season, according to the report. That impacts the Lakers in that their massive cable television deal with Time Warner does have ratings ties — the Lakers could get a little less out of this deal than anticipated. Still, the average Lakers’ broadcast draws 92,000 viewers, fifth largest in the league.

LeBron has Cavaliers ratings up 36 percent over a year ago. The three biggest drops in ratings percentage wise are Atlanta (33 percent), New Orleans (33 percent), and Washington (34 percent). The average Pelicans game draws 7,000 viewers, according to the report.

That discrepancy in local television viewership — and the money that affords teams in local television deals — you can be sure is something the owners will fight about more in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions. There already is some sharing of that revenue, but as the gap grows you can expect a push from smaller markets to grow that sharing model (the only time rich owners suddenly want socialism in their lives). Expect the players’ union to bring it up as well when the owners cry poverty.

 

Love returns to Cavaliers’ lineup after missing 1 game

Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love, right, drives past Phoenix Suns’ P.J. Tucker during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 115-93. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love will return to the lineup Monday after missing a game because of a bruised left thigh.

Cleveland hosts Sacramento on Monday night.

Love sat out for the first time this season on Saturday in a win over New Orleans. He was injured in the third quarter of Friday’s loss to Boston and didn’t return.

He is averaging 15.9 points and 10.5 rebounds.

Love participated in Monday’s shootaround. He is nearing a pair of career milestones, needing three points to reach 9,000 and three field goals to hit 3,000.

Report: Luke Walton not leaving Warriors before their season ends

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 18: Interim Head coach Luke Walton of the Golden State Warriors during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on January 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Luke Walton is going to have his pick of coaching jobs this summer. The Knicks are reportedly interested, as are the Phoenix Suns. The Lakers allegedly would fire Byron Scott mid-season to get Walton. This doesn’t even get into current or expected openings such as Brooklyn, Sacramento, and Houston. Walton will have options.

But he’s not doing anything until the Warrior’s season ends, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, and it is the right thing to do for Walton — shows of loyalty to your current employer and players should raise his stock in the eyes of those trying to hire him.

We may ultimately see with Walton what we saw with Alvin Gentry a year ago; he took the job with New Orleans while the Warriors were still on their championship run, but continued to coach the team through the Finals.

It’s fair to ask if Walton is being over-hyped. He did a fantastic job with the Warriors to start this season, but that was an already built team playing the same system with mostly the same players as the season before. He just had to not fall off the horse, it was going to run plenty fast. Coaching up the kinds of troubled teams we see on that list above is a different challenge entirely. Walton may be up for it, he’s certainly earned the chance, but it’s fair to ask if he’s ready for that step.

PBT Podcast: Derek Fisher fired, plus your trade questions from Twitter

Derek Fisher
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Derek Fisher is out as coach of the New York Knicks.

In this latest podcast, NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman discuss the odd timing of that move — we expect another shoe to drop as to why. It’s not that Fisher was a great coach, but replacing him with Kurt Rambis mid-season is not an upgrade. And Luke Walton isn’t available until this summer.

After struggling to figure out what the Knicks are thinking, Helin and Feldman answer questions off Twitter from readers/listeners on the coming trade deadline including discussions of Blake Griffin, Jeff Teague, the Pistons, the Jazz, the Knicks, and more.

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunesdownload it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.