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We took a look at the Lakers – Nuggets showdown while it was happening, entering a thought or three each quarter. Here’s your running diary:
Lakers: Pau Gasol
Nuggets: Johan Petro
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Bynum
Nuggets: Billups, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Martin and Nene
9:00 All Lakers to start. Bryant nailed two free throws before Artest and Odom sunk back-to-back threes to put the Lakers up 8-0. Denver responded with five quick points, before consecutive Bynum and Artest hoops put L.A. up 12-5. The Lakers didn’t seem distracted by a pregame South Park themed video that saw Cartman throw a basketball in the face of cartoon Jack Nicholson. This is Denver, after all, home of South Park co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, but it’s never smart to mess with Jack, is it?
5:00 The next offensive salvo went to Denver, who got consecutive buckets from Nene and jumpers from Martin and Billups to cap a 12-4 run that put them up a point. Some of the vitriol that L.A. earned by beating Denver in this building last season to advance to the NBA Finals (and the year before in a first-round sweep) came out in the form of a few aggressive “boooo!’s” when I walked around downtown wearing a Lakers warm up earlier. Fortunately I’m non-descript in a suit at press row right now.
1:00 After a 1-for-4 start, Bryant nailed consecutive jumpers to get to 10 points and give L.A. a two-point cushion heading into the second quarter. In related news, he’s good, and leads the NBA in scoring (33 per night). He’s taken his usual 2009-10 spot on the block, spending more time there than Bynum does looking at potential new cars online.
10:09 Did you know that Bynum is averaging the fourth-most minutes per game in the NBA at 40 per night? It’s true. Looks like we’ll see that again tonight, as his first breather came just now when D.J. Mbenga checked in. ‘Drew had eight points and seven boards in another good effort, though he seemed a bit winded (remember the altitude doesn’t help). Think about sprinting with your mouth closed, only using your nostrils to breath. Does that work? Never tried it. The Lakers held a four-point lead when he went out.
5:40 Perhaps the best way to tell that L.A. was tired (other than remembering that the team arrived at their Denver hotel at 4 a.m. the previous night) was watching them take long jumpers. The Nuggets weren’t able to take too much of an advantage, leading by only three (44-41) into a TV timeout, but the style of play was bound to catch up with the Lakers in the second half.
0:37.2 Did I mention the Lakers looked tired? The final minutes of the half revolved around more perimeter jumpers from Bryant and Artest, though both managed to nail late-shot-clock threes to keep L.A. in the game. Another Artest three just rimmed out heading into the half, the purple and gold somehow trailing by just two after a weary half.
9:04 Halftime didn’t seem to help L.A. much in terms of energy, as they missed four shots and turned the ball over twice while allowing five Denver field goals (including three straight layups from Anthony) as the lead grew to 12, the home team’s biggest to that point. Last altitude comment, I swear … At the break I climbed to the top of the upper deck to visit some old high school friends, and was legitimately a bit winded from the lack of oxygen. But perhaps more than the altitude, L.A. was having trouble matching Denver’s energy in general, as they seemingly couldn’t help but try to avenge the playoff loss (not that it can be done in the regular season, but think of L.A.’s effort vs. Boston last Christmas).
5:33 With a few inches on Nene, Bynum didn’t have much of a problem getting shots off over him, and connected on his fifth in seven attempts. The Lakers, however, were having trouble getting him the ball, continuing to take jumpers as if they were Phoenix from the previous evening. On a brighter note, the Denver media room had Mountain Dew among its fountain choices.
0:55.2 Odom’s two missed free throws with just under a minute remaining underscored a horrid third quarter for L.A., during which they managed to score only eight points as their basket may as well have had small pieces of the Rocky Mountain covering its entry point. Denver had no such problem scoring, going for 29 points to take a commanding 87-64 lead into the fourth.
6:20 Bynum stayed on for the first half of the fourth, building his double-double to 19 and 15 on 8-of-13 shooting … But things didn’t get any better from the Lakers, who trailed 100-71 at that point. Denver finally took out its starters as well, Anthony sitting with 25 points to lead al scorers.
4:45 Jordan Farmar hit back-to-back threes to make the score look a bit better … yet it was still a 23-point game.
1:34 Adding a bit of mental pain to L.A.’s loss, rookie point guard Ty Lawson came out of nowhere to dunk in traffic, plus the harm, as the Lakers were wondering how quickly the bus could get to the airport.
Bottom line: L.A. didn’t have energy, and Denver had a lot of it.
They’ll get a chance to get things going the right way again on Sunday at STAPLES Center against the Rockets.
Until then, some numbers:
66.8 Combined scoring average of Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, the league’s two top guns, heading into the game.
44 Combined points for Bryant (19 in three quarters) and Anthony (25, 18 in the second half) in this one.
28 Lakers points in the paint, emblematic of the team’s reliance on perimeter jumpers, and 50 less points down low than they managed against Phoenix the night before.
25 Denver’s rank on the defensive glass heading into the contest, which the Lakers did take advantage of in the form of 15 offensive boards as they actually won the rebounding battle 48-47.
22.7 L.A.’s second half shooting percentage (10-of-44).
8 Points scored by the Lakers in a tough third quarter, enabling Denver to stretch a two-point halftime lead to a 23-point edge heading into the fourth.
3 Fouls in five minutes whistled on Ron Artest to open the third quarter, giving him five for the game and earning him a seat on the bench.