Game 3 Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

Darius Soriano —  May 4, 2012

“A series doesn’t start until the home team loses”, the old saying goes. Tonight, then, offers the Lakers the chance to not only start this series, but effectively end it. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series so tonight’s contest is as close to an elimination game as possible without actually sending anyone fishing for the summer.

This will translate to Denver giving the Lakers their best effort. The Nuggets’ backs are against the wall and will fight as hard as possible to make sure they get this game. They’re one of the better home teams in the league with their thin air and ramped up style causing opponents fits. They play at a faster pace, play better defense, rebound better, and shoot better at home.

The Lakers will need to be ready to counter by playing their most disciplined game of the series. This is especially important considering the Lakers focus wained during the 2nd half of game 2 while the Nuggets started to find some things that worked for them on both sides of the floor.

And with that, here are a few keys for success to look for in tonight’s contest:

*The Lakers must take good shots with a balanced floor. The Nuggets have started to run out at every opportunity to try and get easy baskets in transition and early offense. As we’ve discussed at length, the Nuggets best option is to get their shots up before the Lakers defense is set and the easiest way to do that is to streak up the floor before the Lakers bigs can get back to clog up the lane. The best way to counter this is for the Lakers wings to sprint back, turn the ball handler, and give their bigs the chance to get into the play. And this is only accomplished through a balanced floor. When Kobe works in the post or Sessions drives the lane, the two wings must work back and not worry about offensive rebounding. Barnes and Ebanks are good on the O-glass but must abandon their weak side sneak attacks in favor of sound defensive principles.

In addition, the bigs must run back hard. In game two, part of what got Ty Lawson going was his the spy game he was playing with Andrew Bynum. On several possessions, Lawson advanced the ball at a medium pace looking directly at Bynum. On the possessions where Bynum didn’t run back hard, Lawson would turn on the jets and attack the guard/wing in front of him before Bynum could insert himself into the action. Bynum (and Gasol/Hill) must be aware of Lawson (and Miller) using them as gauges in transition D. If they loaf the Nuggets will attack. L.A.’s bigs must understand that their men aren’t the threats, but the advancing ball and wings running the lanes are. Slow them and the Nuggets are fighting an uphill battle. Let them get loose and a loss is that much more likely.

*Make the Nuggets a one man show. Game one showed what Danilo Gallinari is capable of. He was aggressive off the dribble, took his shots in rhythm, and mostly kept the the Nuggets’ offense afloat with his ability to create good shots for himself in the half court. Luckily, he was the only Nugget to find his stride and the result was an easy Laker win. Game two a similar story unfolded but this time it was Ty Lawson doing the damage. His ability to create off the dribble and finish in the lane against a D that was on its heels brought his  team back and had them close down the stretch. However, as he was the only Nugget to really do any damage, the Lakers won again.

This is a formula that the Lakers will win with. The Nuggets’ strength isn’t that they have one or two top flight players, but rather that they have 5 or 6 guys that can all get you 15-20 points. The Lakers mustn’t allow multiple guys to get on track and find their offense. If Gallo reverts to his game one form, that’s okay. If Lawson repeats his game two, that’s also fine (though because he’s also an assist threat, the Lakers would do well to try to limit his play making for his teammates). If Afflalo finds his stride for the first time this series, that’s also okay. But the Lakers can’t have all three of these guys scoring 15+ points. Add in Al Harrington knocking down 3 pointers or Corey Brewer running out or Kenneth Faried working the glass and getting shots out of the P&R and things can get out of hand quickly. This is the danger of this team and the Lakers must continue their efforts to make them a one man show. That’s not a winning formula for them.

*Play smarter when JaVale McGee is defending the paint. In the 4th quarter, JaVale McGee played all 12 minutes and blocked 5 Lakers shots. Plus, in that stretch, the Lakers only shot 44% (4-9) in the restricted area and 33% (2-6) on shots from 5-9 feet. Not all of these blocked shots and misses led directly to Denver points but many of them did via the run-outs described earlier. McGee’s presence also served to alter the Lakers attack as penetration started to lead to kick-outs for jumpers rather than shots at the rim.

There’s a way to attack McGee and it’s not off shots from dribble drives or quick hitting cuts. It’s through power post ups where you make him defend the ball and by driving at him and then dishing to his man for easy baskets. When both McGee and Andew Bynum share the court, Bynum is shooting 100% (7-7) from inside 5 feet. A lot of these makes stem from McGee having to help on other Lakers but that’s the point – McGee is an aggressive help defender that will put his team at risk for put backs and easy baskets via dump-offs as he hunts blocked shots. In game 2 the Lakers got away from looking to force McGee to help and then dishing to ‘Drew and instead attacked him by themselves and the results were poor. The Lakers must be smarter in how they attack McGee – they must draw him and dish; they must make him defend one on one in the post against Bynum. These types of shots will produce quality looks.

*When the double comes, make them pay with ball movement. George Karl is not shy about double teaming the Lakers’ threats. Bynum’s seen consistent double teams all series. Pau and Kobe have seen their share of them as well, but mostly when they get inside 15 feet on the low block. When the doubles have come, the Lakers have made the key passes – even when the role players stopped knocking down shots consistently as game two progressed.

Karl is likely to ramp up his help, especially on Kobe. As we discussed yesterday, the Lakers are working wrinkles into their sets to get Kobe free from Afflalo completely or at least get him the ball where Afflalo can’t really slow him down very easily. The result has been an in-rhytm Kobe who’s scored 79 points on 49% shooting over the first two games. If Kobe keeps that up, this series will be over soon. So, I fully expect Kobe to see more hard double teams after he catches the ball and a defensive scheme that shifts the 2nd defender towards him more often. Kobe mustn’t lose patience when the D helps, but rather must pick out his open teammates who must reward him by making the shots afforded to them or the extra pass to an even more open teammate. Ball movement will crack the code on any double team heavy scheme. But, to do so, the first pass must be made out of the initial trap. In past series against the Nuggets, Kobe’s had no issues making these passes. That will need to continue as this series progresses.

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As has been the case in the first two games, discipline is the key to a victory tonight. Smart shot taking, adherence to the defensive game plan, and focus on the little things will matter. The energy will be off the charts to start the game and the Lakers must weather that, but as the game advances they can tear away the fury of the crowd with efficient, deliberate attacks. Last night the Heat and the Thunder both went into the enemies’ lair and took the heart of their foe. Tonight the Lakers get their chance to do the same.

*Statistical support provided by NBA.com


Darius Soriano

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209 responses to Game 3 Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

  1. we arent getting past okc kobe will get abused and baited into going one on one like he always does…problem is he cant do it anymore…also mike brown is beyond awful and so is our bench…oh well at least dallas got swept

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  2. Batman, the Lakers lead the league in alley-oops by a wide margin…

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  3. So much negativity on this blog because of the OKC sweep.

    Fact: Dallas was terrible this year, they were dang close to not getting into the playoffs at all. And still they could have/should have been up 3-1 on OKC in that series. They blew 3 fourth quarter leads – the last of which was an embarrassment of defensive collapses. 2 or three more shots go in for Dallas and OKC looks like chumps who can’t get out of the first round.

    Denver is a far better team – coming in red hot before the playoffs – and their strength is often the Lakers weakness – energy and running. This series was never going to go 4 – nor should it.

    Ideally – I always want the Lakers to win – and get frustrated in the losses. But going up against OKC it would be silly to not go in full strength and have Artest back. He’s no major difference maker like he was 10 years ago, but he’s a big body that will be necessary to annoy Durant so that Kobe can pester Westbrook.

    Let’s not forget, Perkins injured his hip. Wilson chandler was out for the season with a hip strain. Every doctor I’ve ever known said you shouldn’t do any physically exerting activity – i.e. running – for 2 to 3 weeks if it is a true hip contusion, as the likelihood of rein jury is very high. And Perkins is a banger who makes a living off moving screens. Tell me if he’s playing thats not where you attack him – on every screen. A little elbow here, a little nudge there.

    Do you all remember a few years ago when Denver met us in the Conference finals? They were destroying teams in the first two rounds, beating them by 10+ each game. The Lakers put up that sorry performance against Houston, and you had announcers on-air like Mark Jackson saying the Lakers had absolutely no chance against Denver in any way. (On air he picked Denver in 5). I seem to remember it going in the Lakers favor. That same year the Lebron’s were killing people the first two rounds, and then ran into an Orlando team that got hot and destroyed them from 3.

    Or how about the 2010 Lakers, who struggled mightily against a young/athletic OKC team and needed to go to 6 games in the first round. Did it really hurt them that bad in the long run – or did it give the Lakers the playoff intensity to gear up for the following rounds?

    I’m glad people like #201 don’t actually play for the Lakers, or they would have given up before the season started. Denver is a good matchup for the Lakers because they and OKC have the same strengths. The Lakers will be used to playing that type of defense going into the series – provided they can finish off Denver.

    Maybe not think its the end of the world?

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  4. Funky: Agreed – That Fisher is certainly nowhere near the largest of our issues when it comes to the Thunder. However, in my case, I would certainly rather have him than Blake, + I said that when we traded him. We need every advantage we can get just to have any chance. However, I think I have also made it nauseatingly clear that we should have used the TPE’s which would have given us more talent/youth/speed, which would have made us better contenders. The fact that we had to try to get what we could for either Fisher or Blake is a pathetic spot to be in, + not even Mitch could work miracles with that.

    So in summary: Would keeping Fish have made us favorites? No. Would we better with him than Blake – Yes. Either way – we are what we are: The “6th” best team in the league, + OKC is in the top 3. We needed to do more + we did not. I am not giving up, but I do not like the position we are in at this point.

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  5. batman: The Laker’s crowd has been quiet for the entire time the team has been here. It has nothing to do with the team being boring. The team could leave purple/gold shirts on the seats every game, + they end up being thrown away or sold on Ebay (as “never worn”). The LAL crowd (especially the 100 section) is too cool to cheer unless entertained.

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  6. cdog: I like your post + the fact that you are not giving up. I used the “world will not end” line before game 3, warning everyone of the probability that we would drop at least 1 of the next 2. In 2010 we had the third best overall record and the 1 seed. In 2009 we had the 2nd best overall record + the 1 seed. This year we have the “6th” best overall record and the 3 seed. There is a big difference. I am not “negative” as much as I have been consistent in not feeling we are true contenders, because of our “6th” best status.

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  7. batman: okc will play everybody one on one. Kobe will give up the ball.

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  8. i hope you guys are correct…every time kobe goes for 20% i feel this way so it could have been an emotional response…matthew i know we do but it mainly to bynum that does the same bring the knees up dunk…i mean POWER alley oops…blake griffin extended superman pose dunks thrown from tiny cp3…the gasol to bynum high lows to high iq ball fans are fantastic…but those highlight reel dunks are the difference in crowds at the same arena

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