There was quite a bit to see in Game 1 of the Nuggets first-rounds series against the Lakers. Though we covered most of it in the Rapid Reaction recap, there were still a few notes that went unpublished… until now. Here is some additional food for thought before the Nuggets tee off against the Lakers in Game 2, tonight at 10:30 p.m. EST.
– Though Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are two of the best big men in the NBA, they’re not invincible. Just like every superhero has a weakness, so do NBA All Stars. Gasol is soft and Bynum, extremely irritable. Part of the Nuggets gameplan on Tuesday must be figuring out ways to frustrate Bynum and Gasol so they don’t think as clearly as they normally do, and in turn, commit petty fouls which would keep them out of the game. Faried and Koufos should get physical with Gasol early on, while someone else — anyone will do — should try and get under Bynum’s skin.
– If the Nuggets are to continue employing the fastbreak offense, one thing is paramount: getting stops. The fastbreak offense is one hell of a vehicle once it gets going, but it takes fuel in order for the engine to operate. This can only be achieved by getting stops. The fastbreak doesn’t work when you’re letting your opponent score at will, therefore the Nuggets lifeline will likely hinge on whether they can get stops (what a revelation!). Seems logical enough, but defense has been a problem for this team all year long.
– Ty Lawson needs to get going from the time the first whistle blows. Nobody on the Lakers squad can handle his speed. He’s going to have to make peace with the fact that he won’t be able to finish around the basket the way he’s used to doing, but that doesn’t mean he can’t affect the game in other ways. The minute Lawson resigns as an active threat, the Lakers have won. He must continue to penetrate and get creative once inside the paint. Whether this means kicking the ball back out to the perimeter (which he’s very good at) or just dribbling around taller, more slow players until he creates space (a la Chris Paul) — something must be done to keep the Lakers on their toes.
– There were more stars in the Nuggets eyes in Game 1 than in the entire crowd at Staples Center. The Nuggets have always been star-struck when playing L.A. and Sunday may have been the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s as if the Nuggets are the nerdy chess club captain and the Lakers are the provocative prom queen everyone drools over when walking down the hall. I can’t even tell you how many times the Nuggets were caught flat footed, totally in awe of the Lakers ball movement on offense which led to countless open shots. At one point the Nuggets got so confused, four different Nuggets players ended up stationed in the paint within several feet of each other. Kobe Bryant then drove to the lane, yet nobody could figure out who was supposed to contest his shot and as a result he finished between four Nuggets with a lay up. The Nuggets need to play within themselves and most importantly, have confidence in who they are. They can’t get caught up with appearance and flash; they must focus on substance, grit and being the best team they can be.
– Mozgov played well in his limited role, I have no problem admitting that. But one thing that caught my eye was his help defense. On multiple occasions Mozgov flew in recklessly to block a shot only to find his opponent simply hand the ball off underneath to another Lakers big man for an easy dunk. Koufos was no saint either, but it’s important to acknowledge the good as well as the bad when evaluating performance.
Game 2 is going to be very telling — probably more telling than Game 1. How the Nuggets bounce back from getting pummeled will say a lot about not only their chances in the playoffs, but how far they’ve come this year as a team. Can they escape their young, fragile identity that defined them through much of the middle part of the season, or will they prove to be the cohesive cast of assorted puzzle pieces that form a beautiful picture when combined? Only time will tell…