Nuggets playoff matchup: Should we root to face Kobe Bryant & Lakers, not Mavs or Thunder?

It would seem like a death wish to hope to play the two-time defending NBA champions in the first round of the playoffs.

But given recent play, are the Lakers now the most desirable first-round opponent for the Nuggets? Probably not, but it's at least a question worth asking.

After falling to the Thunder on national television yesterday, Los Angeles has run its losing streak to five games and now owns the same record as the Dallas Mavericks. Factoring in tie-breakers, the Lakers still own the West's two seed, but they sit just a game ahead of Oklahoma City. With just two games left, any of these three teams could still face the Nuggets in the first round.

While the Thunder are still the most likely first-round opponent for the Nuggets, followed by the Mavericks, the Lakers' recent slide makes them a possibility. And no Western Conference playoff team is playing worse than LA right now.

At the root of the Lakers' slump is turnovers: They averaged 18.3 per game in the four losses before yesterday and committed nine in the final quarter against the Thunder. The Nuggets, who average the third most possessions per game in the league, are very capable of converting turnovers into baskets.

The Nuggets won the season series 2-1 over the Lakers and could pull confidence from a 95-90 win in Los Angeles last Sunday. And for whatever value you place on advanced basketball metrics, ESPN's John Hollinger ranks the Nuggets as the second best team in the league right now -- and his ratings are more heavily weighted towards the past 25 percent of games.

On the other hand, the Lakers are, well, the Lakers. The Nuggets met them in the 2008 and 2009 playoffs and came away with two wins total. LA still has that Bryant guy and a head coach with eleven NBA titles. Aaron Afflalo and Chris Andersen are both day-to-day with injuries and are key to guarding Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, respectively.

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For all the inspired play by the Nuggets since the Carmelo Anthony trade, the team is a collection of players largely inexperienced in the playoffs. The confidence they have given their recent play and win over the Lakers likely pales in comparison with what the Lakers feel when they look at their two latest NBA titles.

The Lakers take on the best team in the league in the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday before a season-finale with the Sacramento Kings. If their losing ways continue and the Thunder and Mavericks take care of business, it will at very least be fun to watch.

More from our Sports archive: "Carmelo Anthony traded: ESPN celebrates NY Knicks, doesn't give sh*t about Denver Nuggets."

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