As always, feel free to refresh your browser for live updates throughout the game … On second thought, I guess they wouldn’t technically be “live” updates since you have to press refresh. But whatever.
Lakers: Andrew Bynum, Sun Yue
Nuggets: Lindsey Hunter
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Walton, Odom and Gasol
Nuggets: Chauncey Billups, Dahntay Jones, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and Johan Petro*
*Usual starting center Nene has been out with a bone bruise in his right knee for the last two games, but is expected to play about 20 minutes off the bench tonight.
‘Melo’s Struggles Vs. L.A.
The first time these teams met, just four games into the season for L.A., Carmelo Anthony was terrible, making just one of his first 11 shots before hitting his final four after the game was decided. Anthony was just as bad the second time these teams met in late November, hitting just 5-of-19 shots for 10 points without a free throw attempt. Clearly, that’s not going to cut it if Denver has a chance to win on Friday night.
12:00 Before Gasol takes the tip, one note on Denver head coach George Karl’s comments on the Lakers perhaps being better without Andrew Bynum: Before the game Phil Jackson said that the Lakers definitely aren’t better defensively, but they may move the ball better offensively thanks to Odom’s presence at the four and Gasol’s ability to pass out of the center position. Nothing new there.
One new thing was Denver’s mascot rolling out on a motor cycle, then simply leaving it at halfcourt to get in the handshake line. Whatever makes you happy…
10:07 ‘Melo had missed his second straight jumper to start the game much like he did the previous two times these teams met, but Billups found him alone underneath the rim for a dunk that gave Denver an early 6-2 lead. Bryant, meanwhile, missed his first two jumpers and turned the ball over.
9:19 Petro’s third foul already came on the offensive end, but strangely could have been good news for Denver, since usual starter Nene checked in. The league’s leader in field goal percentage – thanks in part to his quickness, which enables him to shoot mostly layups and dunks – is averaging14.9 points and 7.9 rebounds.
4:55 It seemed more likely for someone to find a Coca Cola in the Pepsi Center than for anyone to make a shot in the early goings. The Lakers managed just 4-of-12 (33.3 percent) and the Nuggets 5-of-13 (39 percent) in a bipartisan display of brick laying. After the first timeout, Gasol’s two free throws put L.A. up 13-12 before Odom grabbed his sixth rebound on Denver’s ninth miss.
Meanwhile, I have Boston’s home game vs. Indiana on the NBA League Pass, and just listened to Stephon Marbury spark a 9-4 run to put the Celtics up nine late in the third quarter with two dimes and two buckets. I think that move coupled with the Mikki Moore signing and Ben Wallace’s broken leg makes Boston the clear favorite in the East. I’d been on Cleveland’s vibe for a while, but am changing tunes.
2:32 Josh Powell’s offensive board allowed Bryant to make up for a missed jumper with a make, his second in eight attempts. Speaking of Powell and Bryant … In the locker room before the game I was talking to Powell about his new shoes, as he’s been wearing Kobe’s for the past couple weeks. When asked how that came about, Powell explained: “I asked Kobe if he had any of those in big sizes.” Sure enough, Powell had some on his feet a few days later, joining Odom and Trevor Ariza as Zoom Kobe IV disciples.
0:00 The misses just kept coming for the Lakers, who finished the quarter making just 6-of-23 field goals, perhaps showing the effects of getting to their Denver hotel at 3 a.m. this morning (that’s all I can think of, sorry)? They did, however, manage to get to the line eight times, making seven while keeping Denver to three free throw attempts. That, plus Denver’s similarly poor shooting (7-of-19), allowed the Lakers to take a 19-16 lead into the second quarter.
10:15 It’s easy to blame the early second quarter struggles on the fact that L.A.’s second unit played big minutes last night, but they were pretty bad for the first 2:30 of action. In fact, that didn’t manage even a single point as Denver went on an 8-0 run to start the period and claim a 24-19 lead. That prompted Jackson to stick Odom in for Gasol, who joined Bryant on the bench.
9:01 It got worse immediately as the Lakers were very slow to rotate to the open J.R. Smith, who promptly nailed his second straight jumper, this one from three. Nuggs by eight.
8:10 Looking for their worst several minute stretch of the month, L.A. ceded another Smith jumper as Denver opened the quarter on a 13-0 run. Powell finally stuck a cork in Denver’s bottle with a jumper … At least until Anderson outworked Odom to get an offensive board and draw two free throws. Jackson wasn’t having it, as Fisher, Walton and Gasol checked in alongside Powell (five rebounds) and Bryant.
6:25 Jackson cited Walton’s improved shooting as the reason he’s been playing better lately, but tonight’s been a counter example. Walton’s missed triple made him just 1-for-6 as L.A. struggled to match Denver’s energy, trailing 31-23.
NBA Request: Can we get rid of the stunt teams, particularly the male cheerleaders? Denver just tossed about 75 cheerleaders onto the floor as if it were a high school football game. Does anyone like this? If it’s just me, I’ll apologize, but let’s just stick with the dance teams, OK?
4:00 You know which Laker didn’t look tired in the second quarter? Kobe. After his 2-of-8 first quarter, Bryant buckled down to shoot 4-for-6 in the second, plus a free throw, for nine points. Denver’s J.R. Smith countered with 11 points of his own to help the Rocky Mountain state take a 37-31 lead. The bright side: L.A. was down by only six despite shooting 29 percent.
2:05 Pau looked tired, making just 1-of-4 shots and struggling to get any position on the stout Nene, prompting Jackson to call D.J. Mbenga’s name for the final two minutes. It took Mbenga only one possession to match Gasol’s make from the field, using a pass from Fish to lay the ball in off glass.
1:26 Fisher often finds good times to hit threes for his team, and did so again to cut what had just been an eight-point lead to only three. Denver had looked poised to make a push to cushion their lead heading into halftime, but Fish had other ideas.
0:59.5 How many fouls could the refs possibly call on the Lakers in one quarter? How about 12? The Nuggets were happy to shoot 13 free throws in the period, but still managed to hold just a six-point lead at the break. L.A. bumped up it’s terrible shooting percentage to 31 percent after staying in the 20s for most of the half, and is hopefully taking one big collective nap in their locker room.
Earlier today, I wrote about how good L.A.’s been on the second end of back-to-back’s this season, going 11-3 with close losses in Orlando, San Antonio and Utah. In tonight’s game more than any we’ve seen this season, the Lakers do appear tired, but now that 24 minutes are in the books and the lead is nearly inconsequential, the reserve energy tank can be more easily tapped into. Scoring 30 fewer points in the first half than they did against Phoenix (70) last night, turning the ball over nine times and scoring a mere eight points in the paint may end up being moot.
11:33 Just about the only Laker to shoot well in the first half, Lamar Odom, made his first shot to get L.A. off on the right foot. To be fair, the sample size was small (2-of-2), but whatever.
9:52 Fitting that Bryant and Gasol would follow with makes of their own to tie the game at 46, as who but those three have been responsible for L.A.’s 11-1 February.
7:36 The energy we missed in the first half? It’s back, and not surprisingly. Bryant drew a foul and hit two free throws, and Fisher nailed an open triple after Walton pushed a defensive board to put L.A. up 55-50. They’d quickly amassed 15 points to just four for the Nuggets in the half.
5:43 Denver opened the half 1-for-11 before Billups got into the mix, hitting a layup and a triple to tie the score at 55. Billups, who’s from Denver, has been central to his team’s success since coming over from Detroit, who’s been terrible with Allen Iverson.
3:45 Remember last year in the playoffs when George Karl tried Kenyon Martin on Bryant? He did so again, and Bryant said “Thanks,” drove past K-Mart and laid the ball off the glass.
2:53 Chris Anderson, Denver’s energy guy off the bench known affectionately as “The Birdman,” loves nothing more than to swoop in from the weak side to block shots. After a block, he loves nothing more than starting up into the crowd for 3-5 seconds, which he did after blocking Odom near the rim. L.A. was upset since J.R. Smith smashed into Odom’s body and there was no call, but the Birdman got a look in his eye similar to what “Real World” Katelynn looks like after a roommate asks her to do her own dishes.
0:41.0 Billups nailed another triple, capping a terrific quarter in which he scored 16 of Denver’s 20 points. As in, all but four of his team’s points … which would be 80 percent. I’d just read a Denver Post article from earlier today suggesting that Billups will look for his own shot in the second half if his teammates aren’t hitting theirs, and we’ve certainly seen that come true.
His triple made it 66-63 Lakers, though the Lakers had chipped three points off Denver’s lead and were well within striking distance despite improving only to 32.8 percent shooting.
10:55 L.A.’s gotten nothing from its bench, which dug the original hole in the second quarter and began working on doing the same to start the fourth. Vujacic, Farmar and Ariza had combined for zero points, and alongside Gasol and Odom ceded the quarter’s first four points, both on layups from Anderson.
9:55 OK that’s silly. ‘Melo took five steps, including a bunny hop to top off his first three steps, but avoided a traveling call and missed a layup that was immediately followed by Linas Kleiza. With those two points, Denver’s bench had scored 31 points, or 26 more than L.A.’s, as Denver opened a 72-63 lead.
7:14 With the rest of his team looking all but dead, Bryant decided he’d have to take over. He started with two long jumpers, then drew a foul to get the Lakers within seven while Gasol and Odom earned a few more minutes of rest. That gave Kobe 29 points, even if he needed 27 shot attempts to get there.
6:24 The starters came back on as Smith added two free throws to give Denver a 78-69 lead, setting a tough task for a group that had been in a tough battle all night with little to no help from its bench.
4:50 Smith, after missing a three without a Lakers defender in sight (Bryant and Gasol had fallen out of the play after Fisher missed them on a deep ball), but used an Anderson offensive board to hit from two-point range and get to 21 points off the pine. He alone had scored 16 more points than L.A.’s entire bench, and given his Nuggs an 80-69 lead that would be hard to blow.
4:39 Well, Odom’s first response was along the right lines, an and-1 to cut the lead to eight and give him nine points with his 16 boards.
2:40 After Odom’s layup, L.A. had cut the lead down to six, but the Lakers simply couldn’t get a break. There were two no calls that had Odom furious in the previous two minutes, just as the Nuggets went back to the line on 3-of-4 possessions at the other end.
2:02 How about four more Nuggets free throws on touch fouls near the hoop? The home team made 3-of-4 on one possession to go up 87-76, essentially burying L.A.’s comeback attempt.
1:35 Two more Nuggets free throws (am I typing the same thing over and over?) were the 35th and 36th of the evening. Sometimes free throw discrepancies boil down to the officials rewarding the aggressor, and that seems to be what we have this evening. L.A. simply didn’t have the energy offered by the Nuggets, particularly from its bench, and would lose for only the second time this month.
The final score was 90-79, with the Lakers already looking ahead to Sunday’s contest in Phoenix.