FIRST ROUND RECAP

As the Lakers await the winner of the Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets series, we take a look back at the team’s impressive First Round sweep of the Denver Nuggets.

What Went Right
• The Lakers set the tone for the entire series in their 128-114 Game 1 blowout and the Nuggets were never really able to recover despite showing flashes of their potential in the second half of Game 2 and in Game 4.

• The Lakers held the Nugget’s top two scorers in check when they needed it most. Although Iverson and Carmelo Anthony averaged almost 60 points during the regular season and during the first two games of the series, L.A.’s defense held them to just 31 points in Game 3 and 43 in Game 4.

• Although most of the buzz before the series dealt with Denver’s high-scoring offense, the Lakers proved that they were no slouches, shooting 48% from the floor and averaging nearly 115 points per game.

• Although the Lakers have one of the youngest benches in the league, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Ronny Turiaf and Luke Walton answered any questions about their playoff readiness in Round 1, combining for more than 30 points in the team’s critical victories in Games 2 and 3.

• The Lakers dominated the Nuggets with their passing game in each of the series’ four games, with L.A. racking up nine more assists per game than their Denver counterparts. Furthermore, the Lakers averaged only 12 turnovers per game in the series.

• Even though Denver had the league’s leading shot blocker Marcus Camby on their side, the Lakers still managed to block more Nuggets shots in the series, 6.2 to 4.8 even without a real shot-blocking presence on the active roster.

• The Lakers’ successfully held the Nuggets below their season average in scoring, allowing only 101.5 points per game. While the number is still high, L.A. played clamp-down defense when it needed to both in the fourth quarter of their Game 1 victory and in the closing moments of Game 4.

What Went Wrong
• While the Lakers were able to stop Iverson and Anthony in stretches, they struggled to find an answer against Denver reserve J.R. Smith whose 26 point effort in Game 4 capped off a great series for him in which he averaged over 18 points a game.

• Although he is usually known as a stellar playoff performer, Lamar Odom had a mediocre series for the Lakers, averaging only 12 points and nine rebounds a game. Odom’s versatility should come in handy against the Jazz or Rockets though.

• The Lakers were outrebounded by the Nuggets by a healthy 49 to 43 margin, including 17 to 11 in offensive rebounds alone.

• As a team, L.A. shot only 71% from the foul line—including an uncharacteristic 74% from Kobe. Although it didn’t come back to bite the Lakers in the first round, a poor shooting percentage from the charity stripe could haunt the team in later rounds.

Best Overall Performer
#24 was sensational throughout the first round, following up a horrible shooting game in the series opener to launch a spectacular 49 point, 10 assist bomb in Game 2 that effectively demoralized the Nuggets for the rest of the series. In four games, Kobe averaged a team-high 34 points to go along with six assists and five rebounds.

Best Supporting Performance
Pau Gasol made his Lakers playoff debut in Round 1 and he certainly did not fail to impress, averaging 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists to for a potent one-two punch for L.A. The Spaniard’s Game 1 effort—a monster 36 point, 18 rebound performance—helped set the tone for the entire series for the Lakers.

Most Surprising Performance
Shaking off a disappointing statistical season, Luke Walton proved himself as a huge X-Factor against the Nuggets, averaging over 14 points a game to go along with five assists. With Odom focusing on other areas of the game, Walton unexpectedly emerged as the team’s third leading scorer, shooting a gaudy 71% from the floor and looking like he’s finally regained the confidence he lost earlier in the year.

Best Overall Play
Gasol’s sky-high lob to Kobe for a thunderous one-handed dunk in Game 2.