Written by Graham Brunell

On the brink of being upset, the Los Angeles Lakers have not only surprised many observers, but confused those watching the NBA Playoffs as well. They matched up with the Houston Rockets, a team just starting to come together, and a team looking like they could give them a little trouble. But not nearly the trouble they've given the Lake-show after six games. With the series tied 3-3, they head back to L.A. for the seventh and final game of this ongoing series.

It could be the Rockets, it could be the Lakers. I pick the Lakers, for their talent has to eventually prevail, and homecourt advantage, as we know, is now very valuable to teams. But even if they do win, they have to face the red-hot Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, a team tearing it up in the playoffs as of late. After humiliating the Hornets and the Mavericks (both series ended after five games), they are awaiting the outcome of the L.A.-Houston series, as either team could face them in the WCFs.

Carmelo Anthony, one of two star players on Denver, had not gotten past the first round in his career (drafted third in 2003 Draft) until this year. His growth as a player and as a leader has propelled the Nuggets to the Conference Finals, and could very well propel them further into the biggest stage: the NBA Finals.

The second star player alongside 'Melo is the one and only Chauncey Billups. Billups, who is now back home in Denver, was traded to the Nugs early in the season in a blockbuster deal that involved Antonio McDyess and Allen Iverson. The trade was supposed to rejuvenate a Detroit Pistons team in desperate need for change, but instead gave the Nuggets the one piece they needed to become a contender.

Billups gives the Nuggets a guard they haven't had alongside Carmelo Anthony since... well, ever. He brings experience both in the regular season and in the playoffs. He brings the mindset of working hard and preparing for upcoming matchups, something that has been a big part of the Nuggets improvement. He gives the Nuggets a reliable three-point shooter, and overall scorer, as well as a guy who can find the open man with ease.

But the Nuggets don't just have two All-Stars on their side -- they also have some pretty good role players as well. Nene Hilario, a center who came up big for Denver when big man Marcus Camby left to go to the Clippers (sorry Marcus), is one guy who has been simply excellent for the Nuggets. His rebounding ability (7.3 rpg in playoffs) and scoring ability (12.5 ppg in playoffs) has been an enormous part of Denver's success all season.

Although one weakness is he doesn't give the Nuggets many blocked shots. No worries Denver fans, that's all taken care of by "The Birdman!" Chris Anderson has been giving the Nuggets close to two blocked shots per game in just 21 minutes in the playoffs. He also has produced 6.9 ppg and 6.1 rpg.

Kenyon Martin has also emerged as a very effective forward for Denver. He's averaged 9.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, and 1.2 spg in 33 minutes, as well as a .526 field goal percentage. Martin's efficiency (12.90 PER) has also given coach George Karl yet another thing to smile about.

J.R. Smith, Dahntay Jones, and Anthony Carter are just a few more examples of the many impressive players the Nuggets have put alongside their two stars I talked about above.

So I guess the Kobe-LeBron matchup is now looking...

"...like a Melo-LeBron affair." -- ESPN.


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