Fresh off the butt-whooping of the decade at Indiana (sorry guys, I’m still not over that one) and, in true Nuggets fashion, Denver returns home just in time for a huge bounce back victory over the formerly undefeated Lakers 118-112 at “The Can”.
This was Carmelo Anthony’s night, his 32 point, (on 14-of-25 shooting) 13 rebound performance lifting Denver down the stretch run and playing much more efficiently than his superstar counterpoint. Kobe scored a season-high (and team-high) 34 for LA, but he essentially shot his Lakers out of the game late in the fourth by not getting the ball in Pau’s hands. Gasol had a very solid 17 and 20 for the Lakers but he (6-for-17) like Kobe (11-for-32) struggled from the field.
Nene had a decent game (18 points on 7-of-13 from the field) in his matchup with the Spaniard, but it was still a frustrating game to watch for the Brazilian. As I said in my season preview, the Nuggets needed big things from Nene this season; they need him to make that jump into the next echelon of centers. But his foul-prone defense got him trouble again and forced him out of the game at points when he was getting on a role offensively. Granted, the Nuggets were playing 5-on-8 for most of the game as Kobe and Pau (especially Gasol) got sent to the line anytime they were touched. Nene’s fourth foul late in the third came on a play when he “pulled the chair” on Pau when he backing Nene down, and yet the Nuggets center was still called for the foul.
But despite getting bailed out by the refs multiple times, Pau looked lost and at times soft, especially in the second half. While he’s been lauded in the national media for “toughening up” after getting dominated by KG in the 2008 Finals, Pau still shows moments of weakness that opposing centers should be able to take advantage of. But despite this minor criticism, the Lakers (aka you Kobe) should have tried to exploit the Nuggets small-ball lineup, which at times had Big Al or even Melo at the five.
Ty Lawson had a great game and got some crunch time minutes late in the fourth (which he deserved, thanks you George!), dropping 17 points and 5 dimes off the bench. Any time he’s paired up against an older, slower point guard (Fisher and Blake both qualify) he’s gonna have his way with them on offense and be able to penetrate and kick/or finish. J.R. had a decent outing himself, but still hasn’t gotten over the 13 point hump this year. His best moment of the night was his long three over Kobe (who was playing off J.R. and begging him to shoot that three before closing out…you give him that room he’s gonna launch!) that gave the Nuggets the lead with 4:11 to go and Denver added six more to go up nine with 2:13 remaining.
I also wanted to say I like George going small, spacing the floor and increasing that threat of the Nuggets running in transition even more than they already do. Gary Forbes continues to perform admirably in his spare minutes on the floor, knocking down his open looks and playing with hustle and aggression. And with Melo continuing to pick up his rebounding along with Big Al’s play on the defensive end (he’s played solid D against the likes of Pau, Dirk and D-West) why would George stray away from a small-ball lineup? They’re fun to watch, play scrappy D, force turnovers and rebound just as well (which says a lot about our bigs’ play up to this point) as the natural fours and fives.
Shannon Brown had another huge game off the bench for the Lakers, still making me sad he took less money to stay and back up Kobe in LA instead of starting for a fun, young team somewhere else. I think Denver may have trouble with young, athletic players who can shoot the three (especially off the bench when J.R. is guarding them) if Aaron’s not guarding them, which means all these young teams in the West (Sacramento, OKC, Portland) are definitely gonna give Denver some fits.
The good news is Denver was able to bounce back from a debilitating loss to beat a superior opponent (and one as hated as the Lakers) and get back on a winning track. The bad news is Denver appears to be playing to the level of their competition, and that kind of inconsistency isn’t going to get it done late in the season, or come playoff time. If the Nuggets have any chance of holding onto Melo after this season, they can’t afford to give up 140+ points or lose by 20+ points on the road to mediocre teams. But if the bench continues to play strong and the Nuggets can coax more out of Nene and/or Afflalo (who’s cooled down after a hot start) Denver can definitely make the climb up the Western Conference standings…at least in the regular season.
P.S.- Denver won their 44th straight game at home when they scored 110 or more points…not too shabby fellas!
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