- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers

How they got here: Defeated No. 8 Utah 4-1; defeated No. 5 Houston 4-3

Coach: Phil Jackson (ninth year in Los Angeles, 18th overall)

Why they will advance: The Lakers are led by the NBA’s best closer, Kobe Bryant, and have an imposing front line featuring Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. They also boast valuable experience, having reached the finals last season with virtually the same team. Bryant and point guard Derek Fisher have four finals appearances under their belts.

Why they won’t: The Lakers, in Bryant’s words, were “bipolar” in their conference semifinal series against the Houston Rockets and needed seven games to advance past a team without Yao Ming for four games and Tracy McGrady entirely. If Los Angeles, which has an inconsistent bench, displays similar hot-and-cold execution, it could fall short in its quest for a second straight NBA Finals appearance.

No. 2 Denver Nuggets

How they got here: Defeated No. 7 New Orleans 4-1; defeated No. 6 Dallas 4-1

Coach: George Karl (fifth year in Denver, 21st overall)

Why they will advance: Outside of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Nuggets are the hottest team in the playoffs, going 22-5 since March 11. The Lakers haven’t looked the sharpest in the playoffs, and Denver enters on six days of rest.

Why they won’t: Outside of Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets have little late-round playoff experience. Struggling against the short-handed Rockets could serve as a wake-up call for the Lakers and spur them to a dominant showing in their final step toward the NBA Finals.

Mike Jones

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