How beautiful the actual will Lakers look and they haven’t even gotten started.
Denver plays high energy, up-tempo basketball, and, after disappearing on XMas to deliver some presents in the 2nd quarter of their match up with the Clipps, Karl and Co. decided to take it out on the Lakers.
The Lakers, a bit heavy-footed after shutting down the Knicks in the 4th quarter with, wait for it, defense and precise offensive execution, showed the legs of a weary team looking for its second wind, falling 126-114.
Showtime 2 isn’t gasping for oxygen, but maybe are a bit winded. Steve Nash has been a bit breathtaking since his return from injury. Going into the game, the Lakers sported a +7 in team assists and +8.8 in PITP (points in the paint) since Gatsby put his number ten back on to captain the “Pringles System.” Nash provided a steady 15 points and 8 assists in 30 minutes. He and Kobe have been logging heavy, heavy minutes in this 3-game old experience and fatigue provided a speed bump.
Unfortunately for the Lakers’ winning streak, Kenneth Faried supplied the speed, flying around the court as usual and putting hands on every loose ball in the building. 21 points and 15 rebounds for the former Morehead State Eagle paced the Nuggets and set the tone for the game.
Dwight supplied the bump, a third quarter flagrant two, a foul whose severity seriously depends on perspective and likely reveals squad allegiances, right smack dab in the middle of a Lakers comeback. At 12 points and 6 rebounds, Dwight exited the game a minor-factor, considering Kobe’s outburst, but the game changed. The pace increased, and the lane grew.
Up and down they went, each team demonstraing their offensive prowess, but the Lakers couldn’t manage a stop or find a rebound, giving up 20 o’boards and allowing 126 points. The Nuggets shot 48% from the field and 55% from distance. They dished out 31 assists and protected the rock for a game-low 11 TOs, none from point Ty Lawson, who repeatedly attacked the paint and found 14 players for points. No Dwight, no fear in the lane. But, the defense lacked intensity long before he heard the home arena’s boos into the locker room.
Kobe continued his Bernard King impersonation with ageless grace and 40 points in 40-plus minutes. Pau continued his dodgy knee rehab with 16 points, 5 assists, and 6 rebounds. But, Metta’s recent super-human bench production slowed to a mere 10 points, as Peace and Meeks combined to shoot 6-24. Corey Brewer, on the other hand, exploded for 27 points off of the pine, hitting 6-7 threes in the 2nd half, including a buzzer beater at the end of the 3rd to push the lead back to nine. Regardless of what is going on in the background, how deep and dark the doghouse is for DNPs Jamison, Ebanks, and Clark, this would have been the ideal game to let them run off a little steam and find some game on the court.
The Lakers needed their depth and its absence hurt.
The back breaker, however, seemed to be the loss of Dwight. Only down by six and subtly finding their groove, Faried, the Manimal, attacked the rim and Dwight put his hand in his face, sending him to the ground in a heap. An ejection-able offense? Take a peak at the link below and decide…
…but when the big fella leaves, the floodgates open and the Lakers fly home with a clear charge as to their continued success – play better defense. This concept is nothing new, and this aspect of a championship drive and a 17th O’Brien is no secret. The Nuggets play in the paint and pound the boards. It is their DNA. The Lakers often forget they have two pivot proficient 7-footers and struggle keeping teams off of the o’boards. Kob can get his anytime, so a renewed focus on getting the ball inside for paint points early and often remains as integral as before the D’Antoni era.
D’Antoni doesn’t like to dump the ball in and watch a big back down. Who does? But, within a passing and cutting system, there are holes in the D that can allow for a motion-post look. At one point in the 2nd, Metta flashed to the high post and Pau dropped in a lob behind him to Dwight sneaking in from the opposite wing.
Boom! Slaaaaam dunk!
Clever use of personnel and talent to find a gap in the defense. The Lakers need more of this, and they will find it with a full compliment of players and plenty of practice time in the coming weeks and months. The approaching New Year will allow for such discovery and play making. The Lakers patience will be tested now that they have the team they expected in the pre-season. Any loss at this point will bring even more fervent questions about this team and its resolve. They are at full strength. Why didn’t they win. They will ask themselves this question. But, now they can figure it out…together.
So, like the pros do, let this one go and move on. The Nuggets come to town on Sunday the 6th, so let’s wait and see what adjustments the Lakers work on and bring to the rematch. In the meantime, ’tis the season to be jolly.