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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28 responses to Lakers vs. Nuggets: Game Plan Gone Awry

  1. Almost impossible for a older, back to back playing team play in mile high Denver with 8 going aganist 11.

    Seems math might be an issue. If MD refuses to use the other 5 bench players then why didn’t Mitch discuss the issue and find alternatives to offer a complete team.

    Lakers now have 2 players gone for the regular season and they have replaced them with————- NOBODY!

    Odd.

  2. Nice recap thanks,Earlsanity seemed to have hit the wall hopefully he will come around.

  3. Good analysis! Would you also fault this as a coaching issue somewhat? If I were D’Antoni, I would’ve played the subs more and probably even give Darius Morris a run given Nash’s early struggles. Maybe Sacre could have gotten some playing time too. Poppovich would have rested his older players if put in the same situation

  4. This was what Phil Jackson used to call a “schedule loss.” Second game of a back to back. In the altitude of Denver. Good, uptempo opponent. Lakers are older. Howard is banged up. Emotional win the day before. You expect to lose.

    The problem is that the Lakers have put themselves in a position where they can’t afford to lose games that they realistically should.

    The margin for error is too thin.

  5. Really no surprise here. Even the most fanatic Laker fan was simply hoping, no wishing for a win under last night’s circumstances. Don’t think anyone would have bet the house on the Lakers last night. That said…3 of 14 from the line Dwight??? Really?

  6. Fact of the matter is that we got ran out the gym last night. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought that the length of the court was 60 Ft, as fast as they were getting up and down it. Turnovers. Lack of energy and athleticism. Abysmal free throw shooting. The list goes on and on. Truth be told, I don’t know how we were within 9 pts at one point in the 4th. But as Darius mentioned, it’s not a major step backwards. Just need to enjoy these couple of days off and definitely get the next 2 against Minny and then the Hawks on Sunday. While hoping for some slippage from Houston and Utah (who lost to the C’s last night).

  7. Rusty Shackleford February 26, 2013 at 7:11 am

    I don’t ever really watch a Laker game a 2nd time and this would be the last game I’d ever rewatch. That just seems masochistic to me.

    I will admit that I’m still bitter towards Steve Nash from 2005 thru 2007. No defensive liability should ever win one MVP letalone two back-to-back. The MVP award (to me) lost a lot of credibility when the sports writers did this. I’d like to hear Michael Jordan’s opinion on this – since he has been seemingly more outspoken these days.

    That said, I know Kobe was pretty much right there with him in the TO department and Kobe has been turning the ball over at a high rate for 4 years now.

    But Steve Nash has to see that, especially in a game like last night, that he can’t be careless with the ball. He seems desperate to make plays for others when that isn’t really what this team needs from him. Get the Lakers in their sets on the offensive end of the floor, knock down open shots and attack in the pick-and-roll when the opportunity presents itself.

    I think D’Antoni has done a good job reeling in Meeks and Jamison offensively. It seemed like at the beginning of his tenure with the Lakers his plan for the two of them was to be a high-powered scoring punch from the perimeter coming off the bench. This resulted in a lot or passing around the perimeter and not looking to get the ball into Dwight when he was in with the 2nd unit. It seems now they are now doing a lot more spotting up and cutting to the basket without the ball which has provided better results.

    D’Antoni & Nash need to realize that his aggressive playmaking style of play isn’t what this team needs from Steve Nash. With his age and back issues there are going to be nights (not last night; 6-8 fg) when his shot is not going to be there for him. Trying to force the ball to make up for this does not help the team. He’s already so ineffective on defense and if he keeps turning the ball over it’s going to take lights out shooting to make up for that.

    Darius Morris hasn’t seen the floor in 2013. 6′-4″; can play some defense.

  8. Personally, I expected this to be a loss. Denver is an excellent team, especially at home and with a back to back situation, I just don’t think the Lakers are yet at the level needed to win a game like last night’s. That said, I did use the word “yet”. The team is building towards something. While the loss resembled many other losses in so far as the turnovers and giving up points on the fast break, the team managed to halt the bleeding for longer periods and made a push that didn’t rely on desperation as much as some better execution. Certainly not perfect, but better.

    I’ve looked at the schedule and think the team is getting to a point where they can make a serious push. My most optimistic is them going 21-3 with a late season win over SAS. Gasol coming back with about 12 games left is key to this, as is Dwight’s continued recovery. I don’t yet think this is a wasted season. I like much of what I’m seeing.

  9. On a back to back with the second game in mile-high Denver, depth plays a crucial factor. The loss of Gasol and Hill is the factor that will doom the Lakers’ season. I hate to say it, but I honestly believe it.

  10. I agree with Ken here. I think the FO should have made a cheap pickup or two–Kenyon Martin, a DLeague wing, or, failing that, dust off Ebanks, and if they don’t want to play Ebanks, cut him and get a DLeague wing to take his roster spot.

  11. FO STOP SITTING ON YOUR HANDS!

    SIGN SOMEBODY!

  12. P Ami,

    No offense, but there no chance that the Lakers will go 21-3. They are nowhere near good enough for that kind of run. My guess is that they go about 15-9, win 43, and finish 1-2 games out.

    Also, reports are that Pau wil miss the rest of the season.

  13. rr,
    Reports aren’t that Pau will miss the rest of the season. That’s been the interpretation of quotes from D’Antoni that said he doesn’t expect Pau to impact the playoff chase because by the time Pau is back the Lakers will likely know if they’re going to get in or not. D’Antoni also said that Pau’s impact will likely come in the playoffs (should they get there). Those comments have been spun into “Pau won’t be back in the regular season”, but Trudell has has reported that nothing has changed from the Lakers initial report suggesting Pau would be out 6-8 weeks. We’ve now past the 3 week mark and moving into week 4. Pau also told TJ Simers on twitter that his limp is gone.

  14. And, speaking of Neil Paine, he wrote today that the Lakers will need between 43-47 wins to make the playoffs. He said that at 43 wins, his projections have the Lakers making the playoffs 43% of the time and at 47 wins the odds jump to over 50% (again, using his projections). He goes on to say that his odds incorporate the preseason lines and that’s why his projection is more optimistic than Hollinger’s (who has the Lakers chances at 35% as of now). The Lakers have 24 games left and to get to 47 wins they need to go 19-5. To get to 43 they need to go 15-9. Paine does explain, however, that it’s still optimistic that the Lakers get to 43 wins since they’ve not had any 24 game stretch this season where the’ve won more than 13 games. However, it’s also fair to say that they’re playing better now than at any point during the season even though their efficiency and scoring differentials have remained flat.

  15. Darius,

    OK. But whether the Lakers make the playoffs will probably come down to the last 2 or 3 games, so MDA should speak more carefully.

  16. rr,
    I agree he should speak more carefully. But that’s been true since he’s been hired so, nothing new there. Ha.

  17. Darius and RR,

    If you eyeball the sched for Utah it is much harder than ours, and Utah has been very, consistent all year from what I can see. So it seems to me the projections on what Utah will win are a lot “cleaner”. Their projection is 43 wins and, again if you look at their sched that seems pretty fair, and in no way, any kind of a homer “downgrade”.

    So the question is how many can the Lakers win? do you just project on current margin of victory or can we say that some sort of corner has been turned and they can over-deliver on a mathematical projection of 42 wins?

    I suppose I could be accused of being bright eyed optimist, but just eyeballing this and the schedule and seeing how they are playing over the last 16, and admittedly perhaps that is through rose colored glasses as the margin of victory has remained the same, I think 16-8 is very achievable, which gets them to 44 W’s and a reasonable chance of 8th seed. I guess the real point is that since the all star break, the situation/play of Dwight has substantially stabilized, and it seems there is a much stronger “buy-in”‘ way less off side comments/questions, a pretty clear offensive identity forming which was not compromised by last nights game, and a more consistent defensive posture…And Dwight seems to be either a) healthier or b) better set up to deal with the pain/injuries. So really based on the last 4 games much more than the last 16, I see a more sustainable “corner turned”. So while Kobe really needed to step up to get 2 of those 3 wins, going forward I think that will be at least a little bit less necessary.

    Still there is little margin for error, so it looks like it will be a real nail-biter, and they very easily could fall a game or two short.

  18. i thought steve blake looked pretty bad too -at least the parts of the game I saw. It was not a blow out, but it was close at times. when I see a game like this, i certainly hope we can avoid okc in the first round.

    given the number of fast break points and points in the paint, you would think there could be some tweaking of strategy during the game. (at least get some guys off the bench, use their fouls up to change the tempo. at the least the foul shots would give us some extra rest.)

    its too bad karl was never available when we needed a coach.

  19. Saw the game again some problems are fixable some aren’t. The failure of the coaching staff to help Nash yesterday was unacceptable. He should’ve gone under screens when guarding Lawson giving him the jump shot but he kept reacting instead of being the aggressor on screens giving Lawson space to operate. Then Lawson is free to shoot, pass or drive. The baseline cutter is usually open because Kobe isn’t paying attention or whoever is guarding the corner area is sinked into the paint giving nba shooters wide open shots. Dwight complains an awful lot about helping the helper but how they play defense initially it’s so many holes and gaps in their defense nobody knows what to do. Coach’s problem. Memphis and Clippers are similary constructed like the Lakers playing 2 bigs and aren’t this bad on defense. I know it starts at the point of attack with Paul and Conley being far superior defenders to Nash but no way Lakers should be this bad.

    On offense when Kobe gets the ball everyone clears out usually when he has it on the wing around 18 feet. It’s room for cutters (Jamison, Clark) but they only do so 20% of the time. And Dwight sinks back to the baseline when the paint is absolutely wide open. He concedes position for the defender to get rebounds easily and doesn’t make the defense pay for not guarding the paint when Kobe isolates. Floor balance is also a mess on that specific play. 3 players are always bunched on one side of the floor Nash usually being at the top of the key, someone on the wing and someone in the corner. That’s why Nash is always the lone guy back on defense during fastbreaks. Kobe and Dwight are at the rim, Meeks is in the corner and someone is running back from the wing. Lakers always are outnumbered 2 to 1. That’s a fixable problem by the coach coaching better floor balance.

    Foot speed Lakers will never match that but schemes and coaching can cause less problems. Lakers are getting no help from the sidelines or aren’t listening. Lakers had a chance to get 2 games back of Houston and make up a game on Utah but after Houston wins they’re back to being 3.5 back. Right where they started.

  20. I don’t know if they will make the playoffs.

    I would bet my house that this team is not winning any championships or making it to the finals this year, however.

    They need to address their soft defense(roster), weak bench(roster), and heal.

    Old Metta, Old Nash, Old Kobe, injured Pau, injured Howard….

  21. I think the playoff talk continues to be wishful thinking, even as I’d like to see the team qualify for the tournament.

    The playoff race not about winning “X” number of games, it’s about catching and surpassing the Rockets or Jazz. As nice as the post-All Star break play has been, the Lakers have made up no ground on Houston. With 34 games to play, the Lakers trailed the Jazz by 4 and the Rockets by 3. Ten games later, the margin with Utah is at 3 and the Rockets lead remains 3. This late in the season, you can’t go 10 game stretches and not make up any ground. Today, they are as close to the 12th seed as they are are to the 8th.

    Moreover, the Lakers will play the #1 or #2 seed in the west if they manage to catch one or both of the teams ahead of them. Considering that the team has now fallen to 2-12 against the top 5 teams in the west, it’s hard to see a playoff run extending beyond the first round….

  22. Kevin,

    You raise good points. I think it is fair to say, MDA could have done better with the floor spacing, than what we are seeing. I guess my only response is that this offence is so far away from the way he likes to play, how he envisioned them playing, and the types of teams he has coached with way more post ups and ISO’s, that having accepted and embraced significant adjustments for the offence, he is still a step behind in how this type of offence is set up to defend the run-outs. Very few teams were able to out-run the Suns as you can imagine.

    Kobe said something interesting last night, which is that against these guys, maybe you can’t even send anybody to go for offensive rebs. Would be a big departure from the way Dwight has played and where he sees his current strengths/value to the team..

    And Darius did really nail the game plan in the preview, so perhaps this one needs to be a little bit on Dantoni and the coaching staff. If we are really a slow em down pound it in and/or Iso Kobe in the elbow kind of team, with the PNR sprinkled in, maybe we need a lot more discipline on the wings and in entry passes, than what we saw last night, at least against the real track meet teams.

  23. At this point the season is a redundancy. I think everyone can agree that the real drama is what will happen in the off-season because it’s clear that management has failed again in 2013. I won’t blame the coaching, I think it comes down to the roster composition. Kupchack & Jimbo sure do seem to like slower methodical basketball players and/or guys who cannot shoot, they really have a knack for signing them! Last year we added Kapono & Murphy to go along with ultra-stiff un-athletic players like MWP, Blake, Walton… This year we added a slow Steve Nash & Howard… I think Kupchack should give KB half his paycheck for saving his job all these years.

  24. I would like to see Ramon Sessions progress with a full year under his belt in LA. Even though he didn’t play well in the playoffs, I think we should have brought him back. We play so much better at a slower pace and tempo, we execute better, and it hides our flaws to an extent. But coaching more than anything concerns me, because of MDA philosophy. Those quick 3′s early in the shot clock are horrible shots but guys keeping shooting them. We can’t so that in the playoffs (if we get there) it’s a wasted possession. A major reason we were successful against OKC last season was because of tempo.

  25. @Funky Chicken, if they keep winning at the pace they’ve been at (since the start of the road trip a few weeks ago), then they have a shot. Good but not elite play — beat non-playoff teams on the road, and beat non-elite teams at home — would put them at 44 wins. The Jazz are projected to end up with 43: http://espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/playoffodds.

    If nothing else, it’s easy to stay engaged when so much is riding on every game.

  26. rr, I realize the Lakers don’t have any margine for error. I came up with the 21-3 record based on looking at the schedule and figuring they beat the teams they should beat, lose to the better teams, keep getting better and then beat SA in the last week of the season as things start to peak for the playoffs. I realize I’m assuming a lot. Still, I’m seeing some consistency in offensive execution and a better idea of what needs to be done on defense. Certainly, the team is far from a championship contender but that can change if Pau gets back healthy and is integrated. We all need to keep in mind that this team was designed to win big if all four of our two main inside and two main perimeter players are rolling. Much of the treading water is because the team has had little time to work together without one or more of those 4 players out. Depth was always going to be an issue. It was made worse by the lack of cohesion. I love what Clark is bringing, I love what Jamison is bringing. I think Blake and Meeks can do their job competently and Meeks is utilizing his skills better. Ron is far from perfect but I just got an invite to the marriage between Stu Lantz and Metta’s left hand. I approve of that couple. This team is still capable of surprising us.

  27. Funky,

    I agree that getting into the playoffs is likely to mean nothing as it is hard to see them advancing past the first round, but…a) making the playoffs sets them up better for next year..I.e. more likely to appease howard, shows the team is potentially closer to contending with a few added pieces…just overall good for morale after a very tough season, and b) the idea all along was that this is not a regular season team but is a team more set up for the playoffs….it would be very good to see if that is at all true.

  28. Blizzard, I agree that the stakes make it easier to stay engaged–but also, for me, harder to stomach bad games & losses. I think the team is clearly playing better ball over the last few weeks, but my point was that this is meaningless unless one of the two teams above them loses three or more times when we win (and every time we lose); otherwise, total wins is irrelevant.

    Anonymous, you’ve articulated the reasons I’d like to see them get there, while I articulated why I think it’s all for naught even if they do… Without the advantage of a lottery(or any) pick for missing the playoffs, there’s no upside that I can think of in not making the playoffs. Unless, that is, you’re of the opinion that a humiliating sweep at the hands of a superior team just drives home how bad this team is, when a nice (but ultimately unsuccessful) push for the playoffs might give them more confidence that “if only we had a little more time…”