There is no guarantee the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers are going to face off again in the playoffs this spring, but today we got a taste of what a late May matchup between these two teams will be like. If that is indeed the case, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant may not have very much fun during that series.
The two superstars combined to make a mere 10 of their 36 shots. Ron Artest was all over Carmelo on one end while Arron Afflalo was harassing Kobe on the other. The difference in the game was Kobe adjusted his plan to fit what was going on around him while Carmelo did not. The proof is in their passing stats. Carmelo tallied only one assist, an over the head heave to J.R. Smith who was all alone after a steal, while Kobe ended the game with 12 assists. Compounding the problem even further Melo turned the ball over eight times good for a stunningly bad .13 assist to turnover ratio.
The Lakers have had a lot of success defending Carmelo in the past by crowding him with players like Vladimir Radmanovic or Luke Walton to take away his jumper while pre-rotating a defender over, either the power forward or center, to help if Melo chooses to drive. The only somewhat open shot available is a pull up jumper from eight to ten feet which is not a shot most players practice. Today, LA showed how effective that defense can be when the role of Radmanovic or Walton is filled by a motivated Ron Artest.
Artest was able to muscle Melo all over the court, pushing him out to the three point line on several occasions when Anthony was trying to post up. In fact on one play you can see Melo smiling as if to say “You do not bother me” as Artest pushed him towards the sideline only to see Ron jump in front of the entry pass and continue down the floor unmolested for a dunk. It happened again in the second half as Artest pushed Carmelo beyond the three point line and jumped the pass leading to another LA fast break.
When Carmelo drove, Artest guided him left repeatedly and funneled him expertly to his waiting help. Even when Melo drove past Artest, Ron was able to tip the ball away from behind on several occasions. Artest played a great defensive game and executed the Lakers’ scheme perfectly. It was the best defensive game I have seen from him in a long time. Plus his three point shooting helped keep the Lakers in striking distance in the first half.
While Artest deserves credit, Carmelo is not completely blameless. In fact, in some ways he allowed Artest to handle him. Carmelo tried to be a little too cool for school. He did not hold his position well at all and seemed to have a nonchalant attitude about where he received the ball. It almost appeared that he was willing to let Artest have his way in an attempt to prove that he could score no matter where he received the ball, which as we saw was not the case. Early in the game he made an attempt to find the holes in the Lakers defense with his passing, but after a couple were tipped away, he gave up and tried to do too much on his own.
All of the blame for Carmelo’s performance does not fall on the player. The coaching staff failed to put him in the best position. As we have seen in the past, when the Lakers play Melo with the crowd and help style they employed today, the best thing to do is to give him the ball in the middle of the court. That way, help must be ready on both sides of the lane and it gives Carmelo more of an opportunity to pass off. Carmelo repeatedly receive the ball on the left wing. With Artest forcing him left, he was driving with his offhand towards the baseline. On the right side of the court if Artest wanted to funnel Melo to the baseline, he would at least be driving with his strong hand, plus if the Lakers still tried to force him left, he has proven his effectiveness driving into the lane with his left hand from the right wing.
Even with the poor performance from Carmelo I think had Ty Lawson not been knocked out of the game with a bruised shoulder, Denver would have had a great chance to win that game. Anthony Carter played seven nondescript minutes in the second half and Denver clearly lacked the threat for penetration that Lawson provides.
There are some encouraging things to take out of this game. For the second time in three games Denver has done a solid job defending Kobe. Playing Denver is not longer a guaranteed 30 point night for Mr. Bryant. However, the Nuggets still need to find a way to deal with him in the post as he was able to back down and pass off for easy baskets in the fourth quarter.
Nene did a very solid job on Andrew Bynum and the team as a whole did a good job of keeping Pau Gasol from dominating the lane with his excellent post game. In fact Denver’s first half defense was some of their best of the season and they did not drop off much in the second half.
Additional Game 59 Nuggets
By the way, make sure you check out the two podcasts on Land O’Lakers. First off, the interview former NBA assistant Dave Miller on how to stop the Nuggets high powered offense and secondly they talk to Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post about the game and how George Karl is holding up.