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Nuggets play the 'no respect' card against Lakers

By Chris Tomasson, for NBA.com
Posted May 18 2009 8:16PM

DENVER -- Perhaps Denver should have beaten New Orleans last month by 59 points rather than the 58 that only tied the NBA record for biggest playoff victory margin.

Perhaps the Nuggets needed to roll up more than 124 points in last week's series-clinching win over Dallas, which is the most any team has scored in regulation this postseason.

Whatever the Nuggets do during the playoffs, it doesn't seem to be enough for some.

Just listen to Houston forward Shane Battier, who is good friends with former Duke teammate and President Obama right-hand man Reggie Love, and uses diplomacy when discussing most topics. But Battier doesn't seem too blown away by Denver's 8-2 postseason mark.

"I think the Lakers will be the favorite,'' Battier said when assessing the Western Conference final between Los Angeles and Denver that begins Tuesday night at the Staples Center. "I just don't think Denver has really been tested at this point. They played a New Orleans team (in a first-round 4-1 win) that was sort of coming apart at the seams at the time.

"And the Dallas team without Josh Howard (the Mavericks forward who was hampered by ankle injuries during a 4-1 loss to Denver in a West semifinal) is a markedly different team. They're not the Dallas team they were down the stretch. And so they're playing with a lot of confidence the Nuggets are, and they have yet to be tested. So it will be very interesting to see how the Nuggets react when they see adversity for the first time in the playoffs.''

When Nuggets players were told of Battier's comments, there were cracks such as which playoff series he is getting ready to play. Battier's Rockets were eliminated Sunday by the Lakers.

Overall, though, it didn't seem to be anything new. After all, Denver has been doubted all season.

"I don't think nobody thinks we can beat the Lakers,'' said forward Carmelo Anthony. "A couple people probably think. We believe. As long as we believe, good things will happen for us.''

Plenty of good things already have happened this season. The Nuggets won the Northwest Division with a 54-28 mark, the most regular-season wins in the team's 33-year NBA history.

"The so-called basketball experts, media, whoever, had us finishing 11th or 12th in the conference this year,'' said forward Kenyon Martin.

Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. The Nuggets were a popular pick to finish No. 9 in the West and just miss the playoffs. But not a lot of prognosticators had them finishing lower than that.

It's safe to say there were no Nostradamuses who picked the Nuggets to finish No. 2, which is where they ended up. The Nuggets took off after the Nov. 3 deal in which they acquired point guard Chauncey Billups and dispatched Allen Iverson.

"Nobody ever gave us a chance,'' Martin said. "That's the way I want people to keep it. Just keep doubting us and we're going to keep getting better and keep winning games.''

The Nuggets have been playing during the postseason with a chip on their shoulder. And, judging from the granite-like shoulders the aggressive Martin doesn't hesitate to throw around, that can be kind of scary for an opponent.

Denver crushed seventh-seeded New Orleans in the first round, outscoring the Hornets by an average of 24.2 points per game. That included a 121-63 win in Game 4, when the Nuggets tied the Lakers' 1956 win over the Hawks for biggest-ever playoff win.

Speaking of how much dust that record had accumulated, that would be the Minneapolis, not Los Angeles, Lakers. And that would be the St. Louis, not Atlanta, Hawks.

The Nuggets then dispatched No. 6 Dallas. At least the Mavericks were only outscored by an average of 7.8 points per game.

Still, there are some who say the Nuggets, due to not having faced an upper-echelon seed, haven't been tested in the playoffs.

"All we can do is play who we're scheduled to play,'' Billups said. "We can't determine who that's going to be. But because of whoever said whatever, that's not going to take away from the success that we've had and the two great series that we've played. Don't forget, we were supposed to lose both of those series.''

Welcome back to the somewhat-of-an-exaggeration department. Most observers did pick the Nuggets to win their first two series.

But it would be correct to suggest Denver isn't being giving a great chance against the Lakers. One reason is the Nuggets sure don't love L.A.

Over the past two seasons, Denver is 0-6 against the Lakers at the Staples Center while being outscored by an average of 17 points. That includes two losses there in the first round of last season's playoffs, when the Nuggets were swept 4-0.

Turn the calendar back to a time when even Dikembe Mutombo was young. Since the start of the 1996-97 season, when Mutombo bolted Denver as a free agent, the Nuggets, including the playoffs, are 2-24 on the road against the Lakers.

Since becoming Denver coach in January 2005, George Karl has yet to beat the Lakers on the road, going 0-8, including the postseason. The only win in the Karl era came when assistant Adrian Dantley took over for an April 2007 game when Karl was away due to son Coby Karl undergoing surgery for thyroid cancer.

"Over the last two years, I think we tried to play their game,'' said Karl, believing the Nuggets are now better equipped to steal a game in Los Angeles. "We tried to outscore them. They were a better offensive team than we were. I think the difference right now is we've tried to become a more balanced team, a defensive team, a physical team. It seems like those teams do have more success against L.A. than the teams that try to outscore them.''

If the Nuggets indeed can overcome adversity and win the series, they could quiet a lot people. That could include Battier.

Then again, Karl, a North Carolina alum, already has dismissed what Battier said.

"Why would I ever comment on a Duke guy?'' Karl said.

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