Quick recap tonight, because this was a game in which the Nuggets just didn’t measure up – literally and figuratively. There are a lot of reasons this years Nuggets are a full tier below the Lakers and other top teams in the West, and pretty much all of them were exposed tonight. The defending champs dismantle the Nuggets with aggressive defense, a sound gameplan that plays to their strengths and simply enough patience to wait Denver out and let them implode on their own. It worked to perfection.
The Lakers wasted no time trying to establish their size advantage early. They looked to get it inside early and for the first time in ages Denver responded with solid defense. They were fronting the post, rotating help early and challenging the Laker bigs physically. After pushing the pace in their favor on offense, the Nuggets found a seven point lead and should have sensed the opportunity to seize control.
But the Lakers kept patiently probing the paint while falling back on their strong half court defense. Nene was denied anything easy and the Nuggets were largely limited to the perimeter. The player who really hurt Denver early was Ron Artest. With Melo struggling to find his rhythm, Artest sensed his frustration and attacked him inside all night. Defensively he got under Melo’s skin early and it seemed to boost his confidence scoring the ball. Artest simply got too many layups and easy shots at a time Denver had put the clamps down on everyone else.
Despite a missed opportunity for the starters to build on momentum, it was Denver’s normally strong bench who surrendered control of the game. The Lakers bench unit, featuring a frontcourt of Odom and Gasol slowed the game down and started dominating inside. Al Harrington and Melvin Ely were shredded on the glass while being offensively useless to boot. If the Laker bigs weren’t backing them down for a layup, they kicked out for open jumpers. Even when LA shooters missed nobody boxed out and Gasol and Bynum were cleaning up tips and putbacks with ease. When Denver sagged off it was Odom hitting jumpers and making plays from the top of the key. It was ugly.
Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo seemed the only two players willing to play with the speed and energy needed to win. The front court rotation was a joke. Without Kobe being involved at all the Lakers seemed to have no problem imposing their will on Denver who did not seem willing to fight back.
In the third quarter, Kobe got going and his playmaking was a thing to behold. We’ve seen Melo take over quarters with hot shooting but this was a complete dismantling of Denver by Kobe alone. Even when doubled, baseline drives were either getting him open shots regardless or setting up a perfect weak side swing pass. Not only did he make tough shots he made the right read no matter how Denver defended. It was demoralizing for a team that already in the midst of their own offensive meltdown. It was a disheartening way to see the Nuggets suffer their first blowout loss at home all season
Additional Game 43 Nuggets
- I didn’t agree with the decision to play Melvin Ely alongside a bench unit with Al Harrington. Shelden Williams and Gary Forbes received DNP’s in favor of a bench rotation that was set up to fail against the Lakers second unit
- Ty Lawson has a hard time making an impact normally sitting out most of the first and third quarters. He was the most aggressive Denver player getting to the rim and might have been able to maintain the pace and momentum Denver had early. Chauncey Billups played a solid game but did not seem to know how to dictate and maintain the pace when Denver needed it.
- Collectively the Nuggets body language was poor from from the 2nd quarter onward. They were easily flustered and seemed disconnected on defense. They badly need more on court leadership and can’t seem to stop a defensive breakdown from snowballing into chaos.
- Arron Afflalo is the only Nugget who takes a good deal of pride in defending his man. With guys like Carmelo Anthony and Al Harrington trying to look busy on defense while watching the ball, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a roster overhaul changing some of the bad defensive habits of this team