Lakers 95, Nuggets 89: Diary/Postgame Wrap

59765571Lakers – Nuggets Preview Podcast
We took a look at the Lakers – Nuggets contest in L.A. while it was happening, entering a thought or three each quarter as the Lakers used a huge second half to beat Denver.

Lakers: Sasha Vujacic (shoulder)
Nuggets: Renaldo Balkman

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Nuggets: Billups, Afflalo, Anthony, Martin and Nene

100228kobebryantFirst Quarter
10:07 The game’s first variation from the norm came when Derek Fisher picked up his second personal foul just two minutes into the game, bringing Shannon Brown off the bench. Defensively, at least, this wasn’t a blow to L.A., since Brown’s bigger body is something Phil Jackson likes to throw at the 6-3, 202-pound Chauncey Billups. Brown promptly gave something on offense after checking in, hitting a jumper to put L.A. up 6-5 early.

6:21 Denver got the better of the first half of the quarter, building an 18-10 lead thanks primarily to four Lakers turnovers that resulted in six Nuggets points. All four TO’s came on steals for the visitors. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant had yet to take a shot, focusing on getting the ball inside to Pau Gasol (three field goal attempts).

1:13 Bryant, frustrated that J.R. Smith didn’t get called for a foul when reaching around him hard on an entry pass, drew his 11th technical foul of the season. Players can amass 16 techs before receiving a mandatory 1-game suspension, so with 22 games to go, perhaps the greater worry was that the Lakers had yet to get untracked while trailing 29-21 after Billups hit the technical free throw and a three-pointer on the ensuing possession. That was the margin by which L.A. trailed after the first, shooting just 40.9 percent from the floor to go along with seven turnovers, six personal fouls and 2-of-5 free throws (Denver made 9-of-13).

Second Quarter
9:56 After yet another Lakers turnover, and Andrew Bynum’s missed lay-in from five feet away, Carmelo Anthony scored on back-to-back Nuggets possessions to put Denver up 10, its biggest lead to that point. Bryant, meanwhile, was just 1-of-5 from the field, and Bynum had yet to score.

597655686:52 Jordan Farmar’s corner three was much needed after the Nuggets’ lead reached 13 as the Lakers continued to struggle in general. They simply weren’t getting it done at either end of the floor, yet at least remained within striking distance. Three minutes later, needing a lift from someone after Bynum and Gasol both picked up their respective third personal fouls, Phil Jackson turned to Josh Powell … and J-Peezy promptly responded with two straight buckets in the paint, the second a two-handed dunk from Kobe, to cut the lead to nine.

0:37.2 Powell continued to influence the game with another dunk a possession after he’d found Odom for a layup out of a pretty three-man sequence of the triangle also featuring Bryant. Smith, however, picked up his fourth steal of the half and dunked at the other end to keep Denver up nine at the break, 52-43. Denver had figured out that the refs were letting a lot of reaching on the perimeter go, and unlike L.A. took full advantage by slapping at balls, helping cause 14 turnovers by the Lakers, already more than their season average (13.3.) Fortunately for L.A., Phil Jackson is perhaps the league’s best coach at making halftime adjustments.
*Also notable: rookie point guard Ty Lawson would not return for the second half after suffering a shoulder contusion on a collision with Bynum.

100228ronartestThird Quarter
8:56 Ladies and gentlemen, Phil Jackson! The Lakers were far more aggressive defensively to open the third, recognizing how the game was being called, and that played a big part of Denver starting 0-for-4 from the field, all on contested shots. Meanwhile, Bynum scored on consecutive possessions in the paint over the shorter Nene, preceding Artest’s swipe of Anthony and resulting layup. Then came another Nuggets miss and 1-of-2 Gasol free throws to cut Denver’s lead to 52-50.

5:22 After all that positivity for L.A., the Nuggets reeled off a quick 10-0 run to push the lead back to 11 at 64-53, capped by a two-handed breakaway dunk and then a three-pointer from Afflalo. The dunk was a result of his and Nene’s strip of Bryant, the fifth turnover for Kobe, whose broken finger can make controlling the ball more difficult. Oddly, the player who hadn’t been a big part of Denver’s run was Anthony, who’d made only 5-of-17 shots with Artest absolutely attached to his body.

0:17.2 How about Ron Ron? Two more all-up-in-Anthony’s-face defensive possessions caused two more turnovers, and L.A. capitalized half as much as it might have when Odom and Gasol each missed 1-of-2 free throws. Nonetheless, the game’s flow had returned once again to the Lakers thanks to some inspired effort on D, and L.A. had cut Denver’s 9-point halftime lead to just three at 70-67, despite only six points from Bryant.

Fourth Quarter
7:50 L.A. rode that third quarter wave right into the fourth, continuing to fly around on defense while converting 7-of-9 shots on offense to open an 82-74 lead, with Bryant’s baseline jumper and assist to Farmar – who finished with a pretty driving layup – capping the action. Meanwhile, Odom began to go off on offense, scoring seven early points and tying the game with a three-pointer.

5:00 Bryant answered Denver’s own 8-0 run (L.A. had gone on the same run earlier in the quarter) with a layup at the rim, but Billups – who had just drawn a foul on Fisher while attempting a three (Fish and Jackson couldn’t have disagreed more with the call) – pulled up for three to put Denver back on top. As the game see-sawed, Odom scored in the lane, and Billups from the baseline … and finally Artest from the corner, for three. L.A. up two again … fun things.

2:15 A huge sequence in the clutch played out as follows: Bryant found Gasol for a tough cutting layup off glass in traffic on offense, and on D, Artest drew an offensive foul on Anthony – his sixth – to regain possession for the Lakers, holding a 93-89 lead. Denver wouldn’t score for the rest of the game, L.A. adding two Bryant free throws for a six-point victory.

If ever there were a tale of two halves, this was it.

After getting out-aggressived (new word) in the first half by the Nuggets to fall behind 52-43, the Lakers turned in a fantastic defensive performance in the second half to ultimately run off with a 95-89 victory. They outscored Denver 52-37 margin in the second half and held the Nuggets to only four points in the final 5:06 of action. The Nuggets shot just 31.6 percent in the second half (35.9 total) as the Lakers made sure the Nuggets knew things ran through Los Angeles in the Western Conference.

100228ronartest2Sparking that defense was the terrific individual effort from Ron Artest, who was draped so close to Carmelo Anthony all night that ‘Melo may as well have worn cologne named “Ron Ron.” Anthony made only 7-of-19 field goal attempts, turned the ball over eight times and fouled out while trying to create space from Artest late in the fourth quarter.

Artest tied a season high with six steals, and even went off for 17 points himself (‘Melo had 21) thanks in part to four 3-pointers, plus four boards and four assists.

“Ron did a remarkable job on Anthony,” said Phil Jackson in his opening postgame remarks.

Struggling with his shot (3-of-17), Kobe Bryant turned into a facilitator. He notched a season-high 12 assists (eight in the second half) thanks in large part to an adjustment in positioning as he set up on the block to draw double teams from the aggressive Denver defense before coyly dishing off to teammates.

“Kobe mentioned the fact that he could operate out of that low post position down there and he got into a position where he required a double team and we were able to get consistent offensively from there on and our defense picked up on top of that,” said Jackson.

Among the major recipients was Lamar Odom, who scored 14 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter, and Pau Gasol, who scored 15 points. The Spaniard also grabbed 14 rebounds (eight offensive) while Odom added 12.

“We wanted to show them that they won’t have a chance against us (in the playoffs),” said Gasol on 710 ESPN radio. “We showed (again) that we’re a better team then them.”

Up next for L.A. is Indiana on Tuesday. Until then, your numbers:

50 Points in the paint for the Lakers, compared to just 26 for Denver.

36.8 Carmelo Anthony’s shooting percentage on 7-of-19 field goals, thanks largely to the outstanding defense of Ron Artest. Anthony also had eight turnovers, and Artest six steals.

26 Rebounds for Pau Gasol (14) and Lamar Odom (12), helping the Lakers with a 47-43 edge on the glass for the evening.

14 Lakers turnovers in the first half, 0.7 more than the team’s average for the season. L.A. turned the ball over just four times in the second half, however, which was noted on the scoreboard (+15 second half, -9 first half)

12 Season-high assist total for Kobe Bryant, who turned into a facilitator in the second half in particular