I was gone over the weekend attending a church function up in Estes Park. Somehow I was able to make it through without finding out the score in the Denver Nuggets/Los Angeles Lakers game on Friday night. Needless to say when I came home and watched the game, I was shocked at how easily the Nuggets dispatched of the team that has ended their season two years in a row.
Denver played an exceptional game at both ends of the floor and the game was such a rout that Kobe Bryant watched the entire fourth quarter with his warm-ups on.
Before we get to gushing too much, let’s keep things in perspective. The Lakers were playing without Pau Gasol, they were on the second leg of a back to back (the kind that Greg Popovich apparently thinks is unfair flying from the pacific time zone east to Denver) and even without Pau on the court the Nuggets look to be as overmatched as ever by Andrew Bynum.
The courter point to those are, do not talk to the Nuggets about back to backs, they have had plenty of those already and the way Bynum is playing, no one has an answer for him. He is playing at an All-Star level.
With the disclaimers out of the way we can get back to praising the performance by the Nuggets.
The two areas of the game I was most pleased with was Denver’s team defense and overall effort. Even on the occasions where they were struggling to get offensive rebounds, it was not due to a lack of desire.
Kenyon Martin, Nene and Chris Andersen all worked their tails off to keep the Lakers off the offensive boards. I am not sure what the split was, but it seemed like after an initial struggle in the first half of the game they really did a good job.
The biggest difference with the Nuggets’ defense against the Lakers was their help defense. We talked about how against the Bulls and Bucks that whenever a Nugget player was trying to get to the rim he was met with a wall of help defenders. The Nuggets turned in one of their best performances from that standpoint in a long time.
As far as individual performances perhaps the most impressive performance in a supporting role was submitted by Arron Afflalo. I remember before the season started one national pundit, I cannot remember who, stated something along the lines of how Afflalo was a nice pickup, just do not try to use him to cover Kobe Bryant. Afflalo did about as good a job on Kobe as I have seen in a long time. It certainly appeared the plan was to crowd Kobe, try to make sure he cannot just rise up and shoot a smooth jumper and rely on help if he tries to drive.
Afflalo played the scheme perfectly. He was tight with Kobe all night, rarely fell for any of Brant’s crafty fakes and made things very difficult on the Lakers’ top scorer. When Kobe tried to shoot his very good turnaround from posting up Afflalo was all over it. I do not suspect Afflalo has logged many minutes guarding Kobe in his first two seasons, but it was obvious to me he had watched a lot of film as he anticipated what Kobe was going to do very well.
The results were spectacular. For some reason Kobe was reluctant to drive and only one of his attempts was something other than a jumper. When Afflalo was guarding Kobe, he shot only 2-10 and did not attempt a free throw. Kobe had more success against other defenders, but I though J.R. did a reasonably good job trying to pick up where Afflalo left off.
The average distance Kobe shot from was 17’9”. Plus, probably only one or two of his 16 jumpers were open shots. He had Afflalo or J.R. Smith in his face all night. Kobe is reportedly struggling with a groin strain although I am not sure if it was bothering him in Denver. Even so he was surprisingly content to shoot long turnarounds. As a result he did not do anything that set his teammates up to score.
Afflalo was not the only newcomer to put his stamp on the action. Ty Lawson played an incredible game and punctuated his effort with the most unsuspected dunk I think I have ever witnessed. With 1:34 Lawson exploded into the lane and absolutely bammed on D.J. Mbenga. So far we have seen Lawson finish with creative oscillations and flip shots, but he proved that if he has a clean shot down the lane that he can finish with power over legit shot blockers.
Lawson is no stranger to big games and he has certainly risen to the occasion when he gets to play the Lakers. I received a lot of questions from readers about Lawson and specifically if he can be the player who can be the piece that could push the Nuggets ahead of the Lakers. At this point all I know is L.A. has no answer for his speed. Plus his ability to hit threes and take care of the ball has helped the efficiency of the second unit.
Gasol or no Gasol, the blowout of the Lakers was a big win and the Nuggets certainly delivered the message that they are not intimidated or afraid of L.A. The key to being a true contender is to bring that kind of effort every night, not just when they want to send a message to the Lakers.
Additional Game 10 Nuggets
- Apart from the vast improvement on defense, the offense looked completely different too. The motion and purpose was back as they got away from the endless string of isolation sets we were subjected to over the previous four games.
- In the third quarter the Nuggets finally unleashed their running game. Fueled by forcing misses and snatching steals Denver was able to get out and earn some easy baskets. Carmelo who used to get at least two breakaway buckets every game had three easy layups in the third quarter alone. If they can get out and run like they did, it will make them an even more dangerous offensive team. They just need to remember it all starts with defense.
- Chauncey had another poor scoring game, which is becoming the norm against the Lakers. He did dish out eight assists and was solid other than his poor shooting. After his poor showing in the conference finals Chauncey credited the Lakers’ defense for his inability to score. I did not notice anything L.A. was doing special to frustrate Billups, but Fisher is a crafty defender and with Chauncey not having blazing speed Fisher is able to stay with him on the perimeter.
- I cannot get over how smart Bynum is. If the Lakers do successfully defend their title, I suspect he will be one of the primary reasons why. He stays in the paint as much as possible and when he is not fighting for position on the block he is getting in the best position possible to corral an offensive rebound. There was one occasion where he was on the perimeter preparing to set a screen for Ron Artest and Chris Andersen left him to double Ron. As soon as Andersen switched his focus to Artest, Bynum went to the rim knowing a shot was about to go up on the swing pass from the double. Sure enough, he was right under the rim and nabbed the offensive rebound. Nearly every movement he makes has a purpose and that is the sign of a cerebral player.
- Sticking with Bynum, I was really surprised that Phil Jackson left him on the court for the first 14 minutes of the game coming off the Popovich back to back. I do not know if Phil lost track of time or if he was sending a message to Bynum about what kind of shape he needs to be in. Whatever the reason was, Bynum handled it well. He clearly became fatigued, but it was not very noticeable in his play. He continued to dominate the paint.
- I have been very open about my concern that J.R. is a slow starter and may take a while to get in the groove coming back from his suspension. After making only one of his first eight three point attempts, he made four of ten against L.A. He has also shot 7-15 and 7-16 over the previous two games which is a solid 45.2%. If he can string together a couple more nice outings, I will have to stop calling him a slow starter. However, it would be nice to see him try to get in the lane more. I will take ten free throw attempts over ten three point attempts from him any day.
- Nene has struggled in the past to score on Bynum. Hopefully that is beginning to change. Maybyner tallied 13 points on only eight shots and did a good job of both scoring on the move using his quickness to get to the rim and scoring over Bynum on the block. Plus after a season high five turnovers in Chicago, Nene has only turned the ball over once in the previous two games.
Pace Factor: 94.4 – pretty average for a Nuggets home game
Defensive Efficiency: 83.7 – absolutely stellar, the Lakers shot only 35.2% from the floor
Offensive Efficiency: 111.3 – good, not great
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