Lakers/Nuggets: A Missed Opportunity

Darius Soriano —  April 9, 2010

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If this game could be explained in two words they would be the ones that are in the title of this post: missed opportunity.  On a night where Kobe or Bynum didn’t play, the Lakers still had a lead in the final five minutes and couldn’t close out the game.  Instead, Denver seized control of the contest and held on in the final moments to secure a win and take the season series over the Lakers three games to one.  They earned their 52nd win of the season and made the Lakers wait (at least) one more night to clinch the #1 seed in the Western Conference.  Like I said, missed opportunities.

This game was defined by the hot shooting of Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith, the Lakers grit and fight in the second half, and a lack of execution in the closing minutes by the Lakers.

First, Carmelo and Smith were simply terrors on offense.  After having a terrible outing against the Lakers in these teams’ last match up, Carmelo showed that he can not be easily slowed in two consecutive match ups with Artest.  He made jumper after jumper and did so from all over the court.  He may only be shooting 30% on three point attempts this season, but tonight that stat didn’t matter.  ‘Melo hit 3-5 from deep and 10-20 from everywhere to score 31 points on the evening.  He also limited his turnovers this time around and only had one miscue after having eight in the last game vs. LA.  Just a very good night from Anthony.  As for Smith, he is quickly joining the ranks of other players that can be defined as Lakers’ killers.  No, he’s not as consistent as other players that have his all around game and talent level, but when his shot is on it makes his lack of offensive discipline irrelevant as he just buries shot after shot.  Smith made 10 of his 19 attempts from the field (including 5-11 from three point range) for 26 points on the evening.  He had 16 points in the second quarter alone.  Most of his threes barely moved the net as they went through the hoop and he hit several shots that either extended Denver’s early lead or kept them close when the Lakers went on their second half run.  And when he wasn’t bombing away from deep, he was attacking the rim and hitting a variety of pull up jumpers and floaters that befuddled help defenders.  Just as with ‘Melo, this was a fantastic offensive performance from Smith.

But the Lakers would not fold in the face of Smith and ‘Melo’s offensive explosions.  After trailing by 10 at the half and by as many as 15 in the third quarter, the Lakers battled back with the type of effort that has been absent in too many of their recent losses.  The Lakers defended, rebounded and then took the ball the other way and hit shots.  It wasn’t always pretty and, in fact, at one point I compared the Lakers run to slop shots in billiards (with all the rattled home shots and broken plays that ended up leading to a bucket), but they made the plays they needed to in order to systematically cut the Nuggets’ lead down and eventually take a lead of their own.  Nearly every Laker got in the act, too.  Shannon and Sasha hit threes.  Odom grabbed offensive rebounds and got a put back.  Fisher hit a runner.  Gasol hit mid range jumpers and earned trips to the foul line.  Everything was going right for the Lakers.  Until it wasn’t.

Because with a bit less than 5 minutes to go in the game, Carmelo once again showed why he’s one of the elite scorers in the entire league.  Anthony poured in 7 straight Nuggets points, culminating in a game tying three pointer with only two minutes and forty seconds to play.  Following that basket, the Lakers would take the lead behind two Derek Fisher FT’s, but it would be their last of the game.  On their next offensive possession Smith would hit a baseline jumper to tie the game and then the breakdowns for the Lakers began.  On the ensuing Lakers possession, they’d run down the shot clock and earn a 24 second violation after Nene poked away a pass to Gasol.  Then, on a Gasol post up, Nene would again get his hands on the ball and force a turnover and two Nugget free throws.  After Fisher earned another trip to the foul line and sank the corresponding FT’s on the next possesion, the Lakers trailed by one point and only needed one stop in order to get the ball back and have a chance to win.  And when Smith drove the ball, Shannon made a superb defensive play to block the shot from behind but threw the ball away when he tried to save the ball to Fisher.  One more FT by Denver after the subsequent foul meant that the Lakers still had one more chance to win.  But it turned into one last ill fated play where the execution went awry.  With 12.7 seconds left and Phil deciding against a time out, Fisher dribbled the ball up court, ran a P&R with Odom, forced Denver to switch, but then couldn’t get the ball into Odom in the post on Billups.  Instead, with only a second remaining, Fisher fired up a desperation three that got blocked by ‘Melo.  Ball game.

So, here we are.  For the fourth time in five games the Lakers lost.  But unlike those other games, I don’t feel the same sense of anger or frustration that stems from blowouts where poor play is out done by even poorer urgency to win.  Tonight, against the Nuggets, the Lakers fought and came up short.  They had a very good chance to win but were out executed down the stretch by the team that had the best player on the floor making crucial buckets to win the game.  And while watching the other team do the things that you wish the Lakers would is frustrating, the overall feeling that I get from this game is that the Lakers are getting closer.  Closer to playing well, closer to being ready for the playoffs, closer to having the necessary mindset that they’ll need to defend their title.  And sure tonight’s game was tough, but really it was just a missed opportunity.  I’m starting to feel more confident that when these chances become available in the playoffs, it will be the Lakers that are making the winning plays.

Darius Soriano

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37 responses to Lakers/Nuggets: A Missed Opportunity

  1. Completely agree with you Darius. Fought hard. Just needed The Closer.

    Now, if we get blown out by Kurt and Minnie tomorrow, then I’ll be angry.

    Darius, how frustrated are you with comments?

  2. ReignOnParades April 9, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Positives we can take away from this:

    Great team effort, very close game, without Kobe, etc.

    Sasha Vujacic seems like he’s settled into his norm playing ability half way between his scrub performance last year and his contract year performance… I’ll take it!

    Ron Artest’s offense when Kobe’s out can be something we lean on. He should honestly lead the second unit along with Lamar. Farmar/Brown are nice changes of pace but in the half court they’re uh… lacking in the decision making department.

    Negatives we can take away from this:

    Phil sure likes giving Gasol heavy minutes.

    Our non-Kobe guards are pretty awful, not gonna lie. They all sort of play like him only they’re about 1/10th as talented. With Kobe a bad shot becomes an average shot. With the other guys a bad shot becomes an awful shot. It disturbs me that Ron Artest has the best shot selection of our perimeter players despite being hesitant in the triangle.

  3. Continuing one for the l last thread…

    As the first guy to really call Fisher out and be the anointed “President of the Fisher Basing Club” (Ken… will you settle fore Vice-President?) I have to say it is unfair to filet the Fish for ONE late game blunder or one bad game. And maybe because this had to do something with my unwavering love for guys that want to take the big shot… but my favorite thing about Derek is his cockiness. I have always loved the fact he wants the ball in the big moments and that he thinks he is still a good PG. That is why he is a winner. And I will back him to the end on this one and this one thing only. What if Lamar Odom had that mind set? Jesus… what if Pau Gasol had that mindset?

  4. ReignOnParades April 9, 2010 at 1:31 am

    To expound:

    It’s way too late to be screwing around with the rotation but honestly I feel like Walton can take over the facilitating role with the starters over Fish, and Fish can help lead the second unit at the 2 guard spot alongside Farmar or the 1 guard spot along side Brown.

    Farmar/Brown, to me, compliment eachother better on paper than on the court. Too much lack of bball I.Q. between them, too many jacked up 20 footers, too much ignoring Gasol.

    It’d be nice if we could always have on the floor:

    2 front court guys out of Bynum/Gasol/Odom

    1 perimeter focal point/defender: Kobe or Artest

    1 offensive facilitator who keeps the triangle running: Fish and Luke

    1 “change of pace” guy to ignite the fast break, finish at the rim, defend guards Fish can’t handle: Farmar or Brown

    To me playing Artest/Kobe as a tandem and Farmar/Brown as a tandem isn’t maximizing the versatility of our roster. Too much role overlap.

  5. Gotta love that Vujacic (from suck-land) and Walton are back… now we just need Kobe and Bynum.

    All full roster would back quite a difference.

    A bit baffled that Fish didn´t take the release Artest offerede on that last play. Artest could have gotten the ball with about 4-3.5 secs left, and maybe found a quick hit on the bigs flashing to the rim, or bullede his way to and ugly attempt at the ring.

    Better than Fish trying to shoot over Melo… but hey, luckily this won´t matter down the stretch.

    Gotto love the last big-three of the big five stepping up tonight. Nuggets can´t feel too good about this.

  6. Renato Afonso April 9, 2010 at 2:49 am

    What puzzles me in that last play was Fish’s decision to shoot instead of passing to Artest who had a better look against a shorter defender… I really don’t understand it, but I’ll let it slide.

    One other thing that I also find puzzling is the lack of playing time for Walton. Our roster is 2 players shorter and still Luke only plays 3mins? I really can’t understand that… Also, and it is related, Shannon should only be used in spurts. He has some serious hops but lacks basketball IQ and a reliable jump shot. Can’t understand why he has been playing more time than Sasha…

  7. The picture on ESPN’s basketball home page says it all for the games ending. LO guarded by Billups with a disgusted look on his face, watching D Fish pull up with Carmello right in his face WITH THE GAME ON THE LINE. That would have been a terrible shot in the other 47 minutes of the game but the timing of that is really making me start to forget Mr. .4 and start to become aquanted with Mr. Kryptonite

  8. Including his shot with 28 seconds left against Dallas, Kobe’s 7 game winners are currently the exact difference between the Lakers being 1st in the West instead of in a tie for 8th.

  9. DJ-F.L.A.S.H. April 9, 2010 at 7:02 am

    Hi guys, I also felt yesterday was-if such a thing exists-the closest thing you’ll get to a “good loss” outside of the Boston game without Kobe.

    @ReignOnParade: I completely agree, but we just need the best players playing the most minutes, and the current starters= crunch time line-up, and we’ll just have to live with that.

    Here are a few of my own observations/rants:

    -Farmar likes to shoot fadeaways when there isn’t much pressure on him

    -Fisher and Artest will take highly contested jump shots just because they haven’t shot it for a few possessions

    -Gasol’s been a lot more hesitant with his one on one game this season, over-thinking most of the time

    -Ron gets a lot of credit for his steals/deflections, the announcers usually milk the crap out of that and his upper body strength every game, but while he’s a “spectacular defender”, he’s also an extremely undisciplined one, who does things like committing knucklehead fouls on jump shooters, or picking up faster players like Wade 30 feet from the basket (and getting blown by)

    With all that being said, I still love them to death, Laker Haters can talk, talk, and talk some more, but I’ll quote a line from Coach Carter “We the champs ’til we ain’t the champs no mo’~”

    P.S.: God, although I don’t believe in you, I still pray that we won’t have to play OKC in the first round

  10. I’m not sure if people realize that we just played Denver to a draw in their building without 2 of our 3 best players, our closer and our defensive anchor. On paper, if you have a team consisting of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Ron Artest, along with Derek Fisher, Farmar, Brown, Vujacic, etc., that team is probably just as good as somewhere between Milwaukee and Memphis if they play at their best.

    Lakers fans whining about this loss remind me of a 14 year old teenage girl whining about how her life is over because her 14 year old boyfriend broke up with her. You could use a lot of perspective.

  11. Zephid,
    The problem is that this is part of a pattern. It’s not that they lost, it’s that they shouldn’t have, given the situation with 2.5 minutes left.

  12. I am not frustrated with the game. Fisher is Fisher and Jackson is Jackson, and the end was an example of how those guys do things. It was a good team effort.

    However, the Lakers are now tied with Orlando. They do have the tiebreaker. And, I have been saying all year that Jackson has overworked Gasol and Bryant and now Kobe has missed a game, a week and a half befor ethe playoffs, with swelling in his knee. And Bynum is still nowhere to be seen.

    To me, these are the things to be concerned about, not the lack of a TO or losing to Denver per se.

  13. 9,11 – Lots of “moral” victories recently for our heroes, but there’s no substitute for actual victories.

    The Lakers are setting themselves up for no HCA in The Finals against their two most likely opponents.

    That’s probably OK, though, because they will struggle to avoid a first round playoff exit in any event.

  14. I mostly saw this game as Denver not executing rather than us really stopping them. They went away from the things that were working in the first half and Billups just couldn’t hit shots. Don’t get me wrong I’m definitely happy that we fought but there are a lot of things we can do better.

  15. And I agree with you 100%. This was a great game where they took the challenge and stepped up. Can’t be mad at all with this loss. If anything this game only showed me how disciplined Denver is not and how they won’t beat the Lakers in a series

  16. ReignOnParades April 9, 2010 at 8:28 am

    9. “@ReignOnParade: I completely agree, but we just need the best players playing the most minutes, and the current starters= crunch time line-up, and we’ll just have to live with that.”

    Starting and closing line ups should be played as they are, I speak more of the meat of the game as far as distribution of talents in the line-up goes. It just seems that I dislike the Farmar/Brown backcourt as much as Phil likes it.

    And I think that playing with Kobe neuters Artest offensively. I’m fine with his reduced role in crunch time as a spot up guy who slashes and passes, but we need more Sacramento/Houston Ron (… never thought I’d say that) during the aforementioned meat of the game: Farmar and Brown just don’t get it done as perimeter creators unless they’re running set plays with our big guys involved. And other than the Bynum/Farmar hand-off play and spotting up for 3s when our bigs get doubled, they pretty much don’t do it with any consistency.

    10. High-five Zephid. We didn’t have two of our top three guys in what is essentially a five man show and a bunch of extras. If there is such a thing as a moral victory game, this and Boston were it.

  17. ReignOnParades April 9, 2010 at 8:30 am

    BTW, People who want to panic and want to blame Derek Fisher for being the Bryanti-Christ have a home on SS&R. You’ll have many peers to commiserate with.

    I’m of the mind that if Fish brings about an apocalyptic end to anyone’s season I still like the odds that it’ll be another team’s and not ours. Just remember that during his worst struggles (04 when he played behind GP, Utah, the end of last year) he produced some of the best moments (.4, his return against the Spurs after his daughter had an operation, 2009 Finals 3 pointers)

    His self-created game winning attempts still make me LOL though, is this the equivalent of Phil letting Steve Kerr make the play in crunch time situations where he didn’t have Jordan?

    Between Fish’s shots in Boston and last night sans Kobe and Artest’s blown 3 at Memphis, we really should’ve looked for Gasol more. His numbers dating back from Memphis are actually really good in game deciding situations, and we need to pump up his confidence. Or we need to pump my confidence that he won’t brick FTs in clutch situations.

    We don’t need a Scottie Pippen type situation where he is always yearning for his time in the sun and will sit out a final play if it isn’t run for him. And we definitely don’t need a Malone/KG/C-Webb situation where he is just scared to step up in crucial moments. Even when Kobe was Shaq’s so-called “Robin” he always knew he’d have his moments for glory.

  18. I think there’s something going on with Fisher and Artest. Earlier in the game Artest was wide open on a break and Fisher ignored him and took it to the hole to miss a contested layup. So it didn’t surprise me to see Fisher look off Artest on that last play. Could be something to watch going into the playoffs.

  19. #18. Boris,
    On that final play, Artest was never in a scoring position while also being available to receive a pass from Fisher. In watching the replay, when Artest flashes to the top of the key Fisher is still by the right sideline and had only just stopped looking for Odom on the low block against Billups. Any pass that Fisher would have attempted at the moment that Ron broke open was a dangerous one (to say the least) because it would have traveled a good distance and the defender was in a trail position (which is prime position to make a steal – ala Ariza from last season). By the time that Fisher drove to his left hand to try and create space for his jumper, Artest had drifted to nearly half court and was in no position to receive a pass and still be a threat to score. I can almost guarantee that had Fisher passed to Ron at that point fans would be deriding Fisher even more than they are now for not taking the shot when he was, at that moment, the only viable option to score considering the time on the clock and his possession of the ball.

  20. 1. Why was artest on the bench for so long in the 4th and during melo’s scoring run? He had plenty of rest prior to that.

    2. Why, once artest came back in the game, was lamar odom guarding melo? I don’t care what position melo was playing, artest was acquired for situations like this, and Phil has LO on melo?

    3. On that late possession in the 4th, why did Pau bring the ball so close to the ground and right in front of nene? That’s just asking for the ball to be taken away.

    4. What was shannon thinking lobbing the ball up to fisher like that? Even if you don’t call a timeout, Shannon knows how to handle the ball, that pass was so unnecessary.

    5. Incredibly stupid shot by fisher at the buzzer. Carmelo couldn’t have gotten an easier defensive assignment. Having a huge height advantage on a guy who doesn’t have the speed to run by you and has no time left to pass it to anyone, of course the shot is going to get blocked.

  21. If you ask me, this game is just another example of how this team just has trouble playing consistent solid basketball for 48 minutes. Yes, no team is at its best for all 48 minutes, there are lapses. But this team has way to many of them. leaving shooters wiiiddde open, and not getting one effective shot off in the last 3 minutes of the game is unnacceptable, no Kobe or not. This loss for me, doesnt make me believe enough that this team will just turn it on come playoff time, they are going to struggle to win. We struggled last year to make it to the finals and it will be even more of a struggle this year and I wont be surprised at all if we dont make it. We need to play better more consistent basketball. If they lose fine, but lets at least lose playing much better basketball then we are playing now. And I aint being negative, I am still picking this team to go to the finals, but I am just saying it will be a major struggle.

  22. i think fish wanted to get the ball to lamar, but after that didnt work out he dribbled for 1-2 seconds more than he had to just to make sure that melo comes out to block that shot and kinda hope for a foul. i guess if it worked out, we´d be marveling at his veteran skills… so i cant blame him. i feel good after this game. we played well and just came up a little short without 2/5 of our starting unit.

    everyone who is scared of okc in round 1 should take a hard look at the matchups. spurs would be MUCH harder to take out than a team thats playing their first playoff-series (see portland vs houston last year). while durant and westbrook are awesome (to say the least), they have nobody to guard gasol, odom, or bynum. and safolosha vs mamba over 7 games… please!

    think about it: duncan, manu (allstar-form), parker, hill, jefferson… that would be very tough to deal with. against okc we just have to prevent westbrook from driving (and give him the 3… kinda like rondo) and always stick to durant. i swear, over 7 games artest would wear him down so bad… he doesnt have the body to deal with a defender like artest for a couple of games in a row.

    so here´s praying for the thunder in round 1

  23. BrooklynBoyKP April 9, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Though we should be happy that the Lakers kept it close against Denver without Kobe or Drew don’t forget they were missing K-Mart.

    I’m asking a serious question but how can Sasha get blown by so much when he isn’t that slow. Is it because he is trying to go for the steal too much or is it because he isn’t moving his feet.

    This game shows that the Lakers are still contenders, it will just be harder then last year.

  24. Here’s a nugget from Kevin Ding:

    “Side note here about taking breaks: When talking about Denver coach George Karl missing games because of his cancer treatments, Bryant off-handedly theorized that the Lakers could deal if Jackson needed to take a leave “and Brian stepped in.” Bryant’s endorsement of Brian Shaw is worth noting, though I’m not so sure Shaw is foremost on the minds of Jerry and Jim Buss as a full-fledged Jackson successor.”

    Personally, I’m a big fan of Brian Shaw and I hope the brass considers him after Phil leaves; he’s known to communicate well with players (perhaps too well, as far as relating to them goes) and he’s been grooming under Phil for the last four or five seasons.

    Link is here, but there isn’t too much else to it:
    http://www.ocregister.com/sports/right-243312-denver-kobe.html

  25. Adande on espn had an interesting thought: Phil is more concerned with the health of the team then home court advantage against the Magic.

    I have to agree. Kobe and bynum’s health is much more important than HCA. Though HCA is important, it wouldnt help if kobe is slow and bynum is slow.

  26. “8.themojojedi wrote on April 9, 2010 at 4:22 am
    Including his shot with 28 seconds left against Dallas, Kobe’s 7 game winners are currently the exact difference between the Lakers being 1st in the West instead of in a tie for 8th.”

    There’s an argument for M.V.P.

  27. Brooklynboy,

    Sasha has poor footwork defensively.

  28. Phil is more concerned with the health of the team then home court advantage against the Magic.

    _____

    I think last night’s decision makes that clear, and I agree with it. But I would like to ask Phil if he was thinking about that when Kobe went, say, 47 minutes against Sacramento a few months ago.

  29. Sorry for the delay, but the morning links are up, along with video breakdowns of the Lakers 3rd quarter comeback and 4th quarter collapse.

    http://bit.ly/9FQqYI

  30. 29,
    Great comment. Phil has played Kobe way too much this season.

  31. RE Kobe’s minutes: Understand that for most of this season, Kobe has had to play SF as Ron’s back up. As much as people throw dirt on Luke Walton, the fact that he’s missed so many games has hurt our ability to get Kobe as much rest as he’s needed throughout the year. I mean, when your other SF options (outside of Kobe and Artest) are a player that’s injured (Walton) and Ammo, someone’s going to have to play extra minutes.

  32. @32-

    I have mentioned many times on this board that the Lakers miss Walton. Limited as he is, they need his passing and his ten minutes a game. John Hollinger also said this a couple of weeks ago. Kevin Pelton has said it, as has Phil.

    While I am not a PT or anything and don’t know for sure that the MPG are affecting KB24, I don’t think the games in which Phil pushed Kobe to 43-44 MPG+ were required by the injury to Walton. Phil could have let Vujacic play 10-15 and played Artest a little more. He chose not to.

    Also, as I said three months ago, there is a stark contrast between how Popovich has used his veteran stars and how Jackson has used his. I posted the MPG for the relevant players here a few days ago. Looking at Kobe the last two weeks and Ginobili the last two weeks, one has to wonder.

    As far as Morrison, all advanced stats indicated prior to the trade that he is not an NBA player. Given that the Lakers have had no backup 3 most of the year, how desperately they need outside shooting, and that Phil has now seen Morrison practice and scrimmage for nearly a year, he must be really bad.

    I don’t mean to sound too negative. Phil Jackson’s track record speaks for itself. But he has not done a great job with the younger personnel on this team–Bynum, Farmar and maybe Vujacic all seem capable of giving more than they have. Part of that is on them, part of that is just the way it is–veteran team, system. But part of it is on Phil Jackson and it has lead to his riding his horses very hard.

    Finally, I don’t know if anyone listens to Spero Dedes and Mychal Thompson much, but I often catch parts of games on radio when I am out some place, and both Thompson and Dedes have called Phil out for not sitting the starters soon enough in routes–Phil seemed to get jumpy about that after the bench let teams get games back to single digits in garbage time a couple of times.

  33. Robinred,
    You make good points and they show why coaching is so hard. I know you weren’t doing this, but in the game thread people were hammering Phil for what he did and didn’t do. Hindsight is 20/20 though.

    What I mean is, some are questioning if Phil even wanted to win the game last night, but then three comments later we’ve got questions about if Phil has played his starters too much. Which one is it (again, not directed at you)?

    Being that I’m not Phil, all I can say is that (I would think) he played the guys that he thought would win him the game. If the Lakers were really looking to earn the best record in the NBA this season, they’ll know that last year the Cavs won 66 games. In 2008, Boston won 66 games. The year before that Dallas won 67 games. I say all this because if you’re really pushing for home court throughout the entire playoffs, it will take a high win total.

    Does this excuse the high minute totals? No. But it helps explain them. Just like you mentioned the Lakers have had an unreliable bench and injuries to every major player on the team that has caused that player to miss games (save Odom). And with a top heavy line up where we actually do want at least two starters on the floor at the same time, the minute allocation is already going to be a tricky juggling act. I do hear what you’re saying though.

  34. Darius,

    Thanks.

    On the other thread, I didn’t second-guess Phil for the last possession–I tend not to second-guess on specific tactics all that much.

    And, there is wisdom to “Phil knows his guiys” on the MPG issue. But “swelling in his right knee” at this stage of the season is not something I want to hear about #24. We’ll see.

  35. Thank you JP for your questions of why. Those are exactly the same questions I asked after the game.

    Nice to see someone with basketball knowledge of what is right or wrong.

  36. Aaron on number 3. Everyone is missing the point. That play represents Fisher entire year. A 37% shooter who is 2 for 11 thinking he is still young, can shoot and compete in the NBA,

    How long can he continue to fool the coaches, the team and the fans.

    I bet he could sell lots of real estate in Iceland right now he is that good of a salesman.

    No Aaron I want to be CEO not VP.