The Lakers didn’t play their best basketball over the weekend, and during some stretches, they played absolutely terrible, but it’s Monday, and the Lakers finished the month of February with two huge wins against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Denver Nuggets.
I’m not going to discredit the importance of the Sixers game, because every game the rest of this season is going to be huge for the Lakers who are looking to get home court throughout the postseason, but last night’s game against the Nuggets held a special significance for the players and fans alike. Losing three straight to those cocky Nuggets would have given them a certain psychological advantage over the Lakers – and we know how tough those can be to get over (read: playing in the Rose Garden).
In the first half, it looked like the Lakers were ready to hand the Nuggets that advantage on a silver platter. Kobe’s shot wasn’t falling, they were turning the ball over at a high rate, they were giving up offensive rebounds, essentially, there was little to no intensity. They went into the half down nine points, in Staples, with a crowd almost as dead as the Celtics were on Saturday.
Things did turn around:
– Ron Artest clamped down on Carmelo Anthony, who shot seven for 19. From Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
He was acquired last summer by the Lakers to put the clamps on All-Star small forwards such as Denver’s Carmelo Anthony.
And Artest did, using his strength and defensive acumen to hold Anthony down to the point the Nuggets’ star fouled out during the Lakers’ 95-89 victory over Denver on Sunday at Staples Center.
Artest refused to give Anthony an inch, the two going head-to-head, the Lakers’ forward grinding down Anthony to a seven-for-19 shooting game, 21 points and eight turnovers.
– Pau Gasol responded to Denver’s physicality and ended the game with a 15 and 14 line, and the “last words.” From Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:
Gasol marched to the free-throw line to score, further fueling the Lakers’ rally toward victory Sunday against the Denver Nuggets. The proper retort in this case was not a forearm to that cocky red tattoo of lips on Martin’s neck or Gasol lowering that shaggy head and trying to bull toward the rim. The right answer was not being a brute, not using force.
Gasol is an intelligent, skillful man – and he played to his strengths. And playing to your strengths is when you’re really being strong.
“They did talk too much,” Gasol said later. “Way too much.”
Gasol said his first option is always trying not to listen, yet he has learned it is imperative he does stand up and speak for himself.
“That’s how I talk – by my play,” Gasol said. “And other players can’t do that.”
– Kobe was able to adjust his game and find his teammates when his shot wasn’t falling, the same couldn’t be said for ‘Melo. From Jeremy at Roundball Mining Company:
There is no guarantee the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers are going to face off again in the playoffs this spring, but today we got a taste of what a late May matchup between these two teams will be like. If that is indeed the case, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant may not have very much fun during that series.
The two superstars combined to make a mere 10 of their 36 shots. Ron Artest was all over Carmelo on one end while Arron Afflalo was harassing Kobe on the other. The difference in the game was Kobe adjusted his plan to fit what was going on around him while Carmelo did not. The proof is in their passing stats. Carmelo tallied only one assist, an over the head heave to J.R. Smith who was all alone after a steal, while Kobe ended the game with 12 assists. Compounding the problem even further Melo turned the ball over eight times good for a stunningly bad .13 assist to turnover ratio.
– Lamar Odom got it going in the fourth, notching nine points and eight rebounds in the quarter alone. From nowhere:
As well as Ron Artest played on ‘Melo, Gasol responded to Martin or Kobe found teammates, it’s hard to imagine the Lakers pulling that victory out if Lamar hadn’t finally realized that he was playing a huge basketball game. Even with a team high in points to go along with his 12 rebounds, you won’t find much love from the writers in regards to Lamar Odom. There will be a sentence here and a side note there, but it was Odom who essentially closed out the game for the Lakers while Kobe’s shot failed him.
In a potential playoff series against the Nuggets, the Lakers are going to need Lamar Odom to have nights like he had tonight. In their first two meetings, both Lakers losses, Odom averaged 12 points and 6.5 rebounds – a far cry from the 20 and 12 he had in last night’s win. Sure, he was frustrating early, taking an ill-advised three pointer on the first possession he came into the game, but PJ kept him on the bench for a stretch in the second quarter where he played DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell instead of LO which seemed to wake him up.
Last night’s game extended the Lakers lead over the Nuggets to 5.5 in the Western Conference and also moved the Nuggets road record under .500, something that hasn’t been getting a lot of attention lately. That mediocre road record will definitely come into play during the post season.
For those of you who missed last night’s game, Lakers.com has the running diary of all of the big plays with analysis by quarter. Also, the Los Angeles Times’ Lakers Blog has post game interviews from Pau, Ron, Phil, Kobe and Lamar.
The Lakers will probably have a light practice today before they begin their tough March schedule tomorrow against the Pacers.
Lastly, there has been a rumor started by Roland Lazenby about LeBron James potentially joining the Lakers next season. Don’t pay it any attention. That has about as much a possibility as the Nets beating the Celtics me becoming a Celtics fan.