Nuggets refreshed, ready but will they be rusty?

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DENVER - The Denver Nuggets are rested and ready.

Will they also be rusty?

The Nuggets took care of Dallas in five games, wrapping up their second-round series Wednesday night, then taking a day off before spending three straight days working out and wondering.

They figured the Los Angeles Lakers would beat the Houston Rockets - although they didn't think it would take seven games. So, they've been preparing for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol all along with a Plan B in their back pockets just case the Rockets pulled off a shocker.

The Nuggets, who are making their first trip to the Western Conference Finals since 1985, quickly ditched their backup plans Sunday when the Lakers jumped to an early lead over the Rockets and cruised to an 89-70 victory at the Staples Center.

"Surprise. Surprise," Chauncey Billups said. "Of course, Houston had a chance. They played a great series. But like everybody else we kind of figured L.A. would win at home."

After all, the Nuggets know just how tough the Lakers are at the Staples Center, where coach George Karl hasn't won since taking over as Denver's coach midway through the 2004-05 season.

The Nuggets have gone 1-10 against L.A. the last two seasons, including a four-game sweep in the first round of last year's playoffs, when Denver became the first 50-win team in league history to get swept in the first round.

Behind Billups, however, they're supremely confident they can get past the Lakers and into their first NBA Finals since joining the league in 1976.

"Everything is different," Carmelo Anthony said. "We played the Lakers four times this regular season. But that's out the window. It starts Tuesday. We're going to go out there and compete. We're going to go out and compete and try to win the hustle game and try to be a little physical and see what happens."

Karl said he, too, has a feeling the Nuggets' fortunes are about to change.

"Over the last two years, I think we tried to play their game. We tried to outscore them," Karl said. "They were a better offensive team than we were. I think the difference right now is we've tried to become more of a balanced team, a defensive team, a physical team.

"It seems like those teams do have more success against the Lakers than the teams that try to outscore them."

The Nuggets are looking at their long layoff as a blessing.

"Yeah. You get to rest your bones, a couple of aches and bruises you might have," Kenyon Martin said. "I think it's a good thing to have a few days in between series and not have to start right up. I think it helps guys get their mind together and their bodies."

Chris Andersen appreciated the extra rest. A bad case of food poisoning that kept him out of Game 4 in Dallas left him weakened and scoreless in Game 5.

"I'm back to eating regular food," Andersen said.

Anthony was glad to get a few days to rest his bruised left thigh.

"I'm good. I'll be good Tuesday," Anthony said.

"I think Houston did us a favor by winning that Game 6 and extending the series. We got a chance to rest and get our people healthy," Anthony added. "So everybody's good for Tuesday."

The Nuggets will fly out first thing Monday with the notion of stealing a game or even two from the Lakers, who remain in rhythm but might be fatigued from their tougher-than-expected semifinals.

"We're going (there) to win both games," Martin said. "Not just going (there) to split. ... Ain't no stealing nothing. We're going to play to win. No matter if they have days off or not, we're going win."

The Nuggets had fun with comments made by Rockets forward Shane Battier, who said Sunday that Denver hadn't been tested in the playoffs because both the Hornets and Mavericks were beat up.

"Well, all we can do is play who we're scheduled to play, we can't determine who that's going to be," Billups said. "But because of whomever said whatever, that's not going to take away the success that we've had and the great two series that we've played."

Anthony doesn't mind the doubters.

"Nobody thinks we can beat the Lakers," he said. "A couple people, probably. We believe. As long as we believe, good things will happen for us."


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