Preseason opener offers Nuggets break from the routine

Denver plays the first of two games against the L.A. Lakers on Sunday
by Aaron Lopez

After five days of absorbing information and pushing themselves during three-hour practice sessions, the Denver Nuggets could use a break from the routine.

“They’re at about that point right now,” coach Brian Shaw said.

The Nuggets will escape the monotony of training camp when they play their first preseason game Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. The two teams will play again Tuesday in Ontario, Calif.

The matchup is fitting considering Shaw won five NBA titles with the Lakers – three as a player and two as an assistant coach. Shaw spent the past two years as associate head coach for the Indiana Pacers before being named Denver’s coach this summer.

“I’ve back to L.A. before,” he said. “I really have moved on. It’s another team that we’re playing. On that team, Kobe (Bryant) and Pau (Gasol) are the only guys who have any connection to when I was there. That makes it easier to kind of break away.”

Shaw’s focus will be centered on his team as he evaluates what lineup combinations work best in his first year as a head coach.

“I’m going to be experimenting,” he said. “I’m looking for chemistry between certain groups and certain guys.”

Wilson Chandler, penciled in as the starting small forward, is not expected to play Sunday because of left hamstring strain. Quincy Miller, Jordan Hamilton and Evan Fournier are among the candidates to start in his place.

Here are a few other things to watch in Denver’s preseason opener:

Keeping Pace: The Nuggets have led the NBA in scoring in each of the past four seasons. Although Shaw wants Denver to be more efficient with its half-court offense, that doesn’t mean putting the brakes on the fast break.

Led by point guard Ty Lawson, the Nuggets are going to continue to push the pace – even after made baskets. That shouldn’t be a problem with athletic big men Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson and JaVale McGee running the floor and high-energy sixth man Nate Robinson coming off the bench.

Half-court execution: Because he spent 11 seasons as player and assistant under Phil Jackson, Shaw is stereotyped as “a Triangle guy” in reference to Jackson’s successful Triangle offense.

“Is the Triangle part of me? Yes,” Shaw said. “I had my greatest success in the game running that system. But our system is going to be predicated on player movement and ball movement with a purpose. We are going to simplify everything to make it as seamless as possible for our players and to get the most out of everyone we have.”

Former Nuggets coach George Karl favored the dribble-drive offense over the past few years. Guards and wings attacked the paint looking to finish near the rim or create an open 3-point shot on the perimeter.

Shaw also wants his guards to be aggressive, but he also is looking to give his centers and power forwards more responsibility to pass from the high post or hit midrange jumpers.

New faces: Hickson and Robinson, along with forward Darrell Arthur and guard Randy Foye, are the four new players who joined the Nuggets during the offseason.

Foye is the frontrunner to start alongside Lawson in the backcourt, while Hickson is battling Faried for minutes at power forward. Robinson will provide instant offense off the bench, and Arthur is part of a deep frontcourt that also includes Hamilton, Miller, Randolph and Timofey Mozgov.