The Lakers (7-8) host the Denver Nuggets (8-8) on Friday night at Staples Center. The Nuggets are coming off a close loss on the road Thursday against the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers recently fell to the Indiana Pacers on a last-second shot by George Hill.
The Nuggets gave the Lakers a seven-game challenge last year in the playoffs but both franchises have evolved since then. The Lakers have Dwight Howard at center instead of Andrew Bynum; the Nuggets now have Andre Iguodala.
Iguodala has always guarded Kobe Bryant relatively well. He'll get a chance to slow down the Lakers star, but it won't be easy. Outside of turnovers, Bryant is arguably having the most efficient season of his career.
Though Bryant is a dominant scorer, Iguodala averages closer to 16 points a game. The Nuggets' swingman is also a steady rebounder and playmaker. If he can keep Bryant from dominating the game, the Lakers could have a hard time scoring.
Although he's only 6-foot-8, Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried is the young, athletic, hungry, energy player who can bother taller players such as Pau Gasol and Howard. Another player to keep an eye on is athletic center JaVale McGee, who will certainly be called into action to counter the Lakers' size.
The X-factor for the Lakers appears to be forward Metta World Peace. If he is hitting his jumper, the team has an entirely different dimension. The same can be said of reserve forward Antawn Jamison.
The Nuggets are young enough to overcome the back-to-back games, but there's a desperation among the Lakers to get a quality win.
It's going to take a strong game, but the Lakers should leapfrog the Nuggets in the standings with a victory.ALSO: