Here are a few numbers for you to wrap your mind around -
Carmelo Anthony scored 22.8 points per game in the regular season, shooting 44.3% from the field and 37.1% from three point range. In the playoffs his numbers have been better – 27 points per game, shooting 48.0% from the field and 44.1% for three, with him going wild in the Semi’s against Dallas, scoring 30 points per game against the Mavs.
Now… there are the games against the Lakers this season. Four games, the Lakers winning three of them so far. ‘Melo’s numbers? 14.5 Points per game, shooting 32.8% from the field and 20% from three. We might be on to something here. Carmelo didn’t average so few points against any other team in the league like he did against the Lakers. He averaged 15 a game against the Nets and 15.5 a game against the Cavs (potential Final opponents, if Carmelo can pick up his game against LA, which means the numbers against the Cavs don’t mean anything… never mind). Do the Lakers have Carmelo’s number? And that’s not all. It’s been the common opinion of late that Chauncey is more important to Denver’s success than Carmelo is. Billups averaged pretty much the same numbers during wins and losses during the season, 17.8 in wins and 17.6 in losses. Carmelo? 24.4 In wins, 19.3 in losses.
The Lakers showed they can play defense against Utah and against Houston, but not often enough. They lacked effort on both ends of the court in their final 2 losses to Houston and looked great on defense in their final 2 wins against Houston which were by a combined margin of 59 points. Is this going to be the case against Denver? On/Off nights, eventually getting by because of their skill advantage over other teams? Don’t be so sure.
Houston won their last 2 games on energy and hustle. They had no big man after Yao went down but were able to beat the flat Lakers in games 4 and 6 by playing small ball and just running all over the place. That doesn’t work in the long run if you’re in a disadvantage in too many positions. The things is, Denver are healthy, strong in the middle with Nene, Kenyon Martin and Andersen. Gasol has been doing all right, but Odom and especially Bynum have been out of it. The Lakers maybe a bit better on paper, except for Kobe don’t have a real ace in the hole against the Nuggets. Billups is much better than Derek Fisher if we’re on that matter.
That’s where Carmelo comes into play. He needs to get over this Laker hump, no matter who or what the Lakers throw his way (Probably Ariza/Kobe/Luke Walton combos). We’ve already written about Carmelo’s need to show up these playoffs. He has delievered against the Hornets and the Mavericks. The Lakers, when good, are a much tougher outing. If Carmelo Anthony keeps his level of play in this series like he has in the playoffs so far, I think Denver moves on to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.