THE 2012 NBA Playoffs begin on SABC 1 today when the 16-time NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers host the Denver Nuggets at the Staples Center in downtown L.A. in the opening game of the Western Conference First Round. The Lakers are seeded third in the West after a regular season record of 41 wins and 25 losses. Three of those wins came against the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets who themselves finished with a 38-28 record this season. Although the Lakers hold the home court advantage in this best-of-seven series (the first team to record four wins advances to the Western Conference Semi-Finals), the Nuggets have won eight out of their last ten regular-season games and have already shown that they are more than capable of challenging Kobe Bryant and company.
The Lakers are beginning their NBA title quest with high expectations. For five-time NBA Champion Kobe Bryant, anything less than a championship would be a disappointment. The league’s second-leading scorer sat out their last regular-season game on Thursday to rest ahead of the First Round opener. Sunday’s game will be Mike Brown’s first Playoff appearance as Lakers coach and he will surely be looking to cement it with an all-important win at home. The Lakers will be without Metta World Peace as he faces the first of a seven-game suspension following an altercation in a game last week, but they will want to bank on the recent good form of big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
The mood in the Denver Nuggets camp could not be better. They have enjoyed four back-to- back wins in their last four games of the season (including beating the red hot Thunder in Oklahoma City on Wednesday) and will want to carry this winning streak into the Playoffs.
Under the leadership of General Manager, Nigerian national Masai Ujiri, who is the first African to be appointed as the general manager of an NBA team, out of the four regular season encounters, the Nuggets topped the Lakers once in Denver on New Year’s Day winning by nine points. The Lakers won three very competitive games, but none of them by more than six points.
Ujiri’s team will count on their stars, Italian Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson, and super subs Al Harrington and veteran Andre Miller to lead the team as they did throughout the regular-season. The taller Gallinari has always made Kobe work hard when the teams have matched up and will need to be at his best on Sunday. Being led by experienced coach George Karl, the Nuggets will look to steal the opening game in L.A. and neutralise the Lakers’ home court advantage. The Nuggets also feature Basketball without Borders alumni and Congolese native Christian Eyenga who will be making his Playoff debut. Nuggets GM Ujiri is also Camp Director of the NBA’s Basketball without Borders camp that will be held in Johannesburg for the 10th year this September.
Sunday night’s Playoffs game on SABC 1 at 10pm will be the third Lakers game broadcasted on SABC 1 this season.