Lakers-Nuggets Running Diary

We’ll be logging each minute on the court right here on the BasketBlog … Remember that you can hit your browsers’ refresh (or reload) button to get the latest entry. Check back after tip to follow along…

Inactives for tonight:
Lakers – DJ Mbenga, Sun Yue
Nuggets – Chris Andersen, Steven Hunter

So, after playing another round of “Would You Rather” earlier this week, it got me thinking: If you were an athletic basketball team with wing talent galore, would you rather have Allen Iverson or Chauncey Billups as your primary ball handler?

That’s a no brainer, right? AI, no question. On opposite day. That’s like asking if you’d rather chill on Venice Beach tomorrow or go to the dentist.

Obviously you’re taking Billups, as witnessed by Denver’s 7-1 record since making the trade two weeks ago. The better question is this: How far can Billups take the Nuggets? Can they finally get out of the first round? Can they beat the Lakers in STAPLES on an early-season Friday night after the AI version fell to L.A. in their season opener?

We’ll see. Your starters:

Lakers: Fish, Kobe, Vladi, Pau and Bynum
Nuggets: Billups, Dahntay Jones (how about that spelling, what the h…), Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and Nene

Last night on TNT, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley both seemed comfortable with Vladi as the starter, suggesting that the court would be too congested with Odom in the lineup, and that Trevor Ariza’s shooting doesn’t spread the defense like the threat of Vladi’s bomb. Pretty much what we’ve heard around these parts…

First Quarter
The first bit of good news for Lakers fans in the building came as Radmanovic’s first stroke from distance resembled the five that swished through Phoenix’s nets last night. That, and Bryant apparently was insulted that Denver started Dahntay (again, gotta love the unique spelling) on him, opting to score seven points on the former Duke player in about a minute that put L.A. up 15-8 in the early goings. In other news, this is the first home game for which Jack’s been absent, but he gave his seat to Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty), which is nice. He’s pretty cool too.

Generally speaking, the Nuggets are to Kobe Bryant what I would be to Brock Lesnar* in the Octagon – meat. I remember watching last year’s first-round playoffs actually feeling badly for Denver, and a 4-for-6 variation of Js was fun to watch as Bryant opened with nine points in the first seven minutes of this game. Dahntay was relieved by Anthony Carter in trying to slow the Mamba, and though Kobe’s next play didn’t result in points, it may have been the most explosive of the season. Remember when Kobe had that monster dunk against Detroit the other night? He jumped even higher (I think I said 56 feet last time), hung even longer, and just missed a pass that was way too high. I can’t stress enough how high Bryant was in the air, but I can explain what I did during the period from which he left the floor until the ball bounced off the rim:
*If you’re like my dad, you have no idea who Lesnar is … So I’ll tell you: A former NCAA heavyweight wrestling champ turned WWE champ turned UFC (Ultimate Fighting) terror that pounded a former champ last week.

A) Read Bill Simmons’ football column on ESPN (like eight pages)
B) Received a phone call from my buddy Robby, who was in tears after Minnesota got demolished by the Celtics, spoiling his “guaranteed” victory. Why would he have guaranteed that game in the first place? I digress
C) Set my starting lineups for my three fantasy football and three fantasy hoops squads for the rest of the week
D) Balanced my check book

OK I lied on the last one … I don’t have to do that, because everything shows up online anyway. You get the point.

While I was rambling, Odom laid in near the hoop on a great Gasol pass, Bryant hit two free throws, Farmar nailed a three and Odom laid in again (same play, basically) … then Odom laid in AGAIN on a reverse … then Ariza dunked at the hoop … and all of a sudden it was 35-18 Lakers with about 30 seconds to play. This is probably the best L.A.’s starters have looked all season, not to mention an on-point Odom off the pine. Regardless of if it was the Lakers’ best overall first quarter, the shooting was terrific: 14-for-21, including 5-of-6 from the bench. Not what Denver had in mind, as it were.

Second Quarter
Two Farmar steals kept L.A. flying high early in the second, the second of which resulting in a Farmar dunk (it was fun to see Bryant and Fisher jump off the bench not to congratulate him but to urge him to pressure the inbounds pass) and the first a cleanup dunk from Bynum that looked to be straight out of Pete Newell’s basketball camp.

Also, a note I forgot to mention in the first quarter: Bynum had four assists, apparently trying to catch Gasol’s nine from the previous evening. Perhaps getting bored with passing, Bynum dunked three straight balls in the early second to build L.A.’s lead to 18 at 44-26. They’re literally doing whatever they want on the Nuggets, pounding them in the paint (12-to-2 in the first, plus Bynum’s dunks in the second), and making Denver look like the team that played in Phoenix last night. Back-to-backs actually seem to help the Lakers at this stage of the season, obviously due in part to their depth.

Billups Update: Before the game, much of the talk surrounded how Billups would lead this Denver team, as I mentioned in the intro. Billups was pretty good in the first, making 3-of-5 shots without turning the ball over, but wasn’t able to get the rest of his team involved in part because they were playing like D-Leaguers, and in part because the Lakers were swarming the basketball. Speaking of Billups … So, I asked Phil Jackson how differently the Lakers prepared for the Nuggets with Billups wearing blue instead of Iverson. Here’s what he had to say:

“Well we really didn’t, although we talked a little bit about Chauncey’s ability to post up our guards. If they get in a position to expose our team (in that way), we have to cover that part of it. The rest of it … most of their things are relatively the same things that (they used to run) but with a whole different flavor to it. If Allen were in before, he was probably going to try and get a score or get as close as he could to the hoop, but Chauncey will bait the defense and move it ahead, and do things like that.”

‘Drew Diming: Having alluded to Bynum’s first quarter passing already, here’s a supplement: At the 6:43 mark, Bynum found himself with the ball facing the hoop on the far side of the floor, and looked towards Odom. With a flick of his head, Bynum motioned Odom to cut to the hoop, and Lamar did so before being rewarded with a nice Bynum pass and a layup. Pretty stuff, ‘Drew. That bucket made it 53-30 Lakers, and the Nuggets looked killed, buried and eulogized quite early.

Not sure what to write here. Um, Kobe’s on fire (18 points, just buried an unnecessary three); Pau’s heating up; Farmar’s dropping dimes everwhere; Josh Powell’s swatting shots and grabbing boards. It’s all good, resulting in 66 points (to Denver’s 42) at the 1:42 mark during a timeout. That’s a season high already for points in a half (previous was 61). Sometimes when games are blowouts this early, it becomes quite boring to watch. But the Lakers continue to play at such a high level that it remains fun to watch regardless of the score. Plus, Stephen A. Smith’s walking around the baseline pointing and nodding at people while taking care not to smile, which is always fun to watch.

By the way, Bynum’s +20 right now on 4-of-4 shooting for nine points without a turnover, plus four boards and those five dimes. As a team, the Lakers closed the half with a 20-point lead (67-47), turned the ball over just four times (after seven last night) and shot a sizzling 28-for-45 from the floor (62.2 percent). Not bad.

Third Quarter
OK, the love fest can relax itself for a minute … L.A. came out of the half like it had a 20-point lead – always a kiss of death in this league – and the Nuggets almost capitalized with a four-point run, had only Dahntay made his free throws. Yet and still, the Lakers turned the ball over on each of their first three possessions after turning it over juts four times in the whole first half. Negative. Though Denver capitalized on just one of those three TOs, they still managed to score the quarter’s first six points after a Vladi turnover, drawing to within 14 of the Lake Show.

Bryant then alley-ooped to Bynum and hit a jumper, pushing the lead back to 18, before Billups pushed another Nuggets run that cut even further into L.A.’s lead. First Chauncey found Nene for an and-1 layup, then made a pull-up J in transition, and finally started a fastbreak that ended in a Dahntay (I like his first name too much to use his last) layup and cut the lead to 11. I think more than anything, you can chalk up that Nuggets push to a lack of interest by L.A.’s starters. Lamar time?

Not yet. Still Kobe time. After a Gasol jumper on the baseline, Bryant picked off a perimeter pass and dunked with two hands on the other end, which clearly pleased Beatty. Next came a Bynum hoop on the baseline, an Ariza J in transition and L.A. was up 21. Calm down, those of you who worried as much as my friend had been worrying today about getting his Bar exam score today that the lead had shrunk to 11, it’s cool … He passed.

Would anyone else be completely not surprised if Kenyon Martin came out with an album or book entitled “Hard As I Wanna Be?” That sentence was inspired by an unnecessary refusal to let go of a ball that Gasol had clearly in his grasp. K-Mart’s hard. Period.

Bryant’s Jumper Won’t Miss: After Kobe missed his first shot of the game, I wondered aloud to Ty what it’d be like if Kobe actually started making his jumper, which he seems quite content to release now instead of heading into traffic. In fact, in the last three games, he made 29-of-71 shots from the field (many of which were jumpers), which is right around 40 percent. My point’s coming … Tonight his jumper was going in from everywhere, as he stroked 12-of-18 shots (66 percent) in the first three quarters for 29 points. So I guess he answered my question. As a team, L.A. tacked on a single point to its 20-point lead, taking an 88-67 margin into the final period.

Fourth Quarter
The first boring stretch of the game occurred at the fourth quarter’s start, as the teams combined for all of two points in the first three minutes. This gave me time to try and figure out how many tattoos J.R. Smith has on his arms. I was wavering between 10,234 and 10,235 (he has this one that seems like it could be two separate ones) before deciding on the former.

The remainder of the quarter was never close, which allowed those present to focus on which Hollywood stars were in the house (Zach Effron, Maroon Five guy, Leo DeCaprio, etc.) and hope for extra fantasy stats. L.A.’s starters spent most of the fourth quarter on the bench, with most of the run going to Luke Walton, Chris Mihm, Ariza, Farmar and Josh Powell/Sasha Vujacic. No one played too well or too poorly, as both teams seemed content to exchange hoops before back-to-back J.R. Smith threes cut the Lakers lead down to 14 with 2:46 remaining.

Checking out the box score, here are a few things that stand out: Carmelo made jut 5-of-19 shots after going 5-for-15 in the first matchup between these two squads, and four of those makes came way late in the fourth quarter. That’s a combined 10-for-34 (29.4 percent) from ‘Melo. Billups was fine with 15 and nine assists in 33 minutes, and Nene was pretty good with his 18 and five, but the Nugs got little else from anyone else.

Meanwhile, the Lakers spread the wealth around once again. Only Ariza hit the 30-minute mark, while Kobe led the way with 29 in 29 minutes. Bynum had a nice double-double with 13 and 13 (plus five assists), while Odom had 13 off the bench in 18 minutes.

The central point from Friday night, however, is this: The Lakers buried the Nuggets … like actual Nuggets that you could put in the ground and throw dirt over.

See ya.