Lakers vs. Nuggets: Game Plan Gone Awry

Darius Soriano —  February 25, 2013

With only three teams pulling off the feat, there’s really no formula for beating the Nuggets at home. Especially when you’re on the 2nd night of a back to back and playing a rested Nuggets team as the Lakers are.

So, forget the road/home variable for a second and focus strictly on three major keys it takes to beat the Nuggets on any given night:

  1. Control the tempo. The Nuggets play at the 2nd fastest pace in the league. They want to run and run and run, tire you out, and then sub in fresh players to run some more. Limiting their ability to do so creates problems for them. In 2 of their 3 losses at home, they were held below 90 possessions.
  2. Control the backboards. Denver loves to hit the offensive glass and feature three players who grab at least 2 OReb’s a game. Keeping them off your defensive backboards and making them have to work hard to secure misses on their own defensive glass can equate neutralize on of their biggest strengths but also help in keeping the pace of the game in your favor.
  3. Build a wall around the paint. Denver takes more shots at the rim than any other team in the league. They are not a team of shooters, they are a team of slashers and finishers. And while they have players who are capable of knocking down the deep jumper — Gallo, Lawson, Chandler, Iggy, and even Brewer (though mostly from the corners) — the goal is to make them rely on jumpers and not let them get points in the paint.

The above excerpt is from the game preview that I wrote earlier today. If the Lakers would have been better in those areas, they likely would have had a chance to win this game. But, of course, they weren’t and the result was a frustrating 119-108 loss that dropped the Lakers to 28-30 on the season.

You only need to look at the boxscore to see that the Lakers lost this game in the first half. In the final 24 minutes the Lakers outscored the Nuggets by two points, but in the first 24 were outplayed badly when every point of emphasis I discussed above went unaccomplished.

The Lakers didn’t control the tempo of the game because they committed 12 first half turnovers that the Nuggets turned into 18 points. Steve Nash was careless with some passes and simply inaccurate with others and those miscues fueled the Nuggets break with dunks or lay-ins typically occurring within 4 seconds of them taking possession of the ball. After Nash’s 5th turnover of the half I noted on twitter that this was the worst half of passing the ball from Nash I’d ever seen and in going back in watching the tape, I stand by that. Many of Nash’s passes weren’t on time nor on target and that’s just so unlike him that it was a bit shocking to see live. Kobe wasn’t much better in committing 3 first half turnovers of his own, mostly of the careless variety where he tried to force the ball into traffic with a risky pass or dribbled into traffic and got the ball stripped.

The Lakers also didn’t keep the Nuggets off the offensive glass. In the first half the Nuggets only missed 21 shots but still grabbed 9 offensive rebounds. Because the Lakers were allowing so much dribble penetration, Dwight Howard often had to challenge shots at the basket and when those shots missed a Nugget was there to grab the ball and either put it right back in the basket or kick the ball back out and reset the possession. Not to limit themselves to only hitting the offensive glass when shots were missed because of help at the rim, Denver also did a good job of simply outworking the Lakers to loose balls and long rebounds. They showed hustle when, too often, the Lakers were just standing still.

And because the Lakers were bad in taking care of the ball, bad in securing their defensive glass, and bad in allowing dribble penetration, the Nuggets got countless baskets in the paint. In that first half Denver had 50(!) points in the paint, many on run outs and fast break baskets that the Lakers looked ill-prepared and/or too tired to slow down. Whether it was Corey Brewer, Iguodala, Faried, Lawson, McGee, or any other Nugget you can name, they all got out and ran for baskets in the open court or were able to beat their man off the dribble or to the offensive glass for a point blank shot.

Add it all up and the Lakers got beat pretty soundly.

After the game Kobe mentioned that the Nuggets are a very good team and sometimes the other guy just plays better than you do. Kobe’s 100% right there. The Lakers also looked tired for most of the game, standing flatfooted rather than sliding with their man; jogging back on D rather than sprinting and finding someone to guard. And while the Lakers did a better job of controlling the tempo in the 2nd half by working the ball into the post, finding a rhythm in the P&R, and being more careful with their passes, too much damage was done early in the game for them to come back. Every run they made was countered with a timely Nugget basket and even when L.A. rallied to get within 7, it still seemed like the Nuggets were in full control of the game (and they were).

So, the Lakers head home now, 1-1 on their brief road trip, the win over the Mavericks where Kobe went crazy in the 2nd half looking even more glorious after this loss to Denver. I don’t think this loss is any sort of major step backward, though it is a reminder that the Lakers can’t afford to make mistakes early in games against explosive teams, especially when playing a back to back. The Lakers still have a nice formula for winning games — the 2nd half was a reminder of that — and they’ll need to be better about playing that way earlier in the game and sustaining that focus throughout the contest. But credit Denver in this one, they pounced on the Lakers early and gave themselves the cushion they needed to get this win. There’s a reason they’ve only lost 3 times at home all season and tonight was another example of that.

Darius Soriano

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