Lakers/Nuggets: A Tale of Two Halves

Darius Soriano —  February 28, 2010

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The Lakers and the Nuggets simply don’t like each other.  You see it on the court and you hear it in the quotes from the players both before and after the games.  So, when these two teams play a nationally televised game on a Sunday afternoon, you’re bound to see an intense battle where both teams give a strong effort in order to prove that they are the better team.  And that’s exactly what we got in a 95-89 slugfest that saw the Lakers earn their first win against the Nuggets this season.  This was a game that everyone who follows basketball (save for Jeff Van Gundy pregame) thought that the Lakers needed to have.  And what do you know; they pulled it out and showed some of that championship mettle that had been questioned in recent days (especially when citing their record against the NBA’s best teams).  The Lakers wanted to prove a point to critics.  To the other team.  Maybe even to themselves.  And on this Sunday, they did just that.

But it didn’t start out that way.  In what has been an all too familiar theme recently, the Lakers started the game flat footed and sloppy.  Yes, they were able to score on the Nuggets.  The Lakers ran a couple of nice post up plays for Pau, and Ron (more on him later) was able to hit a couple of jump shots.  But for the most part, Denver looked like the stronger, quicker, and better team early.  The Lakers were playing with urgency, they just weren’t playing smart.  Turnovers and fouls had the Lakers looking like a team that couldn’t get out of their own way.  Meanwhile the Nuggets looked like they were intent on steamrolling right through the defending champs.  Denver pushed the ball, attacked the paint hard via dribble penetration, and started out hot behind the three-point line.  Essentially, without the same level of crazy shot making, take what happened in the matchup between these teams on February 5th and just play that through your mind.  After one period, the Lakers were down 8 but it felt like 15.  And the second period really wasn’t much better.  The Lakers continued to play unevenly and the Nuggets continued to take advantage of the Lakers miscues.  All in all, it just looked like the Nuggs were going to run away with this game as all aspects of their game were working while the Lakers were only partially effective.

Actually, not all aspects of the Nuggets game were working.  One player was struggling – Carmelo Anthony.  And he was struggling for the same reason that the Lakers were even partially effective – Ron Artest.  Ron hounded Carmelo mercilessly and bodied him every chance he got.  When Anthony was even able to make a catch, Ron sat on his right hip and forced him into difficult shots or into just passing the ball.  Every time that Anthony made a shot it was over an outstretched arm or with Artest as physically close to him as possible without fouling.  It was just a superb defensive effort from #37.  And then on offense, Ron kept the Lakers in the game.  In the first quarter, Ron had two 3 pointers and two steals (one of which led to a break away dunk).  He followed that up in the second frame with another 3 pointer, 2 assists, another steal, and a drawn offensive foul on Carmelo.  Simply put, Ron Artest was the difference maker in the first half.  Even the Nuggets were still getting most of what they wanted on offense, their main player was struggling.  At halftime, the Nuggets were up 9 but it should have been closer to 20.  Before heading into the locker room, Chauncey Billups would say as much in his short interview.

The second half, especially the fourth quarter, is where the Lakers would really assert themselves and show the style of game that continues to frustrate the Nuggets.  It really comes down to three factors.  First is taking care of the ball.  Based off defensive efficiency, the Nuggets are only an average defensive team.  Sure they have a physicality that can bother the Lakers, but when the Lakers don’t help Denver’s cause by giving them the ball the game becomes much easier for the Lakers’ offense.  Fourteen first half turnovers would only become seventeen by the end of the game and this was a major factor in the Lakers finding a rhythm on offense.

Second is player positioning teamed with player substitutions.  In the second half, and specifically in the fourth quarter the Lakers went to Kobe on weakside elbow and put Odom in the game.  The combination of these two factors was too much for Denver to handle and it essentially became the go to set for the Lakers offense down the stretch.  This set and player combo does two key things for the Lakers – it puts Kobe in a position where he can either create more easily for himself while also making double teaming him both difficult and costly.  Going back to last year’s playoffs, George Karl has not found a solution for this set as he never seems to feel comfortable leaving a defender on an island against Kobe.  This leads to double teams that Kobe can handle quite well with pin point passes to cutters in the middle of the key or to players in the opposite corner with a skip pass.  This is where Odom’s presence comes into play, as he is the player that has the mobility and instincts to know when and how to cut into space, making himself available and in position to be dangerous on offense.  And boy, was LO effective.  He closed the game with 9 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and either made shots or drew defenders to get our other guys good looks.  Tremendous play from both LO and Kobe and it essentially won the game for us on the offensive side of the ball. (On a side note, I’m not going to harp on Andrew Bynum’s game against the Nuggs.  He could have played better, but he really didn’t play that poorly either.  His offense was strong enough to command double teams and his defense was okay as he blocked some shots and closed down penetration by using his size but still wasn’t as active on the defensive glass and was at times a step slow in deciding what was the proper defensive rotation.  I think we all know that ‘Drew can play better.  But I still believe that he was okay.)

The third key to this second half victory was the Lakers defense.  I already mentioned Artest, but he deserves another mention now.  Ron was just amazing. He battled the entire night and made his mark on this game by making ‘Melo work hard for everything.  But Ron was not alone in his defense.  Kobe, Lamar, Pau, they all played huge down the stretch of this game by forcing tough shots, contesting, and then (for the most part) securing the defensive rebound.  Even when the Nuggs did secure offensive boards, the Lakers didn’t quit or hang their heads on the subsequent possession and instead just put their hard hat back on and went to work again.  The Nuggets had an offensive efficiency rating of 89.7 in this game.  Their normal output is 112.4.  That’s a huge difference and, ultimately, the difference in this contest.  If Denver can’t score at an elite level, they are beatable and the Lakers have both the personnel and offensive sets to grind out wins against this team.

Ultimately, there are some that will call this game a statement game.  And to a certain extent, I agree with that.  I do think that this game was one where the Lakers wanted to show the Nuggets that they don’t have the upper hand in this matchup.  But, I also think that even if the Lakers lost this game it would not have been the end of the world.  It would have tightened up the race for home court and it would have added to the already confident Nuggets.  It may have also created some doubt amongst the players as to what they can do to beat this team.  But I still believe that the Lakers have a ton of self belief and know that the quest for a championship goes through LA.  However that “if they lost” question needn’t be asked after this one.  The Lakers turned a poor showing with sloppy execution in the first half into a second half that reminded me of game 5 of the WCF from last season.  After the game Pau said that the Lakers wanted to show the Nuggets that they don’t have a chance in a series against LA.  And while I don’t think this game proved that, I do think that the Lakers are now fully aware of what it will take to beat the Nuggets and have the blueprint to do so.

Darius Soriano

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31 responses to Lakers/Nuggets: A Tale of Two Halves

  1. I love the words from Pau. Planting a huge seed of doubt in the mind of the Nuggets. Genius.

  2. Good post. Agree with all except Bynam.
    4-3 second calls and standing on defense rebounds is not a good game. People sitting around me were yelling to pull him after his 2nd defensive 3,He just dosen’t have a very high BB IQ for a 5th year player.

  3. 1. I actually don’t like Pau’s bragging about how the Nuggs have no chance. It shows to me that their trash talking and bullying is getting to him.

    2. On the other hand, I loved Pau’s last bucket at 91-89. I didn’t like in the first half how Pau and Lamar took everything softly to the hoop. Taking it strong to the hoop doesn’t mean trying to hurt someone, it means go directly to the hoop and force them to foul you to stop you.When you flip soft layups, that plays into the Nuggs physical play and you end up missing the shot and also waiting for the officials to bail you out. Anyway, at 91-89, Kobe is doubled and he passes to Pau with space mid-post, and you see him pause a second deciding whether to toss up a soft shot or pass off to Lamar (covered). Then as if he had been recently chewed out for not taking it hard to the hoop, he drives and scores.

    3. Andrew is starting to make the right pass out of double teams. Unfortunately, they resemble Fisher rainbow jumpers so the D can casually recover.

    4. The story today was that Kobe moved himself to the post to deal with the double-teams better. Isn’t this same “revelation” that we heard during the Finals against the Magic? (compare Kobe’s passing out of double-team for Fisher’s game-sealing 3 in OT, Game 5). It seems like the old way of dealing with double teams was for Lamar to flash to the high post while Pau flashes to the post, or vice versa. Somehow that stopped working in the 09 Finals and they haven’t gotten that working too well since.

  4. Sorry, I don’t agree on Bynum. He isn’t the 2nd coming, but he is a contributing role player at this time. Yes, he is paid to be more, but – at 22 – I think we have to look at what is needed now. He is a decent role player with the ability to dominate down low against some clubs – that’s Andrew this year, like it or not.

  5. 3. While Bynum’s BB IQ isn’t where it could be, you can make that the case for a few other laker players as well.

    But I was pleased with the way the game turned out. But I’m still waiting for the lakers to play a stretch complete games, by complete I mean 40-44 minutes of good basketball (it’s unrealistic for a team to play a full 48 minutes of good basketball unless your that girls high school team that won 100-0). But the lakers have only had a few games games like that. I take a win like this, but I want to see a full game of focus and energy that translates into good defense and good offense from the lakers.

    On anther note, The lakers have no choice but to be great for the last month and a half of the season. The lakers have a stretch of 8 games against western conference playoff contenders, of which 6 are on the road, in the last week of March/ first week of April. So lakers really have to turn it up. This was a good starting point.

  6. I loved seeing Ron celebrating after drawing Melo’s 6th foul. It showed me his mindset is where the Lakers should want it. If he’s excited about defense, we’re in a very good place with him.

  7. Great quote from Phil after the game, via ESPNLA

    “Jackson was asked if he was responsible for turning the tide of the game with any rah-rah activity at halftime.

    “I didn’t instill anything,” Jackson said. “They had that in them already.”"

    Doing something for yourself has far more meaning than doing something because someone told you to.

  8. After looking forward to this game all week I ended up missing every part except the last two minutes of the fourth quarter… :(

    Based on what the announcers said and the recap I just read, Ron apparently played pretty well and did exactly what he is supposed to be doing for us from here on. I like that. I like that a lot…!

    Now I’m going to go watch the high lights and celebrate. :)

  9. Funny Kobe fractures a finger and plays through it. Shaq, aka superman, hurts his thumb and he is out for regular season.

    hummmmm

  10. Seriously, Kobe needs to stop chucking… Luckily we won thanks to our front court.

  11. I want to see this version of Ron on Lebron!!!!!!!!!

  12. Jason

    Kobe took 8 shots in the second half while playing 22 out of 24 minutes and he wasn’t taking bad shots. Except for maybe that 3 pointer late in the 4th quarter. Kobe shot was just off. I can accept that. Especially when he has 12 assist.

    It would be different if kobe had 25 shots. He only had 17 and he has to continue to take those shots because it puts pressure on the defense to guard him.

  13. Ron was awesome in this game. That was the Ron Artest that won DPOY in 2003-04 season. His and Kobe’s D in the second half was astounding.

    And I, and many others have said it before, but when Lamar shows up and plays aggressively and at the high level he is capable of, the Lakers are a very hard team to beat.

  14. I disagree with Apricot – I’m happy that Pau’s talking it up a bit. Of late, LA have needed to add a bit of steel to their spines, and I think they’re doing it.

    Statement game? Hell no. But it was a game that showed me that LA have the ability to win a tough, grind-it-out encounter. And that’s precisely what’s needed. Especially with what March has in store for the Lakers!

  15. I also missed this game, but the recap here was fantastic indeed and now I have an idea what happened and why in this game. Yeah, LO coming through big time makes me happy along with Artest doing what we brought him here for, defense against the powerful forwards.

  16. Kobe missed shots that he would normally make. But then again, we could use that argument for almost every shot Kobe takes, since he is that incredible. However, when Kobe has a off night, sometimes he doesn’t recognize it or just decides to force the issue, but he made the better decision in setting up his teammates tonight.

    Ron Artest, despite his Chinese-shoes-itis, played great defense. Remember, this is what we brought him in for. Trevor Ariza, a great person and a Laker forever remembered (by me, at least), does not have the physical strength to match up with the likes of Melo. I also love – LOVE – how serious Ron is during games. He doesn’t crack a smile, he doesn’t chat, he doesn’t moan to refs, he just goes out and gives all his effort. Impressive, and admirable, to say the least.

    As for Gasol, I like that he’s biting back. As noted, Gasol is usually a very laid back and conservative guy, so you know he is upset. However, what I liked more is that he went out there and showed his “retaliation.”

    Regarding JR Smith and his tweets – this is reminiscent of that whole Kobe-Raja “rivalry.” I still chuckle when I think of the interview where Kobe called Raja “some kid,” even though, of course, Raja Bell is older than Kobe.

    Great game. I like.

  17. WhiteLightnin’ March 1, 2010 at 12:52 am

    Anyone know of an extended video recap online?

  18. Q,
    The only player in the history of the NBA who wouldn’t get embarrassed guarding Lebron is Detroit Piston Dennis Rodman

  19. the queens bros. did it today!!!

    By the way…One of our bigs is really soft, and its not Gasol. Bynum is a black hole, who doesnt pass, and does not have the basketball I.Q. to rebound.

    Im glad Lamar is getting his minutes..

  20. I am looking forward to this matchup in the Western Conference Finals. Artest played well hitting 4 3pointers, i think. Defensively, he was allowed to drape himself on Anthony. If the refs allow that in the playoffs, that is huge for the Lakers. What I dont get is how they are gonna call 3 off the ball fouls on Anthony at the offensive end? WTF? ANthony is the most clutch player in the league(percentage wise) and the refs pretty much sealed this game with that call. After all the rough housing in the game, they end it with a weak ass call. If the Lakers think they are gonna shut down Melo, Billups, and Smith consistently, they are mistaken.

  21. i think my defense was good aswell :)

  22. Artest in my opinion was the MVP of this game, for taunting Carmelo Anthony and slashing his scoring. Also making him foul out. Good game ron ron, your trade was a fantastic move. Thanks….

  23. It was a great win and the Lakers still have a few big games left.

    @Orl Mar 7
    @Sa Mar24
    @Atl Mar31
    @Den Apr 8

    I left out all the back to backs because they dont mean much.

  24. Great game and great recap as well. I feel that we showed our depth and what we can actually do when we dig down deep. Ron Ron’s effort was brilliant.

  25. E tu Roland Lazenby???

    http://blogs.hoopshype.com/blogs/lazenby/2010/02/28/lebron-a-laker/

    Anyone else find this article as puzzling/bizzare? Or does Roland, who is typically spot on about anything Lakers related know something we don’t?

  26. I feel like I’ve been repeating this a lot lately, but the conversation will remain civil around here. I’ve deleted comments and I’ll do more of it if I have to.

  27. On another note, I don’t and won’t make blanket statements, but some fans of this team confuse me. The Lakers just had a very nice win. Better than nice actually. We took out a team that has given us problems and did so with a convincing second half effort that saw a 15 point swing over the final 24 minutes. The Lakers defense was stifling and their offesne found a set – with variables off of it – that worked down the stretch that will surely have the Nuggs spending extra time in the lab thinking “we don’t have this team figured out after all”. I’m happy. But some fans continue to harp on the negative with comments about Kobe’s shot selection (as if the jumpers he took against Martin aren’t ones he’s made against that same defender over the past several seasons) or Bynum’s play (like he played terrible – he didn’t, check the game film; I did) or trashing Fisher (when his shooting and defense were good this game; really I saw that with my own eyes too). Please, please, please find something better to do than coming here and venting on things that (for this game, at least) were inconsequential and weren’t even that bad to begin with. The broken record syndrome is old and tiring. I should know, I read every comment on this site multiple times over.

  28. I agree with Darius. This was a playoff atmosphere game and the Lakers found a way to win this game.

    Mark Jackson’s comments during the game re: Kobe’s “declining” athleticism was interesting. I believe they are unfounded, due to factors such as Kobe’s numerous injuries limiting his explosiveness as of now. But I still believe the latest morphing of Kobe version (whatever version he is right now) is still unfolding. Kobe’s passing last night was very good, and I believe an increase in his assists may be part of Kobe’s evolution.

    He still appears to be tinkering with the ingredients of his own evolution and trying to figure out what formula works best. I think that’s why we’re seeing some inconsistency with Kobe right now. It’s a good and necessary evolution of his game, which should help preserve his game for years to come.

  29. It’s been a fustrating season in alot of ways but consider that this team hasn’t come close to peaking yet. They still have the second best record in the league. A scary thought. And they have a coach very experienced in repeating as a champion (and well aware of all the physical and psychological pitfalls involved).

  30. Yusu f, don’t overlook @OKC, Mar. 26.